Sunday, August 29, 2021

Black Mass, After a Fashion

Films: The Church (La Chiesa)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

Readers who have been here long enough and seen enough reviews of Italian horror movies know what my issue is with the style. If you’re new here, it’s this: Italian horror movies are long on style and short on coherence. They typically don’t really follow any sort of plan. The vast majority of them appear to be several scenes that the writer and/or director really wanted to include, and then something approaching a plot was pieced together so that all of those scenes could appear in whatever the movie turned out to be. The Church (or La Chiesa in the original Italian) was written in part by often plot-free director Dario Argento, so I didn’t have a lot of hopes for it. Imagine my surprise when The Church turned out to have an actual coherent plot with a legitimate third act.

We’re going to start in the past, where a group of knights destroys an entire village alleged to be populated by devil worshippers. All of the bodies are dumped into a single pit, and as one of the bodies starts to move again, they are buried, and a huge cathedral is built over the site in the hopes of keeping the evil at bay. See, that’s a plot hook that makes a certain amount of sense! Amazing!

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Bloody Good

Films: Dracula Has Risen from the Grave
Format: DVD from Putnam County Public Library through interlibrary loan on various players.

I have a love of Hammer horror movies, and honestly I think anyone who has any affinity for horror probably feels the same way. The Hammer films are a sort of a tangible bridge between the tamer Gothic horror tales and weird science fiction through the ‘50s and the much harder and violent horror of the ‘70s. Many of the Hammer films are darker than the earlier films, often bloodier and grittier. But they also resurrect many of the classic Universal monsters and bring them forward, if not in setting in most cases, at least in terms of color and violence. Actors like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee made a lot of their bones in films like this, often play opposite each other. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is generally forgotten in the Hammer series, and it’s far better than that sad fate.

In a small Eastern European town in the early 20th century, there are terrible memories of the reign of Count Dracula. But we are a year past that as the movie starts, and while Dracula himself no longer curses the town, his shadow is still on the area and the people. The local priest (Ewan Hooper) has more or less given up on holding mass, forcing a visit from the area’s monsignor (Rupert Davies). He treks up to Dracula’s castle and exorcises it, planting a massive golden cross across the door.

Friday, August 20, 2021

All the Scenes at Once!

Films: City of the Living Dead ( Paura Nella Citta Dei Morti Viventi)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

If I live to be 200 years old, I will never understand Italian horror movies in general. Much like I feel that a great deal of anime passes over me because I always feel like there are cultural elements that are assumed I would know and I don’t, Italian horror always leaves me feeling lost I am constantly under the impression that most of the movies come at the plot secondarily at best. So many Italian horror films feel like a series of loosely connected set pieces. The director has a few ideas (“Let’s have a woman literally puke up her guts! Let’s attack people with maggots! Let’s have a guy killed on a drilling lathe!”) and then tries to patch them together in a loose semblance of story. I’ve had that sense before with Italian horror, but never as much as I did with City of the Living Dead (also known as Paura Nella Citta Dei Morti Viventi).

That being the case, I’m not really sure how much sense a plot summary is going to make. At a séance in New York, a medium named Mary (Catriona MacColl) experiences a vision of a priest named Father Thomas (Fabrizio Jovine) hanging himself, which is evidently going to cause an army of the living dead to rise up. Mary collapses and does such a convincing job of this that everyone thinks she’s dead. Eventually, she’ll be saved by journalist Peter Bell (Christopher George) as she is being buried. This, clearly was an early set piece idea of Fulci’s since getting to this point means that Mary was able to convincingly appear dead to multiple doctors, make it through a funeral service, and get to the gravesite in the coffin without being embalmed. Like I said, it’s a series of set pieces that are loosely stitched together regardless of how they might make sense.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The Blind Leading the Blind

Films: The Dark Eyes of London (The Human Monster)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

I spend a little time each month researching where I can find movies on my various lists. A lot of the really early movies are harder to find. Services like NetFlix and Amazon Prime, and even the free film libraries like Tubi and Pluto don’t have a lot of the weirder films pre-1940. I discovered that The Dark Eyes of London was playing on Tubi and I figured I’d give it a watch. Then I couldn’t find it; I didn’t realize that it had also been released under the more prurient but far less evocative name The Human Monster.

The original title is a much more interesting one, because in this case, the “dark eyes” refer to a collection of men who are blind. We’re not going to start here, though; we’re going to start with the recovery of a drowned body in the Thames. There’s been a rash of such bodies we learn, and the police seem to be unable to find any leads because, well, this is a movie. Finally, someone comes up with the brilliant idea of seeing who held the insurance policies on those corpses, and it turns out that all of them were insured by a guy named Dr. Orloff (Bela Lugosi), who runs a very small insurance business and who spends most of his time on charity work with the blind. It just so happens that this home for the blind is right along the Thames, because of course it is.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Jane Wick

Films: Gunpowder Milkshake
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

I think we could make the case that in the last decade or so, the action movie has essentially been perfected. There are great action movies from the past, of course, but films like John Wick, Dredd, The Raid, Mad Max: Fury Road and more are precisely what is wanted from an action movie. Fury Road was the realization of that for me; I went in wanting two hours of car chases and explosions and, counting credits, that’s what I got. There are others that walk in those same circles, even if they aren’t quite there. Wanted and Taken, for instance, play in that same hyper-action field. The Kingsmen series fits in there, as does the underseen The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Atomic Blonde is essentially a James Bond film with a woman in the lead role. And into this crowded room of gunslingers and assassins walks Gunpowder Milkshake.

Based on what I have called this review, it won’t be a huge surprise to anyone that this is very much a woman-driven version of John Wick, although there are big nods to Wanted as well. Like both of those films, we are deep in a world of a secret cabal of assassins. In this case, it is a shadowy organization called The Firm. Scarlet (Lena Headey) is one of their top assassins, but she gets into some trouble and is forced to make a quick disappearance, leaving her daughter Sam (eventually played by Karen Gillan) in the care of Nathan (Paul Giamatti).

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Strange Fruit

Films: The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on Fire!

I believe that in the past, probably on my review of Breathless, that I have mentioned my parents’ past history with Jean Seberg. I bring this up because Jean Seberg was targeted by name by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI because of her support for the Black Panthers and other causes that were deemed radical by society at the time. How does this connect to The United States vs. Billie Holiday? Because that is the essential point of this movie. While perhaps not all of Lady Day’s problems stemmed from the persecution she suffered at the hands of Johnny Law, a hell of a lot of them did, and plenty of them were trumped up and designed to make her comply.

So what was the issue? Billie’s rampant heroin use was what the Feds focused on because it was a tangible issue that could be brought to bear against her. The truth is that the government wanted her silenced because of the song “Strange Fruit,” about lynchings in the American South. The song, we are told, is a rabble rousing song, one that gets people ready to protest and fight, and the government didn’t want that. And so, Billie Holiday became the scapegoat for anything the government could think of. They also planted drugs and paraphernalia or her more than once.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Putting Down Roots

Films: Minari
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on various players

I’ve been mulling over what I want to say about Minari for a little more than a day. It’s not that I didn’t like it; as a matter of fact, I think it’s a lovely movie in many respects. It’s that I genuinely don’t know what I have to say about it. It doesn’t feel like a movie that generates a great deal of conversation in a lot of ways. There are plenty of places where it could generate conversation tuned in a different way, but it is the movie that it.

Minari is the story of the Yi family in the mid-1980s Jacob: (Steven Yeun), Monica (Han Ye-ri), and children Anne (Noel Kate Cho), and David (Alan Kim). David, we learn, has a heart problem, and his parents tell him constantly not to run. We also learn that Jacob and Monica are much happier speaking Korean while Anne and David speak Korean, but also speak English like American natives. The Yis have moved to Arkansas from California. In Arkansas, Monica is able to work as a chicken sexer (she wasn’t fast enough for California). Jacob does the same work, but is really there to start a farm. His goal is to grow Korean vegetables to feed the thousands of Koreans moving to the U.S.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, July 2021

Another month down. July was a difficult month for me and I’m happy to see it in the rearview mirror. I knocked five off the giant list this month, which is better than some in the past. It was a mixed bag this month—a couple I expected to like more than I did and one in particular I enjoyed far more than I thought I would. That, of course, is the point to all of this.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Vampire Weekend

Films: Byzantium
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on Fire!

How exactly do I explain a film like Byzantium? On the surface, this is a vampire movie, but it’s a vampire movie unlike any I’ve seen before. It’s one that very much creates its own mythology, its own method of vampire creation, and a great deal more. It’s also terribly melodramatic in places, but in a way that is surprisingly appealing. It’s gritty at times, and seedy, with several moments of surprising violence, and yet there is a great deal of poetry here. And for whatever reason, no one seems to know this movie.

We are first introduced to the two women we will spend most of the movie with. Clara (Gemma Arterton) works as a stripper while Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) appears to be just a bit too young to be employed. What we learn right away is that these are women who are something other than human. Eleanor, we learn, writes the story of her life frequently and tosses the pages to the wind. Some of them have been collected by an old man who lives in the same building; he claims he knows what she is and asks her to kill him. She does, and we learn that she is, more or less, a vampire.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Send Nudes!

Films: Lifeforce
Format: Streaming video from Pluto TV on Fire!

Stop me if you’ve heard this plot before. A group of human space travelers find an alien spacecraft that appears to be filled with the bodies of dead alien life forms. It turns out that the alien creatures aren’t as dead as believed, and they wake up and start feeding on the humans, frequently by literally hiding inside of them. Sounds a bit like Alien, no? Well, in this case, it’s Lifeforce, and while this was based on a book called “The Space Vampires,” the screenplay was written in part by Dan O’Bannon, who wrote Alien.

Lifeforce, while vastly different from Alien, has a great deal in common with it. It’s also got a lot of things that Alien doesn’t have. Primarily, it has Mathilda May, who spends the vast majority of her seven or so minutes of screen time completely nude. Frequent readers of this blog will note that I’m not a gorehound when it comes to horror movies. I’m similarly not a sexhound. It’s hard not comment on it because it often seems like the entire point of the film.