Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Unbreak the Wind: YOU AND THE NIGHT (2013)

You and the Night (2013) aka "Les rencontres d'après minuit" Dir Yann Gonzalez's tale of an orgy magically turned into a winter bonding session, has such a "alone and slutty on Xmas" vibe I felt I hard to post this full version of an older review. Viola!

You'll either love it like a new crush or think it's too jejune et naïf, or--like me--do both at once, in alternating currents of cringe and swoon, but you're bound to agree: if Jean Cocteau was doing a contemporary film about a Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) meeting on snowy Sunday midnight, inside a soundstage spaceship, and everyone (i.e. gorgeous men and handsome women, a Cocteau signature) was feeling especially vulnerable and lonely (for only the desperate come out on a night like this) and the meeting was small enough that everyone got to share at some length, and then they all went out to the diner afterwards and walked and talked til dawn, all bonded close by abject loneliness and the perfection of the moment -- You and the Night (aka  Les rencontres d'après minuit )is exactly the film you'd have.
Or if you want to go the other way, if Radley Metzger was doing a contemporary film about a late-night after-the-bars-close party at the futuristic apartment of a pair of MDMA-dealing swingers; and the cast were feeling especially vulnerable and lonely, and they all wanted some kind of experience, and so they all dropped (everything from ecstasy to inhibitions) and, instead of having an orgy, wound up bonding and confessing and just passionately holding hands (as one is apt to do on it) and then--their group bond cast in stone, and then, born anew in each other's esteem-- went mentally swooning and swirling across the Parisian night as one giant loving phantom until dawn (and if there was any signature Metzger sex, it had been snipped out long ago by censors), You and the Night would be exactly the film you'd have.

They thought they wanted an orgy, but what they found was 'connection.'

Don't laugh! Why do Americans laugh at these things!? Why do they fear the openness of the heart? 

Kate Moran and Niels Schneider play the beautiful rich jet-set hosts (they have a kind of deadpan debauched sophisto Bela-Edward rapport) aware of, and encouraging each other's rampant sexual appetites like only an open-marriage-having pair of jet-set swingers can (shades of Score!) with a love-in/live-in drag queen maid (Nicholas Maury, Call Your Agent). The guest all represent certain beautiful people types common at these soirees (uh, presumably): Alain-Fabien Delon (Alain Delon's even more gorgeous son) is the "Teenager." He left his parents because they were "too afraid of life." A runaway hustler with his own loving code, he found himself there on the lonely benches of the Parisian parks in the midnight hours. Fabienne Babe is the "Star," insisting the hosts turn out the lights before she comes in, so no one can see how old she is, and they oblige, and she comes slinking into the scene, kissing each one in turn with the lights off, before getting comfortable enough to even later take off her wig. 

All of them have their story. The Star dives into the tale of her beautiful sexy son, with whom she had a Kay Parker-esque love affair.  Eric Cantona is "the Stallion" -with his horse cock ever proudly out at half-mast, lamenting that his sexual desirability derailed his destiny.

His destiny? He wanted to become a poet. 

Sexual vigor somehow prevented him from writing poems.

The cast continues: Julia Bremond is "the Bitch," a gloriously unhinged nymphomaniac with bad bangs and a need for constant verbal provocation. She goes on and on about her preference for orgies that have rooms full of masked "rednecks" with their cocks out and ready ("they come all over me and I love it!").  
Strange as it is to say, Les rencontres d'après minuit works because it is French, and only the French could deliver (or hear) lines like "my cock became my obsession--I forgot poetry" or "I curse the cock that tore me from my destiny!" with a straight face. Since we're reading it in subtitles it's somehow OK).  In the US, upon hearing you've decided to be a poet, everyone--your parents especially--roll their eyes, but should you go to France, they revere you! They still may not show up to your open mic night debut, but they're proud to know a real live poet. 

If you waste that talent on just being a stud, monsieur you will never endure the ages. 

As the gathered orgiasts' individual, and quite fanciful, tales, stories, and dreams are unfold, they are reenacted through a colorful whirl of pretty intensely minimalist artificial backdrops and mythic costuming. We see very stylized vignettes wherein the terrors of self-doubt and loneliness strike even in the thick of orgiastic fantasy. The Slut's recurring dream: the "armada of cocks" at her "disposal" is depicted in a Suspiria-esque orgy hall, but populated with a series of exhausted middle-aged and elderly men, naked with masks on, slumped against the red and black striped wall, and as she crawls forward past them, her face aging and sagging as she goes. We're told the story of the hosts' love affair via painterly tableaux, presumably, some fictionalized version of North Africa. His saying goodbye to head off to war in some ancient/timeless past, with his fine Arab charger at his side; she later finding out he's dead and digging up his coffin with the help of a magical black-winged gypsy angel (Maury) whose price to bring him back from the dead is to always be around them as a lifelong threesome, that he might bask in their gorgeous love and join in as the mood and moment strikes. She agrees and her man comes back to life, though sans an eye (he has a very fetching scar and eye patch). Moran is awed of Maury's power: "You're like Jesus!" ("Oui," Maury says, "only worse."). 

They live happily ever after. 

Or do they? Why does death seem to be looming so near Schneider's side? Things seem so perfect, yet her one-eyed war vet never really lets go of that comfy coffin. 

Other tasteful, surreal vignettes include he Stallion's brush with the "Komissar," a whip-smacking Russian officer played by Beatrice Dalle (see: Betty Blue Come Blow Your Mind!). In a block box theater version of a Russian prison, she orders him to crawl on fours in his BVDs while she snaps the whip, and says embarrassing things like "Stab me with your pork sword!" and drives herself to climax. The prison is a model of economy in soundstage art direction worthy of Ulmer: we see the bars of the cell they're in; we hear the sounds of other prisoners in the darkness; we see the hands reach out to him through the bars, pleading for release; through the miracle of light and shadow the prison seems to extend for miles in all directions, a giant Shining cell bar maze of men trapped in the mental prison of their own kinky desires. 

But now, here he is, safe and free and in the company of this rarefied orgy. "The Stud" confesses he thought he'd never get out of there. " I'd still be in that cell, frozen with terror and all those who long to revive the wind."

Revive the wind, Stallion! Sheathe thy sword and hoist the notebook paper sails, that they may be filled with gusty couplets! 

The French have a far more poetic cinema from which to dig for inspiration and reference than we vulagares Américains, who only have the films of John Cameron Mitchell (i.e. Hedwig, Shortbus, How to Talk to Girls at Parties) as proof we're inclusive and occasionally capable of nonjudgmental drug-and-music assisted love and acceptance. Perhaps this why only the French and French film fans and weird cult movie enthusiasts will be predisposed to love this film as much as I do, despite its ridiculous theatricality.  Mme Jannings notes on imdb: 
"This is a movie that cannot be seen with the eyes of evasion. It is a movie that needs to be watch it (sic) with the eyes of the soul as well as the physical eyes, without prejudgments, and without taboos." 
Oui, mademoiselle!  Can Americans (and Brits) feel these genuine sincere and warm emotions, even as they roll their eyes and sigh "oh, brother!" just to cover their bets, as I am now doing? 

Sure, You and the Night has a pleased-with-itself, breast fed-til-18 sense of entitlement, but it's somehow not as offensive coming from pretty young European aesthetes as it is from America's nepo-babies. Sure, it's so much like a theater group performing a SAA meeting in a science fiction bubble where qualifications come alive as surreal vignettes, but it's got such a warm and inclusive heart underneath its art school posturing it's hard to resist. It's the supreme abstract style of, say, Anna Biller welded to the open heart of John Cameron Mitchell.

And most importantly, if you wish to understand Cocteau, which is to understand France, and you wish to understand Radley Metzger (Score, in particular), and wish to understand Herr Mitchell (i.e. Hedwig), you must appreciate that--once you are no longer ashamed or frustrated--sex is no more dangerous underneath its leather studs than a little puppy. Once embraced with total acceptane, magic can happen. We're talking Apollonian Kenneth Anger-via-Max Reinhardt magic ritual-fairy dust settling like snow (which also falls at one point). It's a magic that amply compensates for its, ow you say, eh.., self-indulgent wankery? Just say yes and magic happens. I'm as cynical as any of my fine American brethren but I was in tears by the end the first time I saw this...

and the second...

and even the third. 

Director Yann Gonzalez would continue his polyamorous erotique-cum-Argento style/structure (albeit with far more graphic sex and the introduction of brutal violence) for the neon-drenched Knife + Heart, a  nicely surreal post-giallo about an aging alcoholic lesbian director of gay porn (well-played by Vanessa Paradis) trying to win back her ex-lover (Kate Moran!). It's set in the 70s, so she keeps calling her from filthy phone booths, pleasing for another chance. I don't blame Paradis' porn director for wanting her back, as I'm kind of enthralled by after her You and the Night, wherein her final tearful proposition in the dawn's early light had me bawling and happy the way I hadn't felt watching a French movie since the first half of Betty Blue, which I used to drink and cry to obsessively back in the early-90s.

And then there's the great chillbient (is that still a thing?) M83 score (i.e. Yann's brother, Anthony), a perfect choice for amping the intensity of 21st century ecstasy-tinged post-club emotional all sunrise bonding. If it all adds up to a nice bunch of parts rather than a movie, well, what of it? Love leaves a new hole for every old one it fills (that line is mine, but you can use it, for we're all one.

Even more importantly than all these little perks, You and the Night is a unique film but one that shouldn't need to stand alone, unloved and in the snowy night. Not anymore.  It's every loner's dream to find a readymade clique of like-minded good-looking outcasts to call a family or artistic collective. For libertines such as these, it's a love far rarer than the carnal or romantic. If you find it, you have to drop everything and run with it all the way, to the grave, and--especially if you're a debauched French poet--even beyond. 

Don't laugh at them.... not now. Just come in, come in. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

ONCE YOU KISS A STRANGER (1969) + Selections for Acidemic's Chthonic Lady Series

Hey ho, just a note to let you know I'm still writing, just not posting as much as my brain's too foggy to keep on topic (I keep drifting, like a Tennessee Williams heroine). Still, I may be blocked but I'm writing all sorts of in-progress pieces for next year, even trying to cobble a book together so don't despair (any more than the fate of the earth already demands). 

In the meantime in honor of Kat Ellinger's new chthonic podcast To the Devil a Daughter (on Spotify), the first episode which is about Russ Meyer's Faster Pussycat and Vixen. As a committed Paglian, I am a huge fan! Here's a Deadly Women round-up, including a  piece I meant to publish earlier but accidentally deleted. Patiently transcribed from an old preview screenshot, you're welcome! Kat has kind of made me realize my 'amok chthonic' feminism hinges on my finding the badass femme attractive, so apologies if I slant that way. Know too for me it's also largely in the performance. Are they going for broke, pushing the envelope past the point of cutesy or posey? I mean are they possessed of the maenad gnashing frenzy wildness at the core of the fully sexually voracious, Meyeresque, goddess? If so, argh, I be for ye. 

Caroly Lynley as Diana Granger in
(1969) Dir. Robert Spahr

Whether harpooning little girls' beach balls, kissing fat mental patients while grinding her heel into their toes, or seducing and then Strangers on a Train-ing some dissolute golf pro after he loses a match and goes off the drunken midlife crisis deep end, Carol Linley owns every moment she's onscreen in Once You Kiss a Stranger (1969). She even one-ups (if such a thing is possible) Robert Walker's Bruno in Hitchcock's original Strangers on a Train, a film Stranger makes no bones about imitating ( Linley's character is named Diana Granger, last name of the star, Train-stranger Farley, whose memoir Include Me Out saved my life once) by virtue of being one of the homicidal minxes so beloved by this blog. What middle-aged, still-handsome, slightly drunken-relapsed golf pro (regularly kept from the top prize fee by a better/douchier golf pro on the same tour) played by TV mainstay Paul Burke, lonesome, awash in self-pity, and semi-suicidal, could resist?

Sometimes there's a buggy
Bearing all the hallmarks of being not-quite-a-TV-movie nor a big screen feature but something lost between (like, say, Aldrich's Killers remake), Once You Kiss a Stranger doesn't really work as a thriller. The pacing is off and it's way too quick to tip its hand. But boy howdy does Linley have a field day. She doesn't ham it up or overplay, just enjoys her character's toothy malice in a way that's most infectious. She's a lot like Carmen Sternwood in The Big Sleep, whose own father admits she's "still a little girl who likes to pull the wings off flies." If you know that film as well as I do, then you know in the code-enforced ending, Bogies says "we'll have to send Carmen away... from a lot of things. Maybe she can be cured, it's been done before." Dude, that's not what happens in the book! But you can almost look at this movie as The Big Sleep 2: Carmen Returns, if--after she's sent away from those things--she's presumably cured and released and then set up with her own Malibu beachside bungalow by her trust fund. 

And if she's still expected to report in to her shrink every week to avoid going back to the funny farm, and if she was secretly still homicidal, manipulative nutcase, only now endowed with more Patricia Highsmith cunning and less Raymond Chandler laudanum-fueled impulsiveness, well you would have Diana Granger. And what a lucky soon-to-be-framed man you'd be!

We can't all be like Phillip Marlowe and instinctively know not to have anything to do with such a hot mess. In the right midlife crisis frame of mind (glug-glug), any man can lapse into something he'll almost instantly regret. Sexual allure, an open invitation, and a moment's weakness have combined to topple presidents, kings, queens, despots evangelists and even TV stars, so why not a highball-sodden pro-golfer moping through a midlife crisis? Why not, indeed, Paul. All your better judgment is hereby suspended!

But though Diana is wild and able, and everything seems ducky for some sexy hijinx, Once You Kiss... is. not unlike their hook-up itself, wondrously staged (the real thrill of these kinds of Fatal Attraction/Misty-for-Me-type pics is the first third, but just as Diana's scheme falls apart as it unravels in the story, so too does the film fall apart since the writers don't know how to parcel out information to keep us guessing and worried over Paul's now shaky fate. Both Lynley's parents already know she's insane (vs. Bruno's in-denial parents), and she has already been committed once before, which kind of weakens her testimony. The fact that the guy she wants dead is her shrink (the ever-sane White Bissell). There's no reason to think some random golf pro, breezing through town, clean record, is going to want to kill some random shrink, as opposed to the shrink's psycho gamin patient who she knows was about to re-commit her. It's already basically a no-brainer who the cops will believe once you sober up long enough to tell them, Paul. What's worse, Diana even undoes the solid fake evidence she created from tape recording their manipulating the tape him into agreeing the criss-cross, by manipulating and splicing the tape to the point of obsessiveness, making it all too easy for the cops to discern. All this hastens to lessen the suspense as Diana basically becomes her own worst enemy before anyone else even gets a crack at it, destroying her chance at the sort of spooky credibility Robert Walker's Bruno kept almost to the bitter end. That's likely because his in-denial artsy mom and ever-disappointed tycoon dad would rather think their son is just a loafer or a delightful eccentric rather than admit to societal taboo of congenital insanity (i.e. he hasn't been violent enough in the past to be committed). 

 But all that's quibbling. And why do that? There's Jimmy Faggis' super cool jazzy scoring throughout-- nothing too fancy but nothing you wouldn't enjoy snapping your fingers to and feeling like a kind of post-beatnik jazzbo. And like all the best films of this period, there's a catfight between too crazy blondes armed with spearguns and a dune buggy chase along the day-for-night beach. Nothing quite tops the sight of Linley, in her cute minidress, lifting herself out from under a flipped-over dune buggy in the surf, all slow, sultry, and Venus-from-the-clamshell-like. Though you might think she's just playing a male fantasy coquette, Lynley makes the most of every gesture, the groovy bass-front-and-center jazz score races along like a down and dirty wind under her mean girl sails and she just takes off. There's no big set piece like Hitchcock's amok merry go-round, but the film makes up for that in sheer brevity. And at the end the symbolic beach ball is patched; the child neighbor looks slightly older, and, just like Guy in Strangers on a Train, Paul really does luck out, perhaps proving once and for all that straying with murderous coquettes can prove immensely profitable: at the end he gets his wife back, has a sexy memory that doubles as aversion therapy for future straying, and is destined for top prizes as his only tournament circuit competition has been left literally dead in a sand trap. Fore! 


"I can't say more, for to spoil even one twist or turn on this wild ride is to lessen its blunt force impact. Suffice it to say, for we fans of strong assertive women (those who score along the Hawks-Meyer GF spectrum rather than the 'strong-willed mother-type' Ford-Spielberg curve), this bonanza of badassery is--especially in the time of plunging markets and collapsing governments--something we desperately need. Why wait for a normal woman to be brutalized before turning savage? That, to me, is sexist, inferring a woman needs a man's cruelty to light her inner bomb's fuse." (more)

"The Partridge Family vs. Brady Bunch dichotomy provided parameters for our collective 70s pre-sexual psyche, and maybe that's partially the idea a Susan Dey archetype untethered from her prim bitch overprotective mom and ginger brother, running away with a Satan-worshipping boyfriend and winding up rabid (ala 1970's I Drink Your Blood --her first movie role) or foaming at the mouth thanks to some new STD (Shivers), chem warfare agent (The Crazies)--or just really speedy acid--rang so many popular unconscious gongs. The times demanded a girl who could slice off a woman's hand with an electric carving knife and come off as an innocent, a free spirit, cranked to eleven, a girl so pure the needle spins all the way around to the other extreme- batshit homicidal, with no stops in between. And no hysteria or hamming. If you've ever known and partied with the type then you know how rare and intoxicating they are, the sweet sudden shock of dread when what was once a feeling of smitten love and devotion to her sweet beauty becomes sickening blood-chilled dread, the realization you were so far on cloud 9 you made the mistake of letting her get between you and the exit." (more)

"If you look gamely into the rubble of collective abuse heaped on this year's MUMMY a true fan may find a true treasure in the form of lithe Algerian dancer/actress Sofia Boutella. As the warrior priestess assassin Ahmanet, Boutella (in the prologue) kills the pharaoh's baby or some lovely thing and is mummified alive in an unmarked tomb. Naturally she astral travels, tracing the seams in the fabric of time and space, riding the centuries like a surfboard until she's found just the right sky cult-brainwashed, Illuminati orgy-crashing, aging A-list actor to exhume her and see her safely ferried across the channel to jolly England. Damn right I'm talkin' bout you, Tom! " (more)

"The film's been compared to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and indeed there's a kind of bent similarity but Texas' qua-feminist throttle isn't all the way open the way it is with Faster. The buzzing you hear isn't Leatherface's chainsaw threatening Marilyn Burns but Varla's wheels crushing 'the Vegetable'. They'll have to send him away "from a lot of things" and we imagine suddenly that Carmen Sternwood would be a great candidate for this gang, to take Billie's place after she dies, as would Claudia Jennings from Truck Stop Women (1974). Well, we can't have everything, unless we want to make a movie ourselves.

Hmmm I'm not trying to put any ideas into anyone's heads, but it seems to me a badass girl gang crashing a lot of different genres would be just the thing. A lot of folks have tried and they end up being the usual overwrought nonsense with one too many well-scrubbed thugs locking overly siliconed strippers in trunks, in between lugging bags of cash in and out of hotel lobbies, shots of sunglassed douchebags smirking into rearview mirrors, abusive backstory, flashy meaningless over-editing (you know the ones I'm talking about - no names) and female violence done with "this hurts me more than it does you" anguish in their eyes rather than sadistic relish. (more)

Terry Liu as Princess Dragon Mom

All hail Princess Dragon Mom! Arggggh! Grrr! A shape-shifting, whip-snapping, go-go boots wearing master of monsterdom! A Shaw Brothers version of Japanese Kaiju kids movie, INFRA-MAN is wisely wrought with a vicious villainess or two (Many of the Shaw Brothers' films are remarkably feminist - with badass females on both sides and in the middle of their sagas). Dragon Mom is so cool all other evil supervillains of kaiju movies pale in comparison. Sending out her spies, monsters and hypnotized sleeper agents over to Infra-Man HQ to steal away their big scientific genius for her own nefarious ends, Liu projects real menace, and a refreshingly direct approach to her evil deeds. At the same time you can see her chasing some Buggle around a Sid and Marty Kroft- style evil lair one minute, chaining Batman to a water heater after stunning him with poison lipstick the next, then blowing /herself up to Godzilla-size and becoming a dragon to level Hong Kong after that. She's versatile! And her monster minions are great too, all of them in a row, waving their appendages around in great paroxysms of relish in their own evil while she issues orders from her grand psychedelic throne. 

And when it's time for her to fight, she just turns into a flying monster to make it less awkward for our gallant hero to kick her, which is good because by then he's starting to sag along his sponge foam shoulder padding so it's time to call it a day. If she wasn't enough, Dragon Mom has compatriot hot female with a dinosaur skull helmet and big eyes painted on her hands that shoot lasers. Sigh, If we had DVDs in the 70s growing up, I would have watched this every single day after school and love it more than Ultra-Man, Johnny Socko and his Flying Robot, and Space Giants combined, and I'd be having all sorts of 'phallic stage' sadomasochistic daydreams over Princess Dragon Mom and her snake-like whip arm. All I can do now that I'm all old, discovering this in vivid color on Amazon Prime, is wistfully hit 'play from beginning' one more time (I watch it at least three times a year). Either way, sharp, abrasive voice or no, Dragon Mom rawks. (more)

"Millie Perkins stars as Molly "The Mermaid," a single barmaid at a seaside dive on the beach of Santa Monica, "The Boathouse," owned and operated by the pleasantly grizzled Long John (Lonny Chapman). She's not just great babysitter to her two adoring nephews, beloved of clientele and employees, but she has the ability to 'get' good-looking men as if fishing them out of the television. Aside from headaches as her brain struggles to keep the lid on her buried incest childhood by cloaking it in all sorts of nautical imagery and oceanic sound effects, she's perfect. Maybe she's mad as a hatter, and has a weird thing for good-looking men on TV, as if they can see her from the screen, and are propositioning her. Maybe she keeps talking about her lost-at-sea captain father as some kind of omnipotent hero despite her more grounded sister who assures her kids he was a monster. But she's not 'victim' crazy, not a cringing trauma victim or a twitchy mess. She's crazy in a way that encompass sanity within itself. When a bubbly blonde actress (Roberta Collins) at the bar bemoans not being liberated, which is now a requirement for TV she glances over at Molly in her patchwork denim and declares she could be in commercials: "You look liberated." The older barmaid Doris (Peggy Furey) adds that "Molly is a saint, a goddamned American saint." Later when her nervous welfare-collecting sister Cathy (Vanessa Brown) shows up to try and convince them of the truth, "you think she's just about perfect," she says to Long John. "Yeah," he snaps back, "why not?"

"Unafraid to be infectiously goofball rather than dully sexy, Soles, who so often played the best friend whose goofy, strident, horniness made ber blond danger (such as in HALLOWEEN)--lets fly as Riff. Her little lithe body bouncing around covered in the bright shiny colors that had not yet come to signify the encroaching 1980s, is sexy in its utter lack of sexuality. Her tendency to make funny faces, bug her eyes out, tighten and purse her already thin lips all help to keep her vivid as real-life teenager rather than jail-bait. Never adding more smarts than a normal teen would have, and twice as much heedless momentum, she's a tangle of sincerity, giggles, self-satire and genuine ferocity. I'd be scared to date her. But I'd want to be at parties she was at. That's the kind of girl every high school needs. And her kind would not come again." (more)

Dalle doesn't need a reason to kill or castrate- you don't gotta be a rapist or nothing-- it just comes naturally. Thus her crazy sexual frenzy in TROUBLE EVERY DAY is truly terrifying and sexy at the same time; she puts the softcore sleaze of BASIC INSTINCT's ice pick murders to shame. The guy she eviscerates in TROUBLE isn't even that bad of a guy, just broke into the wrong house and didn't run when he had the chance, not unlike the poor string of sods falling victim to doe-eyed Marilyn Chambers in RABID.  (more)

"What really sells it all though is the aliveness of Jennings, so good as the restless morally bankrupt Rose it makes it all the sadder to realize she'd be dead in just five years --victim in an accident off the Pacific Coast Highway (at age 30). Here she finds a good match in John Martino as the mafia-dispatched goodfella "Smith" for whom she serves as combination hostage, conspirator, and lover. He should be recognizable as one of Clemenza's button men in the first Godfather. Here he brings far more wit and character than you'd expect, even earning our sympathy on occasion. Best of all, he has some great chemistry with Jennings. The pair know just how to play a kind of villainous love scene, making it always just a little ambiguous whether they're really falling in love or just playing each other for a shot at all the marbles. There's a magical scene in their motel room together in the morning after some indefinite period of late night boozy conjugal bliss: they're getting leisurely dressed and drinking tumblers of breakfast whiskey on the rocks, and we realize maybe there is no difference between acting smitten for a (criminal) purpose and being smitten for real with a criminal. Either way, we want their love or whatever to survive, despite all our best judgment." (more)

Sunday, November 06, 2022

CozZilla! - 10 Reasons Luigi Cozzi's 1977 GODZILLA Remix

In honor of Godzilla's 68th birthday (Nov 3) here's my praise and love of my favorite version of that original classic. It's a truly one-of-a-kind--colorized, bastardized, anti-pasteurized, lionized and ionized--remix from 1977 by Italian cult luminary Luigi Cozzi. Impossible to find anywhere these days but on a YouTube or Internet Archive stream culled from a VHS dupe, its sound and image warped by the ravages of time, you'd think it something to be ignored and forgotten except as a strange footnote in the Godzilla Wiki. But no! Even mangled and re-duped, dubbed, and dumped for dead, COZZILLA still flows like a psychedelic special report from your coziest monster kid nightmare. 

Just to give you the meta-meta origin- alpha & Omega: There is a Japanese original monster film (inspired by Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and, of course, their nation's tragically atomic history). This version is very cool yet somber and kind of a bummer; then that version is imported to the US where it's "Americanized" as we're xenophobic and also hate to read subtitles--with the critiques of Hiroshima edited out and a plethora of footage of Raymond Burr added. He stands alone or with one other actor or two, reacting and interpreting/narrating the film proper so we don't get too alienated. We almost never hear any Japanese actor speak unless it's to him, hence in English. That is the version most Americans had seen, that and only that version, until around 2005 or 2006 when the original Japanese version made the rounds of the art houses (I saw it at the ------), Cozzilla is the Italian remix of the American remix, transferred onto VHS transferred onto YouTube. The end result packs a whole cubist wealth of post-modern goodness, all while kicking ass, entertaining like hell, and kind of lulling you into a trance, espcially if you've seen the original (either version) more than a few times as a kid. 

Strangely, when Cozzi got the rights to do his Godzilla redux in 1977, the Japanese gave him the the Burr version. Burr and the rest of the cast were dubbed into Italian, and Cozzi put his own Hiroshima / Anti-American subtexts back in, with a vengeance. The sound was remixed, with a partially new score, and the end result was drenched it in strange psychedelic color, and shuffled in artsy Hiroshima stock footage, especially in the opening, which begins with stylized high-contrast, color-drenched, slow-mo stock footage of everyday Japanese life promptly obliterated by the A-bomb, followed by long pans over the wreckage, and--cleverly--footage of a bomb-blasted Berlin (if I know my WW2 documentaries, and I do) all set to a wild ominous, irresistible contemporary electronic score.

Its new colors are not 'colorizing' as you and I understand it today, but colorizing branches far and wide, adding extra strange patina to the strange images, merging perfectly with the tracking problems and other image issues that 'plague' the streaming version. With the already weird soundtrack wobbling and wavering, accompanied often by the sound of a whirring projector and near constantly blowing wind, and you have a kind of found object accidental Brechtian re-paradise for late-night dozers and dosers. 

That's four layers of meta and three different directors, with credits to match. They begin with Ishiro Honda, then Terry O. Morse (director of the American version), then Luigi Cozzi. The combination of the three, like some 30 story exquisite corpse, results in the best, the ultimate, the only version that feels truly 'complete.' Not only profound, but moving and elegaic without wallowing in late-inning histrionics like we get in Honda's version.

Just to preface: I'm a huge Luigi Cozzi fan (see my gushing appreciation of his other films here). His imagination and love of the genre is so all-consuming it brings his work way past the boring and familiar things that hold up other directors, i.e. pacing, classical-style narrative, character arcs, romantic arcs, and heartfelt dialogue. Instead, Cozzi gives us everything great about Italian versions of America sci-fi movies, with an endearing primitivism that captures the essence of why we want to see a movie in the first place, especially one we want to watch over and over and never get bored, the way children never get bored of their favorite bedtime story - because myths never age, and are never fully known, never fully consumed.  

All of which is to preface this: my adoration of his 1977 Godzilla redux hinges on a developed love for his unique and endlessly rewarding sensibility, combined with not being a huge fan of the Japanese version of the film or the Raymond Burr-insert Americanized version. The whole endless fight to get that one-eyed scientist to use his oxygen destroyer is the kind of hyper-emotional Japanese romantic triangle soapiness that frightens a lot of Americans away with its tearful, prolonged, over-the-top histrionics. But the Burr footage drags too --inserting way too many shots of him watching events (if an American didn't see it, did it really happen?) and way too much narration. Cozzi goes for broke in the opposite direction, removing more footage from both version than they ever would, none of it, as it turns out, worth keeping, then padding the remix with footage of radiation burns, slow-mo PTSD, and-- realizing it's the most important element of the picture--expands the climactic monster scene outward, splicing in a full naval bombardment adding overkill to overkill, and letting everything else--the parts that make getting there a bore--go dissolving into the sea--keeping only the skeleton, which no mere convention can e'er burn away.  

I would have loved to hear this in a theater wired for Sensurrround or whatever it was called in Italy (you can read up on its history here) , with Godzilla's thundering stomps (some of which appear only in the Cozzi version) making the floor shake. I know that will never happen, but the meta refractions of its current only surviving 'print' give Cozzi's flawless nutcase instincts just the sort of contexutalizing they needed, the final post-modern boost to make Godzilla finally not only resonant, but a work of found art.

For best results watch at 4 AM in a Remeron and CBD trance after you've tossed and turned in bed for a couple hours before finally giving up, getting up, moving to your big easy chair in the living room.... pouring some kind of a stiff one..... bombs away.



For some reason Cozzi can get the very best composers and scores that rival the classics: John Barry does the score for his Starcrash and gets Nino Rota for Hercules. And here, he's got the amazig Fabio Frizzi and Franco Bixo (aka 'Magnetic System) to kick things off for the grand and disturbingly lovely Hiroshima opening, immediately launching viewers into a hypnotic trance.

Then Vince Tempera adds synths in there and under it all is a wise and perfect remix of the best parts of Akira Ifukbe's origial score (that incredible 'Elegy' that only plays over the TV shots of the carnage towards the end, here comes at the beginning too and at the end of the carnage).  This haunting music adds just the right mix of comfort, tension and grandeur as we find Burr under the rubble. And when our man is on the stretcher, asking for water, trying to be heard over the din of suffering along the rows of other survivors, the music and color makes it strangely comforting. After being buried in rubble even a stretcher on the floor can be paradise, thirst or no. Ifukube gets that with his elegy, Tempera gets it, and most of all Cozzi gets it. If only Hollywood got it. 


You would think expanding the running time by throwing a reel of hand-colorized Hiroshima stock footage up front wouldn't work. It does. We get the before (daily life of the civilians), the explosion (pretty, from a distance), and the after (radiation burns, long tracking shots over the endless grid of rubble). And it's all drenched in weird colors and rendered occult and bizarre by the deliciously ominous Bixio and Frizzi synth music. Even the sky is given a poetic resonance, bleaching out when the sun or bomb get too bright. The result seems like the bomber has flown past the color swaths. When the bomb drops, it looks like a splash of white amidst a Rothko color field. As if draining the warmth and life from the city. When the new credits come up they are over a beautiful, hypnotic sped-up motion of gathering and roiling and dissipating cloud formations which, with the music and the sound of roaring wind, creates an undeniably hypnotic and almost pre-infantile state of rapture. 

The combined effect is totally unique. It may be purely the result of necessity (stock footage = the cheapest way to pad), but whether intentional or not it winds up being so much more. Rather than just a document of the global tragedy, the music and colors add intriguing depth. Even today the name Hiroshima still has archetypal power wherever you are so it's not like it's 'stale' or fully 'absorbed' or maybe will ever be.

 It helps perhaps Cozzi is not American, so bears no national guilt over its use, Italy being the one country to 'switch sides' and, perhaps to its credit, quickly surrender rather than stand and die for a cause they didn't believe in. Thus we see facets of it through his Italian eyes that we usually cannot when seeing through either Japan's or America's (they're too close to the problem)--that America is the father of Godzilla in more ways than one - we're the Nick Nolte to Godzilla's Eric Bana in Ang Lee's Hulk so to speak.' That's why having an American in the mix is so essential and why it works better that..

3. Raymond Burr Speaks Italian

The insertion of Burr into Godzilla prior to its American release can seem racist, but once he's dubbed into Italian and we're reading what he's saying via subtitles (i.e. translated back again), all that bad taste goes away and the whole thing becomes post-modern sublime. With the warping wobble of the VHS source giving the voices a strange echo quality that takes him (and the Japanese around him) out of the 'present,' his narration (welcomely truncated for Cozzi's version) echoes through the action like a dream. Welcome everywhere, always up front thanks to his big time news service press credentials, he merges into the post-modern warp in a way that's definitely cool. The weirdly calming deep tones of the Italian actor dubbing him makes us automatically re-interpret what we hear as, not just monster movie junk, but an art film ala Antonioni. We're safe inside his cavernous voice, like the dragon in Excalibur. 

4. The use of Ifukube's "Elegy" in the opening sequence of Raymond Burr under the rubble and later after the main attack, and the last part

In the original American version, the first act has Raymond Burr is unearthed from the rubble, features just a mournful, plodding minor key oboe (or bassoon?). Dull, then it stops for endless exposition and seldom returns. In Cozzi's, the best parts of Ikfube's score, such as the 'elegy' heard only towards the end via TV in the original version, add a grandeur and marvelousness that situates the film right off the bat as something that's emotional, even strangely operatic, especially after the Hiroshima prologue. When I see and hear this first section of the Cozzi film, I think instantly of where I was the evening after 9/11 (watching from across the river in Brooklyn Heights, eating ice cream on the boardwalk--finding it hard to pick an emotion other than a kind of surrealist shock). "Elegy" fits that so perfectly I don't even have to remember it to feel it. Rather than just play for the broadcast, it plays from the rubble slow pans and flows right up into the ocean with the O2 destroyer. Rather masterfully, too. Watch for example the Burr version of the attack - there's no music - no real noise almost - aside from Burr it's quiet for huge stretches until he starts stomping on train tracks and finally omitting a loud growl.

5.  PSYchEdelic ColLORs

Supposedly every frame was hand tinted but as it survives on the streaky VHS the effect seems like the tinter/colorizer was hittin' the pipe, so to speak. Sometimes the color is effective (the red skies during the fires) sometimes it seems to wash around but it never quite fades out altogether. The key scenes of Godzilla trashing Tokyo are the most conscientiously colored, and that's what's important, making the surreal presence of the big reptile and its destruction into something so transformational and shocking/strange/all-consuming it changes our perceptions of color. 


Cozzi wipes out whole dull exposition, and connecting and establishing shots of the Americanized and original version, especially with the phone calls, customs, standing around while narration explains things, and door entrances and romantic triangle sudsiness, and instead stretches out the attacks, the devastation, and the retaliation. He 'Cozzifies' it. Whittling it down to the basics, he then had to add footage to get it to feature length but he Cozzified there too, instinctively knowing just the right passages to expand, such as the climactic Tokyo trashing (adding to the aftermath by a section of post-Hiroshima footage intercut with short inserts of Godzilla breathing his radioactive fire breath and the "Elegy" music again. and the final O2 Destroyer ending, which becomes a slow-mo death dance of bubbles and a prolonged surfacing wherein Cozzi tries to goose up the wow factor by intercutting stock footage of naval ships firing all their guns on Godzilla as he surfaces. In the original it's just a quick pop up, followed by a sad sinking, Cozzi replays and slows down the surface death rattle so that he seems to take forever to die, the O2 destroyer below, the naval destroyer above.Instead of all the preparation, the bubbles and the destroyer and all that seem to take forever - it's like the whole movie blends into a blur or white blobs, pink and turquoise sky wipes, slow-motion bubbles cascading past a doomed Godzilla. He knows what makes an emotional, strong image and how to give such images time to resonate, to envelop us in ways too deep to analyze. 


Cozzi and Co. creates a nonstop melange of every kind of sound that lulls me to sleep;-- there's rushing wind, all bubbling and whooshing, the Italian dub sounding like it's being heard outside a shrill Roman theater before the main feature. The din of conversation and busy Tokyo streets becomes a comforting white noise, alongside what sounds like the whirr of a projector, or brisk wind. When the roar of Godzilla comes along it occupies the low end, but is drowned on on the top. Meanwhile the sound of a dance band playing the night Godzilla first attacks Tokyo has a kind of ghostliness reminiscent of hauntologic music of 'the Caretaker', The (post-dubbed) loud pounding of his footsteps (even when still in the water) sounds like Marley's ghost hammering at my chamber door; the blur of crowd noises, Ifukube's music (sometimes it seems like two different passages are playing at the same time), the ocean roar, morse code-style telegraph beeping (to convey urgent news), the explosions and also.... almost of it almost inextricably tied up with...


At times you can hear what sounds like grinding sprockets, and the sound wall kind of wobbles as if going through a flanger. Is it the projector screening the film for the video camera, or the sound of the fire of Serizawa's burning o2 destroyer notes and the whooshing of his lab equipment? Are these intentional or the result of age, transfers, the sound recorded for the VHS in a sloppy duping.  When Dr. Serizawa  is down underwater delivering the O2 Destroyer for example, the wobbling of the reels seems like the film in the sprockets is shifting as the tracking issues persist at the same time, as if the water and bubbles were leaking into the camera and microphone. Some spots are slowed down to stretch out scenes, which gives the sound and extra warping weirdness. The line between accidental and deliberate effects is wiped away. For the climax, for the underwater climax, for example, the warping and waving of a comforting wall of soothing sounds, with layers of that unforgettable Ikufube 'Elegy,' under bubbling, ocean sound effects, muffled roars, dialogue up on deck and through the oxygen tube, static from the recording transfers, including the whirr of a projector, all laid in front of each other in layers to form a comforting wall of white atmosphere that then warps and wavers from the video tracking issues 

Compare it to the original or the Burr version and the soundscape is much more austere. The early scenes of Burr under the rubble and working his way to the Tokyo press room are generally silent, with maybe an oboe or a distant crowd noise. In Cozzi's version a weird radio plays constantly in the background, along with ringing phones, telegraph beeping, the rush of conversations, traffic, and the projector itself; elsewhere morse code bleeps echo in successive layers - the  frenzied gull like voices of concerned family members for the crew of the missing vessel. It's a roar in itself, in a good way


At one point we see the reel run out and an End of Part One sign flashes; we see the film running out. Elsewhere the images buckle and jump, and echo! Interestingly, the print waits until about 50 minutes in to really fall apart with tracking problems that happens to be during the big centerpiece of the film, Godzilla's rampage in Tokyo. It's as it the sheer size of the monster and the vehemence of the military response is breaking apart film as we know it. It's one thing to have the image jump around when say, showing a couple on the couch, but with rapid edits of explosions and raging fires as a monster the size of a ten story office building beats the shit out of some electrical wires, before snacking down on a train? That makes perfect sense. Even when the screen goes completely dark, before wobbling back, making the monster scenes harder to see, it fits--as if we're watching it live on TV and the camera signal is breaking up. Sure, eventually it gets pretty annoying but then, the problem dies away... for awhile when the attack is over. 

Did the high contrast and rapid editing have anything to do with the problems of this transfer?  I don't know but I do know watching the HD version on Criterion, the monster is very unconvincing - we can see the scenery better, admire the details of the cityscape he tramples through, savor the detailed craftsmanship that went into each building, but it's clearly a man in a suit in the long shots and --in some others-- clearly a hand puppet. The apocalyptic images of the crumbling press building, as it slowly collapses floor-by-floor is truly impressive in the original. And, of course, one should watch that version often. But it lacks the strange post-modern poetry we get from tbe Cozzi version - the way the melt-down of film and of tape seems to suit the gravity of the scene better.

Here's an example - the attack in the Burr film starts at 50 mins in, ends around  101; in Cozzi's, it starts at 50 mins but then ends - ends 101:12 - so like double the length.  Then the end underwater climax in the Burr verison last 6 minutes but the Cozzi version expands to 12, but then goes back to slow motion the explosion and the anguished roar go godzilla - his pathetic rise from the deep only to be mercilessly shelled by the boats, howling and then sinking back down. Cozzi spatters into a full on military assault at the head as if target practice, before it sinks down to the slow motion depths, the sound warped and flangered with the music carrying through a sea of bubbles, almost Wagnerian and triumphant. The beast takes forever to fall back down to the depths. He finally sinks and the sea dissolves again into a sea of bubbles.... We only see a few cutaways to people on the boat but Cozzi doesn't care about them and knows we don't either - we don't even care about Serizawa's brave suicide (cutting his air hose). We're glad to be rid of him and all his crying and tantrum-throwing. 

 I don't know but when you add the washes of pink, yellow, orange, and green blurring into each other, somehow it all comes together as... 


The original Japanese version of Godzilla was a metaphor for America's radioactive warping and altering of the Japanese psyche ala the firebombing of Tokyo and nuking of Hiroshima. That version that was then warped and altered by America to suit itself, editing out the Hiroshima references to suit itself, That version then warped and altered, with loads Hiroshima footage added in,

Did Italy's mid-war conversion from Japan's side to America's have any subtextual effect on Cozzi's artistic choices? Either way, he created most astute yet warped meditation on Hiroshima that you're likely to see, especially when the media you see it on has been warped and altered many times over itself. And hopefully so have you!

Thats 10 -- BLAST OFF!

But the cumulative effect of these 10 reasons isn't a downer, it's a great narcotizing embrace, like sinking down to an eternal sleep. The bubbling noises of the surf, the bellowing of the ships. the scratchy vibe, the haunting Ikufube music, the weird washes of cool colors, it all flows and swirls into some wild light-sound extravaganza that satisfies the soul, keeps the spirit engaged and brings frazzled nerves into a pre-natal warm, pulsing tide. Godzilla's oxygen gets sucked out of himself at the end but it flows into us like the cool breeze from a projector's whirring fan when the bulb is off. Protected against the onslaught of man's blind folly for another night, we drift off secure in the arms of Cozzi and his crew, Burr and his crew, Honda and his crew, the Italian dubbers and the English subtitlers, and the signature of time itself (always something that can be stopped or otherwise manipulated in Cozzi films), slowly warping and ravaging its way through a Russian doll-style chain of decomposing media upgrades. It delivers exactly what I want out of a film I'm watching at some godforsaken hour of the night, technically trying to fallsleep, but kind of enjoying that I'm half-awake, nodding in and out, until I'm never quite sure if I'm watching the film or not... did I black out for certain sections or are they just not there? Seen while fully conscious during the day I can find myself frustrated by the lengthy parts of over-the-top tracking issues during God's all-night stomping and torching of Tokyo. But late at night, eyes lidded over, it's truly sublime. 

We shouldn't be surprised, it may be Ishiro Honda's baby but Cozzi raises it as his own and teaches it who it really is. Before it only knew it was Vishnu, the destroyer of worlds, now it knows it's Robert Oppenheimer, and it's here to send us to sweet oblivion. . here

Monday, October 31, 2022

"Absolute" October: 10 Seasonal, Classic Picks: Atmospheric, Uncanny & Re-watchable.

October - the time when the old classics should come out, and old horror fans like me dust off the gems that do it for us every year, the grand perennials, some since we were knee-high to Zuni Fetish doll. I've already written about mine in past Halloween lists, But there's always others. Always new ones. Some are great but don't have 'repeatability' - the layered gems you can watch over and over. For me it's important they have atmosphere! Gothic vapors! Scary synth music! Ghosts! Action! lots of wind and swirling mists. So if you're wondering what else is there besides AMC's same-old Halloween marathons and the same-old TCM classics (Kwaidan, Eyes Without a Face, etc.) If you got Prime, Shudder, Tubi, Arrow, whatever, let these be yours. (All the films listed are streaming on Prime and/or Tubi unless otherwise noted)

(1959) Dir. Mario Bava
streaming on Prime

The king of Italian horror, maybe even of horror, period, maybe even king of cinematographers his painterly warmth and lighting complexity making him kind of Italy's answer to Josef Von Sternberg) Mario Bava's films are almost all amazing but as far as spook show Gothic chills perfect for October, nothing can beat his directorial debut Black Sunday (except his later Black Sabbath, and Kill Baby Kill of course). Sunday not only introduced Bava (the film was an influential smash hit around the world, released by Roger Corman and AIP in the US) it introduced Barbara Steele to the world as the first bonafide female horror star, fit to join the ranks of Lugosi, Karloff, Lorre, and Price. She plays an evil witch, accidentally revived when a curious doctor's fight with a bat causes blood to fall into her eye-socket; and she plays that witch's 'good' descendant, destined to be possessed or whatnot --it's all lining up (shades of Jewel of the 7 Stars transplanted to the 1800s.. ) Lots of creepy castle tracking shots, with Lewton-like walks to the barn in the dead of night, undead rising from graves as wind blows ominous. In terms of sheer rewatchability it is so without peer one has to look all the way back to the 30s pre-code Universal horror films to find a worthy comparison and--truth be told--it's better than most of them. It basically ushered in a whole wave of European supernatural Gothic horror films, most starring Steele, a few of which were good, that reverberated well into the 70s. Get over the dubbing and occasionally schmaltzy score, just imagery, the pacing, the lurid touches, the thick delicious atmosphere, and the unique formula of sexy and terrifying that are the wide eyes and heaving chest of Barbara Steele; the nods to Val Lewton and James Whale. And Steele, and Steele again. Afterwards, forever transformed, you should immediately seek out Black Sabbath andKill Baby Kill.

(1981) Dir. Paul Naschy
streaming on Tubi

Spanish horror legend Paul Naschy recounts seeing Frankenstein vs. the Wolf Man in a matinee as a small child and finding his life's purpose. And you can see he wasn't kidding with Night of the Werewolf, Not only does it pit classic monster against monster, he redressing many of the wrongs committed by Universal in that film (the title monster fight lasts barely 30 seconds before a flood ends the movie, hgere it goes on long enough you don't feel cheated, and it's with a woman!. This redresses the sexist wrongs of other Universal horrors, like Dracula (whatever happened to those three hot wives? They get only two brief scenes and no dialogue and are never seen again, ditto the Bride of Frankenstein).  Not so with the women in Naschy's Night of the Werewolf! Women vampires are all over the place (it's a remake/update of his first success, Werewolf vs. the Vampire Women). They're sexy, powerful, smart and strong, with great hair and skin. Instead of fighting Frankenstein, this wolf man is fighting with a super-powerful undead Elizabeth Bathory and her assorted coterie. 

In short, Paul Naschy, over the course of his countless "Valdemar" movies, became the werewolf we never really got from Lon Chaney Jr., who spent all of the sequels trying to die, chasing the scientists who inevitably bring 'the Monster' back, movie after movie, making us all wonder why he doesn't just jump into the nearest threshing machine instead of moping around like that guy who's always threatening suicide if you try to break up with him. For some reason his brooding Edwardian emo persona attracts all sorts of smitten gypsy girls. And there's a full moon tonight!

I mention this as Naschy talks about falling love with horror after seeing Frankensstein meets the Wolfman in a matinee with his father as a child. His whole werewolf journey seems designed to redeem that movie. Always sensual and ready to fondle and make-out with anyone, burly body-builder Naschy's squat, ruggedly handsome physique and even-keeled manner imbues his Valdemar with a romantic nature that's inherently aristocratic yet sexually proletariat at the same time. He's the werewolf we always wanted, even if his make-up is nowhere near as elaborate. (though I've never been a fan of Chaney's wolf face - too pouffy and poodle-like; I much prefer the less extreme but scarier version in the underrated Werewolf of London. )

The focus here isn't on Naschy though. He's great but the focus is on three super gorgeous tourists coming to a remote tomb on a holiday, wanting, for some reason, to revive,Elisabeth Bathory (we see her and her minions put to death in the Middle Ages opening, as was the style of the time). The leader of the trio is totally evil (ala Tura Satana in Faster Pussycat) while the other two girls seem rather naive, along for the ride. One can't help but admire their brazen self-assurance in their mission, despite all the warnings from locals. Plunging fearlessly into a vast cave network to find the tomb of the most eveil serial killer ever, Elizabeth Bathory, they're set on becoming her vampire handmaidens. The 'good' one amongst them falls for Vlademamir but will she be able to kill him when the time comes? 

It's another interesting echo of FVTWM that Valdemar has a deformed servant in love with him (ala the hunchbacked gypsy girl turned on by Chaney's emo vibes). Half her face is burnt, but her hair is great. In fact all their hair is great, the same color, long brown and more or less straight. Clearly Naschy has a type. But it's a good type, and these women are strong and self-reliant. Not only that but there are way more in the cast than men, making Night reminiscent of the films of Luigi Cozzi! And Jack Hill!)

In other words, Night of the Werewolf is revisionist classic Euro-horror heaven for the Universal and Euro horror fan. And the cinematography--thanks to a wondrous recent restoration--glows with lots of candle and torchlight golds, deep inviting shadows and swirling luminous fog. It's lovely to look at, and aside from the sex and gore, is fit entertainment for the whole family if the kids are too old to trick-or-treat.

(1977) Dir. Robert Voskanian

A once nearly-forgotten cracked emerald in the American rough, recently given a fancy upgrade by the folks at Arrow, The Child may be set in some remote 30s-40s corner of woodsy mountainous American folk nowhere, but its real location is the dream nebula where childhood nightmares rattle bedroom shutters in the still of the October night in the land of super quiet, super black nights only cloudy country nights provide (that kind of darkness and dead silence are why I live in the city and sleep with a white noise machine) and unearthly squawking moans seem to come from the air itself. Shoehorning themes and moods from Night of the Living Dead and The Omen in amidst its folk horror ominousness, The Child tells the story of a strange but sweet young woman, with period length long straight black hair and strange silver eyes, who arrives to nanny a bratty 11-year old sociopath named Rosalie (Rosalie Norton) after the apparent death of her (bi-polar necromancer) mom. Rosalie's dad is only a shades less demented than the dad in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Luckily, the adult son is tall, chill, and sane, thank God, and there's not much to do there in the dark at night, so they just may hook up, or he might turn into a scarecrow while she dances through the misty front lawn dream on Halloween night after freaking out at the sight of a jack-o-lantern seemingly moving on its own.

There's a masterful use of real darkness here that's rare in horror films (that jack-o-lantern seems to come out of nowhere). Yessir, The Child radiates a real country dark, the kind that seem to swallow the world around you, so that someone could be standing mere feet away from you and you'd never see them, so you strain to hear any sound of breathing in the silence, the kind of dark of where only candles and oil lamps make little bubble sancturaries of warmth and light in the surrounding inky opaque emptiness,. (1)

Then there's that score! Splitting the difference between avant-garde dissonance and soap opera style angst, Robe Wallace's score pushes the sound effects and echo-canned dialogue out in front of what sounds like a grand piano being pushed down a hill. Do the characters hear those strange echo-drenched honks ever in the distance/foreground). The post-dubbed voices of the actors seem as if they could be part of the score too--unheard of by each other, pushing the foggy-wind leaf blow folk horror imagery into the uncanny world between waking and sleeping, that zone when half-heard sounds are freed from signification and even innocuous objects create deep uncanny chills. 

And like all the best uncanny folk horror-style films (the film it probably resembles the closest is Lemora; A Child's Tale of the Supernatural) it's both warmly familiar, genuinely disturbing, relentlessly surprising and super strange. No matter where you think The Child is headed, it's never goes there, not until the last act, in which it suddenly drops everything and bolts out the door in one long careening climax of zombie horror, It's as if the truck that rescued creaming Marilyn Burns at the end of Texas Chainsaw Massacre crashed into a Night of the Living Dead construction site run by a Rhoda Penmark/Murder Legendre hybrid. In short, God--or something far more ancient--bless The Child! 

(1981) Dir. Lucio Fulci
streaming Prime, Tubi

It took me a long time to warm up to this weird gem, being too cool for what I believed was misogynist gore as a teenager, but after catching the other films in Fulci's undead trilogy, City of the Living Dead (1980) and House by the Cemetery (1981) on TCM, I knew I was wrong. There was so much more here than that. And so much less. Now, thanks to the miracle of streaming, a beautiful HD remastering is ours for the clicking. Sure, it defies narrative cohesiveness and seems to exult in gore for gore's sake, but it's so atmospheric! It's what Fulci meant by an 'absolute' film. A pumpin' Fabio Frizzi synth and pianocore, a script that's just cohesive enough to make the weirdness continually 'dream logical,' ambiguous expressions that seem to imply pages of strange suspicion never written. It's so 'in the moment' it forgets all about the future, leaving us constantly on our guard. Everything is just off. There is 'normal' moment we expect having seen hundreds of horror movies, the foreshadowing is its own uncanny effect with no pay-off, and vice versa. The result is that even minor details seem that's not imbued with the uncanny. From the start with a period prologue of Shrike the warlock painter's torture crucifixion (nailed to a wall, doused in lye, flogged with chains (we never learn why) and walled up in the basement of the "7 Doors Hotel" thus opening one of the seven doors to Hell), all the way to contemporary times, as Liza (the perfectly-cast, instantly iconic Catriona MacColl) inherits the crumbling edifice and sends Joe the plumber down to the vast, flooded basement to stop the leak. The painting the warlock was working on when he died is gathering dust on the ground floor, a strange hellscape that looks like the surface of some macabre moon, dotted with corpses covered in dust. Workmen fall off the roof, Joe busts through a crumbling wall allowing the warlock's decaying hand reaches from the crumbling wall to crush his face. Joe has a funeral minutes later. There is never a police investigation nor a single cop in the whole movie; we never see anyone even find Joe's eyeless body - it just shows up in the morgue. Shrike's eerie painting is hung in the foyer where its strange power seems to take over those who look at it. At one point it bleeds. For some reason the intern in the space age morgue puts an EKG meter on Shrike's long dead corpse which is now laid out next to Joe's; again no explanation - none needed. Shrike waits til he's alone to activate the EKG. Oh, he's in there, all right. To have some tired rationale would lessen its majesty. Hell-that's all you need to know, a hell where the undead shamble through hospitals with their heads down, shambling slow, like the workers in Metropolis after a long shift. 

Liza scoffs at the idea of the hotel leading to Hell, even though the service buzzer mysteriously sounds for the warlock's old room at odd times and she almost literally runs into a willowy blind blonde psychic Emily (Cinzia Monreale) with greyed over eyes and a seeing eye dog standing in the middle of straight bridge the goes on for miles over the swamps. Emily plays the ominous theme song on the piano, while regaling Liza with the story of the seven doors (which we never really hear or need to) we move onto other things and then come back. We never quite do find our way back anywhere, except this one time. When Liza arrives back at the hotel dimwitted handyman and his mom get the hotel almost ready to open. The painting is still there leaning against the wall. There is no 'normal' to ground us, yet nothing seems weird for weird's sake like so many 80s horror and sci-fi films. Instead 'the frame of things disjoint' (to quote Shakespeare. The doctor (David Warbeck) alone is the sole voice of patriarchal head-shaking; he worries Liza is losing her mind, or a witch, but not for long. The book shows up in a bookstore then disappears. Tarantulas take about a real time hour to eat a guy's face. The lady housekeeper has her head forced onto one of those Shrike nails by the handyman who arises from the muddy water in the bathtub. Space collapses. Nothing is the same or ever really was. 

Don't ask. Don't tell. Just dig the unforgettable shots: Emily standing with her dog and white eyes; the blasted surface of the Sea of Darkness; that strange all-white morgue; the masterfully creepy zombies shattering a opaque glass wall; the strange glances, the gore, the guts, the gusts and the gusto; the crisp atmospheric photography of Sergio Salvati (perfectly brought out by the HD remastering), and Fabio Frizzi's eerie synth music and strange piano refrains. Let it swirl together like a film that's spun off its reel and is wrapping itself around your neck, dragging your eye closer... closer to the hot light inside the proector. Allow it to sync up with your unconscious rather than your conscious expectations and it will all make perfect non-nonsense. You'll either want to vomit and gouge your eyes out or immediately cue up Fulci's other films. There is no middle ground. All hail the... whatever. 

(1978) Dir. Don Coscarelli
streaming Prime, Tubi

When hack directors rushed to imitate Halloween, ushering in the slasher boom at the end of the 70s, only one or two filmmakers looked carefully at the structure of the shots Carpenter used, paid attention to the tick-tockality of the time frame, really listened to find what was so effective about the score, instead of just thinking "guys in masks stabbing teenagers, got it."  and going off to make bland copies of content rather than form. Coscarelli didn't need the content, as he got the music right, the vibe, the use of cloaking darkness and the power of twisting old trees and drive-ways. Then Coscarelli went on did his own, highly original film. His previous works had all been children's films (another seldom-written about genre for 70s independents) and it pays off here as he treats the kids with respect and compassion (more Over the Edge than E.T.) Centered around a young lad terrified his brother will leave him behind when he takes off after their parent's funeral, Phantasm ushers in what I call 'older brother' films, all but forgotten these days, but in the 70s cool kids like Jackie Earle Haley played kids with older brother figures who let them sip their beer, smoke a cigarette, shoot guns, ("No warning shots. Warning shots are bullshit."), carry knives, drive before they were legal, and generally do their own thing. The kid here gets to do most of that and at one point throws the kid the keys to his gorgeous Plymouth Barracuda at one point. Gotta love a kid who has his own dirt bike and knife, knows how to shoot real guns, and isn't afraid to go out to investigate a funeral parlor in the dead of night with nothing but a knife taped to his leg. No wonder this movie has become a classic. When your older brother tells you, we "We gotta snag that tall, dude and we got to kick the shit out of him," It's like paradise for any red-blooded 70s American boy of the era. Every time Mark leans out of the speeding Barracuda to fire a shotgun at the tall man's hearse while Mike drives, I'm enthralled like a ten year-old hanging out with my best friend's cool older brother all over again. It goes deep into the archetypal masculine oomph. Oh there's also a girl, whose blind grandmother is a psychic and who runs an antique shop with her older sister, a scene I wish went on forever. 

What a movie - a genuinely original dark fairy tale plot hinging on a totally original metaphysical / ancient alien theory, a boy's fantastical perception of the strangeness of graveyards and mausoleums, the line between dreams and reality, and the way living in central-Portland is like living inside an abandoned tomb gone ruined with old growth and sinister shadows, enhanced by that familiar (1) but super creepy synth music, Plus the plot tweaks Plan Nine, to be about our worst fear -our dead parents coming back as crushed dwarfs trying to kills us and that we die will be crushed stuffed into big beer kegs and launched through a tuning fork gateway to another dimension. It could still happen!

(1982) Dir. Tony Williams 
Streaming on Prime, Tubi

This 1982 Aussie thriller has been seldom seen or mentioned until recently  Perhaps its bland poster and generic title is to blame? It's got a unique plot, friendly characters, vivid deep dusky cinematography, very cool wallpaper, and a sublime Klaus "Tangerine Dream" Schulze score adding the perfect mix of otherworldly eeriness to the homey surroundings. The sliding camera and dark furnishings keep us always on guard, even when things are all in order and sweet. 

Jacki Karin stars and brings a mix of steely energy and frazzled nerves to the role of Linda, a woman who inherits her recently deceased mom's old folk's home somewhere in Australia's vast outback, so drives in to both take over and figure out what's going on with all the deaths. Reading mum's journals she can't decide if the mom is insane or covering up or trying to solve a decade's long murder spree. At night the camera prowls the dark moody hallways, as Linda has pull-focus slow motion POV memories of being a traumatized child. What horrifying thing did she see in the steamy bathroom? 

With Schulze percolating his eerie but synth drum-inundated score as the wallpaper and lighting making it all feel like some splendid hybrid between Kubrick's Shining and Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives. The strange goings on get stranger. Good thing her old friend and ex-lover Barney (John 'Wolf Creek' Jarrat!) is around to keep her grounded! To say much more about it would be doing you a disservice but suffice it to say this film evokes a kind of warm-blooded Shining if it was an active old folks home about to collides nto a kind of four alarm Chainsaw-ish whirlwind of strange and ingenious moments, captured with beautiful dusky cinematography. See it with the lights off, dead sober, alone, your nerves dilated and screaming with alcoholic withdrawal. You will be changed. 

"La Rose de Fer" 
(1972) Dir Jean Rollin
Streaming on Arrow

The French love their poets the way Americans love TV actors. Poetry for the French is normal and respectable, not something for your girlfriend's parents to passively sneer at when you tell them your post-graduate plans. They French love Romantic proto-punk French poets like Baudelaire, and that luminous centerpiece the Symbolist 'dead before 30' dozen, Brittany's own Tristan Corbière. To say this, is to say too that they love those who can locate the beauty buried deep in in the ruins of death, and, too, the macabre ruins of death at the core of youthful beauty. They don't need Halloween there, as far as I know, for they have Corbiere, and they have Jean Rollin.  

I'm not sure which part of Françoise Pascal's final monologue/ voiceover during her climactic nude cross-bearing is from him, but I do value that it's hard to tell since all Rollin's best death-poetry-drenched classics reek of his spirit. This is maybe the most reeky of all, rank yet sweet with the fragrance of autumnal wet graveyard bouquets and freshly upturned earth. I also value the ominously mist-wreathed black train parked in the weeds in some overgrown train depot (when the couple stand atop the engine, with its painted black former iron flag trimming it evokes the angel of death looming behind them like some doting father). I value also the dilapidated look of the small town; the opening working class wedding feast (at which both characters seem to clearly not belong --as if already ghosts). Mostly I value that the film takes place over one late afternoon-into-dawn. Slowly, in real time, their Rohmer-esque idyll turns darker, moving from unease after hooking up too long in an open crypt, coming up to find the gates locked not knowing the way out, running through the graveyard in a slowly mounting surreal escape nightmare. Suddenly the distracting noises and peering eyes they were escaping down there are gone. It's as if they climb out into a whole different dimension. Dark falls fast in autumn.And the cinematography doesn't rely on noticeable artificial light, allowing this fascinating, huge, old, creepy, sad and beautiful graveyard to become a character in itself. Thanks to the beautiful Redemption label restoration, you can see their figures, (the red and yellow sweaters were a good idea, providing haunting contrast against the dark olive greens and withering old marble stones) even as darkness chokes the corners of the frame like its slowly blacking out from asphyxiation; the graveyard seem to be closing in around them, choked in vines and meandering fences, twisted vines and crumbling crypts. There's no glaring spotlights or day-for-night nonsense, making Jean-Jacques Renon's photography all the richer for being so dark without going completely murky or artificial. 

Then, when the sun finally comes up and the the conqueror worm's snacktime looms you can feel your pupils contracting yet this does nothing to dispel the Corbière-sy darkness, even as it illuminates the dank far corners and cobwebbed shadows of eternity like a thousand watt bulb in your grandparent's attic.  

Finally, a few seconds before you're even starting to get irritated, it becomes a surreal mournful cry for death; it becomes a love song, a longing for the loving embrace of la mortalité, finalité et l'éternité.  One of them survives, and returns to that old familiar Rollin rocky beach his fans know and love like their own backyardMore poetry?! Please, monsieur. Then it's over - barely 70 minutes long, yet feels like forever. 

Q -is there any image more quietly under-the-skin creepy than this? A- Non.

(1957) Dir. Roger Corman
streaming Prime, Tubi

My favorite Corman movie, this loopy black and white tale of reincarnation, hypnotism, knights, witches both good and bad, devils and Satanic graveyard dancers zips by in an hour and leaves my jaw agape every year or more, since it finally showed up on streaming (it was MIA for an eternity). I love everything about it. Charles B. Griffith's and Marc Hana's droll script, and Corman's speedball econo direction, the array of sexy, over-the-top, or otherwise awesome performances, the feeling of flowing poetic weirdness that it can only come from being shot in sequence over one long night in an empty supermarket full of black toxic mist to disguise the lack of backgrounds and of course the perfect pair of 'dueling witches' the shazam-smokin' Alison Hayes in the sexiest dress of her career, and Dorothy Neumann as the bent and hook-nosed good witch (don't be fooled by appearances! In this Middle Ages Oz only bad witches are lovely).

I love the casual way the good witch Meg Maud (Neumann) asks the stranger at her door "Are you from this era or from a time yet to be?" as if hypnotists from the future were not uncommon. Or her explanation of how she got her powers from the same evil place Livia did, but managed to keep her soul at the expense of her looks, and how Livia and Meg Maud size each other up and admiringly realize "you will make a good opponent" in a wager for the life of Helene and love of Pendragon (Richard Garland), Helene's super-boring handsome idiot knight.

I saw UNDEAD when very young on TV and the scene were Duncan seeks shelter at the witch's house is to me the eternally definitive Halloween moment, it's archetypal in the best of ways, for I fell instantly in love with the whole shebang, a monster movie fan from then on. ) and dimwitted lover).Meant to tie in to the then-craze for reincarnation (set in motion by the popularity of the Bridey Murphy story) the story quickly throws logic and even metaphysics to the wind, and ends up derailing the 'Grand Scheme of Things' when Lorna Love is able to whisper survival tips to her about-to-be-beheaded for witchcraft Middle Ages incarnation, Helene. Whoa! That's not how hypnosis works, but hey -- go for it! It's very clear throughout that Corman had his mind blown by Bergman's THE SEVENTH SEAL. The idea that archetypes like Death, the Devil, the inght and the Witch could be directly represented as if straight out of a woodcut, this redefined 'so old it's new' and it fit Corman's loose ballsy style like a glove. Besides, what else is intuition and spirt guidance if not hypnotized selves of the future shooting us tips and cautions from their future psychiatrist's space couch? And what else are the voices one hears in one's head that-- if you answer --either means your schizophrenic or a witch depending on the century? 

(1980) Dir. Dario Argento
Streaming on Tubi, Prime

 Submitted for your aghast confusion, Dario Argento's Inferno, i.e. Suspiria's imperfect but still essential sequel. It is, as Lucio Fulci would say, "an absolute film," i.e. a piece of textural 4D art that defies the parameters of conventional narrative to move into a world of image, sound, and sensation, wherein dream logic, surreal color-drenched atmosphere and nerve-piercing intensity need serve only themselves and our own semiotic grasp of cinematic codes is used against us--there is no need for dream sequences because reality and nightmare have bled inextricable ; where wherein close scrutiny yields no insight, but where you come in halfway through, aren't sure what film it is you'r watching, or finally get back from the snack bar, you don't need to know what you missed. Start anywhere, it's all going the same direction. The end credits scroll have to bring you back from the abyss and tell you "you have been watching INFERNO" since by then it's impossible to tell.

The story is straight out of a dark fairy tale, wherein a curious resident of a Satanic old building in NYC finds a book about her building and learns of 'the three mothers' (mysterious old witches whose power and malice know no bounds). One supposedly lives there "under the soles (souls?) of your shoes" The building is full of secrete entrances and crawlspace, holes in attic roofs where the rain gets in and floods ballrooms seemingly under the basement. When the exploring sister drops her keys down into the flooded hole and--in prime dream/fairy tale fearlessness--jumps in to retrieve them, you know you're not awake. Later she sends her brother a letter about the mothers and her suspicions and, for some weird reason, the mothers are determined to stop him from reading it or learning about them.

But whither Goblin? Dove sono i Goblin?

Rather than the mean old "Goblins", the score is instead a distracting, very un-scary melange of Switched-off Humperdinck tuning his baby grand, "Switched-on Verdi" at Chipmunk speed, cliche'd orchestral suspense cues, all of it scary only in their ability to make us lose our faith in Argento's artistic judgment. Was he blinded (or deafened) by his love for ELP?

Luckily, even when making strange ill-advised steps, the overall mise-en-scene plunges so far into occult symbolism and strange fascinations it makes up for it with brilliantly and somewhat intentionally abstract 30s pulp cover compositions, as if a tripping Edward Hopper was painting Raymond Chandler book covers in early two-strip Technicolor. Inside the frames lurks un unpredictable web of archaic symbology and (possibly kinky) obsession: broken glass door-knobs, elemental magic (fire, water, and air especially), arcane tarot and elemental symbolism, bibliophilia ("our lives are governed by the words of... dead people" intones the Satanically eyebrowed archaic bookseller) grisly killing (of course), and secret rooms and floors that seem to be like black box gallery spaces for contemporary art impressions of broken support beams and attic storage; a surreal visit to an old Roman library late in the rainy dark (the cab interior at night, cocooned in color-drenched pouring rain) and its secret basement re-binding room, demonic hands stirring the glue pot; an enigmatic young witch (Ana Peroni) showing up in a music lecture to stare at Mark (Leigh McCloskey) chanting under her breath words he can't hear because he's got headphones on; Mark meeting neighbor Dario Nicolodi whose whispers he can hear inside the walls; a creepy butler shooting her up with he pre-bath opiates, using a special thermometer to get the water just right inside her undeniably strange blue/red-lit apartment (I can't tell if living there would be a dream or nightmare come true); inevitable hands covered in hair with a knife to cut the suffering short when the animals fail the coup de grace. On and on....

As Mark says on the phone to his wet sister, "a lot's happened."

Watch it again, it's a different movie. I actually reviewed this already (as well as the following film) and forgot I did! That's how enigmatic and ever-shifting a perennial can be. Never the same film twice, never any better, never any worse. As haunting to superstitious minds... as a ghost.

(2015) Dir. Rodney Ascher 
Streaming on Prime

The director of Room 237 tackles another deep weirdness, this time it's sleep-paralysis. During interviews with a series of troubled but erudite sufferers, Asher gives us suuuuper creepy re-enactments of their sleep paralysis experiences. With the infamous shadow people (one of the strange common threads) rendered in inky with spooky HD blacks against blue/red color scheme evoking Argento, each sleep paralysis moment is so vividly recreated the film transcends mere 'documentary' to become something truly new, twisted, meta, and deeply illuminating. For me the creepy highlights are the alien figures composed of TV static, a subject's recollection of a night when his weird hippie girlfriend at the time conjured a blue lightbeing while on a hike (the actress playing the girl is truly uncanny), and a meta moment where we see  bedrooms of the interviewees all connected by a common interdimensional soundstage/sleep study, where the beings move between rooms, conjuring Monsters Inc., that "Girl in the Fireplace" Dr. Who episode and other things that cause a sudden jolt of uncanny epiphany. Have we seen this in-between place ourselves.... in dreams, or like secret passages in Argento movies? Either way, it's short, illuminating, creepy in the best and most Halloween of ways. 

(For more on sleep paralysis on Acidemic's sister site Divinorum Psychonauticus, see: Demon Sheets: Sleep Paralysis Theories)

(1989) Dir. Claude Fragasso

Fairly terrible opening narration (mispronounces 'humanitarian') but then there's a great 80s Italian faux-Journey song "The Wild Life" and I'm in. All the way. Zombi 4-Eva. Snob zombie circles turn their blue-painted noses up at Zombi 4: After Death, but not me, Fragasso is the man. And this one's got everything I want in an Italian 80s apocalyptic horror film: gore, dark, moody cinematography (lots of deep greens and dusky reds and inky blacks); endless backlit fog, light shafting through forest, expressionistic boards over holes and broken out windows, dusk-til-dawn timeline, vivd photography capturing the fine flicker of light in the darkness, cool characters who don't waste time with histrionics and sexist or class-conscious bickering and an apocalyptic ending. Fragasso made some turkeys in his day but this one starts strong, bouncing along on its feet, and it never slows down except to try and get some sleep in the wrecked makeshift missionary-run field hospital (i.e. shades of Fulci's indelible Zombi 2) while an armed and reliable mercenary crew stand watch. One strange update though, his undead buddies are out there, and they can talk, and still shoot their M-16s. 

This time the outbreak is confined to a single remote jungle island, the result of a witch doctor's levied curse (left). Whatever, man, who needs a reason when there's a beautifully-lit cave with a doorway to hell and a woman with sandy blonde hair trying to stop the zombies by putting her medallion in the center of a table full off lit candles?  

I can't stress enough: there's a big difference between Fragasso's Zombi 4: After Death (this one) and his marginally better Hell of the Living Dead, AKA Virus AKA Zombie 4. Their both awesome, when you're in that misty, chilling jungle atmosphere, gore, steady propulsion, careening momentum, good dubbing and the typically dynamite 80s synth score by Goblin (recycled, but still awesome). So same director, same score, same numbered sequel, but two different movies. Scripted (and co-produced) by Rosella Drudi (Fragasso's wife and writer of the inoperable Troll 2) so it's got some sensitivity in its female characters' dialogue and--as usual for Druidi's scripts--it's laden with deadpan absurdity that may or may not be intentional. May we never find out! (Tubi)

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