Archive for May, 2013

Aenigma – Lucio Fulci – 1987

Posted in 80's with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2013 by bookofdread

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Lucio Fulci’s Aenigma is a parable about the impotence of sickness. When Fulci made this film, he wasn’t in the best health. He looks gaunt and ill in his typical cameo. He was having money troubles and troubles with producers. So here we have a story, very reminiscent of not only DePalma’s Carrrie, but even more so the Ozploitation classic Patrick. Essentially this is an astral-self attack movie, not a telekinesis movie. The differences are slight but basically make it so that the killers’ astral form can do just about anything.

Kathy is the frumpy daughter of St. Mary’s College cleaning lady, Maria. Maria’s daughter has a thing for the dance instructor. So, several of the college girls fix her up to go on a date with Mr. Hunktastic douche. Shitbag picks her up in a car and drives to remote spot where he starts to make out with her. She feels confident, kissing him back, divulging her innermost secrets and desires. But, he has placed a radio in his car. All around them, sitting in the dark, are individuals who judge her every word and mock her voice and desire. 

See, Fulci is that girl. Like most of his late films, the film distinctly echoes his disdain and insecurity. The faces in the dark? That’s the audience. Fulci gives, gives his heart, passionately to his love, and for what? To be mocked from afar? After a few moments the viewers turn on their headlights to reveal their presence. Kathy realizes she’s been had. Douchebag laughs in her face. She runs screaming from the car. 

The cars begin to pursue.

Women lean from the windows taunting Kathy. She runs frantically, headlong into the darkness as the cruel cries of beautiful faces chase her into the abyss. Then she runs into a busy street and is hit by an oncoming car.

Kathy is in a coma. Horrible machines keep her alive in a room of white light and dark blue walls. But her brain is awake, awake enough to transmit fear from afar. Awake enough to bring vengeance to those torturers who know no humanity. And this is Fulci. From even death he brings visions to our mind, through the ephemera. Though his is not a cruel spirit, this film finds him feeling very sorry for himself and very put upon. Though he is sick he is far from capable of expressing himself.

A new girl immediately arrives at the school. It could be that Kathy possesses this girl or that this girl is an Empath who funnels Kathy’s revenge. It’s hard to tell, but clearly the impulse influences the medium, not unlike the effect of watching a film has on its audience. Anywho, Eva is given Kathy’s old room and is attracted to all of her previous tormentors. The killing begins with gross dance teacher. He asks Eva out on a date, but before they meet, his reflection leaps from the mirror and destroys him. This scene, though cheaply done, very effective, and the message is clear. What do you see in the mirror? Does it create or destroy?

Fulci appears, briefly, as a stupefied police detective. There is no answer for the unreal. By appearing as this character, Fulci looks the audience in the face and basically says, “I don’t have the answers.” I don’t know how this works. I only know that it works.

A girl is killed by snails, and a doctor realizes that Kathy’s vitals have responded during the times of both of the deaths at the college. The snail death is not bloody, but there is a naked woman with tons of snails all over her, so if sexy snail stuff is your bag, then this is the film for you. Kathy’s respirator breaks and Eva has a coughing fit in class. No one puts two and two together. But here, Fulci does an interesting thing. He establishes that the two bodies share a vital link. That harm to one does harm to the other. Does this pull for the possession or ghost option? I’m not sure. Perhaps a ghost, couldn’t be harmed at all, so I guess, Eva really is possessed. And, why would you bother with possession if you could summon death snails to do your bidding?

To seduce the hot professor you were crushing on before you were in a coma, of course! That’s right! Eva comes on to the Prof, and they get it on! This is actually cool stuff, even if the scene isn’t terribly sexy. A comatose nerd uses psychic power to possess another woman and use her to seduce a man? That sounds a lot like Being John Malkovich. Just saying, that’s right, I’m comparing Aenigma to a Charlie Kaufman story.

A girl returns to an art gallery where a mock up of Rodin’s “The Thinker” comes to life and destroys the girl ultimately, by crushing her. The art comes to life and wreaks the havoc of the oppressed. The victim brings the art to life, issuing reprisal in a tangible way.

Professor dreamy begins to have a series of nightmares in which Eva, his girlfriend who is possessed by a coma girl, slays him after sex. Are his own dream visions protecting him. Fulci is know to both vilify and lionize the power of dreams and here it seems a clear case of the dreams acting as warning to the moral, (mostly?) professor.

Eva’s mother takes her home, but she bombards Professor Dreamy with love notes. Is this still Kathy in Eva’s body? Could she not just possess another gal? 

Another gal starts banging Dreamy, the only girl who feels sorry for Kathy’s condition. I love that these figures are only as moral a professor sleeping with his students. There is no moral high ground in this movie, except for perhaps Kathy’s aptly named mother, Maria.

The cleaning lady observes Eva sneak back onto the campus to murder two more students with mania set on by horrific visions. A girl sees her boyfriend beheaded at every turn and the terror sends her flying out of a third story window where she crashes to her death. Her boyfriend shows up moments later and looks out the window to see his dead gal. The windowpane falls, sending his head down to join his lover.

The ending is a fizzle. Eva threatens Jenny, Dr. Dreamy’s new fling, with a scalpel. After slashing the late arriving Dr., Eva falls dead to the floor. We ascend, Fight Club style, through the hospital. Above the trio is Maria, who has taken her own daughters life. The camera begins to ascend through the floors, (again, Panic Room style), until it pulls out from a beautiful model of a hospital in a large city. This final shot is very surreal and beautiful and Fulci acquiesces in this moment that peace is kinder than violence. Some spirits cannot be left to roam.

 

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Deranged – Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby – 1974

Posted in 70's with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2013 by bookofdread

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Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby probably had no idea how influential their little film base on Ed Gein would be. Told in a semi-documentary style, with a reporter occasionally appearing to give details, Deranged is a lurid piece of sleaze, anchored by one of the great performances in film history. Roberts Blossom, as Ezra Cobb, gives a super damaged and creeptastic portrayal of a man who likes to dig up corpses and set them around his dinner table.

Before his creepy mom dies she tells him that all women are trying to get him to have sex with them and that you can’t trust any of them, unless they are fat. Really. That’s a point in the film. And at some point Ezra meets with a fat “psychic” lady who swears her dead husband wants Ezra to oblige her carnal desires. Luckily, Ezra knew this might happen and puts a pillow over her face and shoots her. Down flies up in front of the photo of her husband. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie.

I’m getting ahead of myself. After his mom dies, Ezra digs her up and begins making treasures out of human remains. Soon he needs fresh supplies. At a bar he makes friends with an older waitress. After a few weeks of ingratiation, he slashes her tires and lurks about until she asks for his help. He basically abducts her and takes her to his house…I don’t really know what his plan was. She discovers his corpse zoo and he shows her a flesh drum and wears a flesh face “ala Leatherface”. Soon he smashes her and that’s the end of her.

Ezra is a friend with the neighboring farmer, and the farmer’s son has a hot girlfriend who works at the hardware store. Ezra sets his sights on her and the third act of the film features him shooting her, her getting stuck in a bear trap and eventually Ezra being caught in the act of filleting her while she hangs by her feet. Ezra is shot in this act but it gives very little sense of relief.

This film was obviously made cheaply and quickly to cash in on the sordid details of the Ed Gein case, however, what could have been an HGL horror-show, ends up a strange existential picture in which Roberts Blossom takes us inside the mind of a maniac. His characterization comes off as pitiable and broken rather than insidious and malevolent.

By straddling the line of gore and character, the film gives us that rare creature; one I celebrate here, art-horror. It is a primary goal of the film to have us connect with this monstrous man. I’d say due to Blossom’s extraordinary performance they succeed. Another indispensable element is the funerary organ score by Carl Zittrer. We first here the music during Ezra’s mothers funeral, and by repeating this music, we know that Ezra carries around his mother’s death with him. This moment is so defining for him, that his every action reflects his mother’s expectation for him.

In this way, Deranged occupies a very specific place in the history of horror films; it is the direct descendant of Psycho, even being based on the same events. Deranged is much less plot based than Psycho and revels more in the red stuff and the brain of the killer. Deranged is also the father of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It came one year before, and while I doubt Hooper saw this film before he shot TCM both films consider that purgatory that exists on private property in rural areas, far from the prying eyes of official types.

Because of the pseudo-doc style, the film never allows for the subjectivity of a horror scene. Instead, it plays the events with objectivity, never seeking to manipulate the audience with suspense or terror. Rather, we are left cold observers, powerless to help the victims and fascinated and repulsed that such event s transpire in the world around us.

Gillen and Ormsby didn’t end up being Horror Gods or even Film luminaries, but the lightning in the bottle that is Deranged left a lovely legacy to existential gore films. The film world is better with films like this in it.

Born For Hell – Denis Heroux – 1976

Posted in 70's with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2013 by bookofdread

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Denis Heroux’s Born For Hell is a nasty little piece of sleaze. Few movies have the nerve to be so fucking slimy. But this one is one of the lowest films I’ve ever seen. Even with its’ fairly sterile presentation, the content alone is enough to make one want to bathe in Holy Water.

The film begins with a Mass. As a bomb explodes a Vet in a green jacket barely reacts to the dead bodies on the floor. A church bombing in the first 5 minutes? Yeah, it’s going to be that kind of a movie. This is a film about the cycle of violence, and how sometimes one cant leave the frying pan for carrying the fire around inside.

A US Vietnam Veteran is stuck in Belfast. He doesn’t have enough money to board a ship back to the states, and the next one doesn’t leave for a week. He’s broke, begging, abandoned by his nation. He’s staying in a hostel. An Asian man beds next to him. The vet asks where he’s from.

“Vietnam”.

The vet pulls out a medal and tells him he had to kill a lot of men to get it. He offers it to the Vietnamese man. The man tells him to, “Shove it.”

After a good thirty minutes of building a slight but definite empathy for veteran, Cain Adamson, (Good Grief….), Cain enters a house full of nurses for a lengthy second act. Good God does it get ugly.

Cain ties up all the girls in one room, and then takes one out to talk to her. He tells her she looks like his ex-wife before he tries to rape her. She resists his advances so he takes off his belt and pulls it around her neck choking her. He rapes her and chokes her to death. One down.

This film is incredibly misogynistic, and the villain clearly hates women. He tells one victim that Jimmy-Boy, his best friend went home early with hepatitis but then knocked up his wife. So, this man is cuckolded, and a war-killer. Here in Belfast, he’s desperate, defeated, destroyed.

Cain returns to the room and asks for two more girls. He forces them to perform lesbian sex acts as he whips them with his belt. As the girls resist he resorts to his trusty switchblade. He places the weapon inside one of the woman’s hands and forces her to slay her friend. Then he drags her to a sink where he half-assedly washes her off before choking her to death with his hands.

This character both hates women and desires them. Much like in Werewolf Woman, Cain desires these women, but wants to destroy them in the name of his wife’s betrayal. This conflict makes him murderous. Though it is a bit more believable here because he is a war killer.

The late nurse and housemother come home at 2am. Whoops. Cain stabbed them.

He returns to the room where two are left. One is hiding. He goes to a wardrobe and stabs mercilessly through a golden curtain, slaying the woman hiding inside. He kills another, until only one is left.

Except, Cain doesn’t know there is a visitor this night. A pregnant nurse hides under the bed.

Cain takes the now hysterical final nurse to the kitchen and gives her cake. She takes his switchblade off of the table in a despondent act and stabs herself. This act is quick, but in a modern film, it could be excruciating.

Cain heads back to the bedroom and robs the corpses of their money. He falls asleep on the bed the pregnant nurse hides under. She sees a tattoo on his arm—Born For Hell.

The next day the man leaves. As the milkman discovers the women, the news descends on the gruesome crime scene. Cain learns there was a survivor who saw his tattoo. He tries to cut it off.

We cut to a hospital where a doctor saves his life and cleans his wounds. The doctor sees the tattoo. Born For Hell.

“So, It’s you.”

Born For Hell is a scathing satire, and grimy exploitation piece.  Made by a German production company, directed by a French director, set in Belfast and featuring an American protagonist, (?) this film shockingly contrasts the religious conflict in Ireland with the US’s lack of responsibility in reigning in their own shell-shocked GI’s after conflict.

This film is only for the most fearless of viewers.  It is an incredibly hard picture, though I can totally imagine an even less sanitized modern version. 

What if Adrian Garcia Bogliano made a version of this film? It would be ruthless and incredible! I want to see that film!

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