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Archive for September, 2010

Sleepless

by on Sep.30, 2010, under Daily Review

Argento’s return to form some might say. It was hyped at the time and I actually remember enjoying this one when it came out, straight to DVD. I’d built it up to a godlike level but forgave it for a lot of what it isn’t or couldn’t live up to. This time around, I’m watching with fresh eyes and less expectation; also directly on the back of Phenomena, how will it sit?

The plot is a complex giallo murder crime flick. A retired officer (Max Von Sydow) is pulled back into a re-opened case which he worked on some years earlier. A dwarf crime novelist, who was the main suspect, committed suicide, leaving the case at a loose end. But someone is back, using the dwarf’s literature as an MO, slashing up girls in a gruesome style.

The film is a kinda homage to all that’s gone before. Argento has cherry picked his way back into the genre by recreating some wonderful set sequences, which are all very familiar and a real joy to watch. The plot is crazy and swings all over the place, but irons out perfectly. Gore is top form here too with Sergi Stivaletti in the hot seat creating some amazing effects and some vicious nasty stuff.

Argento has collected the best of his past and the best he could recruit too. Von Sydow brings credence to the film, Goblin reformed especially for this and knock out a stunning fresh new score. Franco Ferrini script and Ron Taylor on DP. A perfect team by anyone’s standards.

That window is back again! The first murder, a brilliantly played out scene with a girl (Barbara Lerci) stalked on a train. Great pace and a great sequence of events which truly captivate the viewer. At her demise, I was actually awaiting the head to crack through the train window, but this time, a bit subtler as she is left, screaming and dragging her bloody hands down the glass as the train pulls into the station, her friend awaiting on the platform. Stunning stuff.

One further point, Argento seems deeply rooted with the idea of trauma generated at childhood, a haunting which emanates to a point of character decline to a downward spiral of violence. This theme is repeated through many of his films and at play here. Finally, a quick word about his use of colour. As I’ve mentioned, we’re getting a lot of his past through reflection which couldn’t be created without some blue, red and green gels. The disco scene is beautifully lit, a celebration in itself. Likewise, rooms are pained in contrasting reds and blues, a subtle yet distinctive sign of his move back to grace.

Give this one the opportunity it deserves. It’s a stepping stone to what could be a welcome return, and also a tip of the hat to previous accomplishments, and also very enjoyable.

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Phenomena

by on Sep.29, 2010, under Daily Review

Jennifer Connelly gained fame as a young actress with Labyrinth, but prior to this, she’d already worked with two of the worlds greatest directors, Sergio Leone (One upon a Time in America) and here with Argento. It’s obvious, they could see the talent and great potential. Connelly is magnificent here and holds the film together, just as Hemmings did in Deep Red, anchoring the film with Character.

Girls are being murdered in the Swiss Alps with only body parts being discovered months after. (Connelly) is a rich American kid whose father finds her a girls school in Europe to study. She’s not like the other students, her father being a heart throb actor, but that’s not all. She has a secret ability to communicate with insects and sleepwalks too. She teams up with Professor McGregor (Donald Pleasence), an expert in the field of insects who introduces her to the Great Sarcophagus, a fly which lives on rotting human flesh. The investigation begins.

The film is full of wonder, a great plot with a dash of the fantastical and some vicious gore. Cinematography is outstanding but subtle (Romano Albani), once again, Argento pushes for strong characters to take the viewer through some crazy plotlines. Great musical score too, a collective of Boswell, Goblin, Simonetti and Bill Wyman.

As suspected, we have another window murder, the opening scene, first murder, head crashed through glass. This is strange. I’ve seen most of Argento’s films many times, never noticed this connection before. So far, four out of four have window murders.

As mentioned, it’s Connelly who wins this film over. She’s a great actress and here does not disappoint. Talking away to bees and flies, she makes this crazy plot work and takes us to a believable place. Pleasance and Nicolodi as always put in a fine performance too.

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Deep Red (Profondo Rosso)

by on Sep.28, 2010, under Daily Review

Another glorious film from Argento and one which really doesn’t disappoint. I was wary to come back to this one but it’s perfect and probably Argento’s closest character based films with real heart and charm, splendid creative direction and cinematography although not going over the top with gels Bava style, here we have a more focused classic tale of crime.

David Hemmings plays a Marcus, a jazz musician who after a night of rehearsals, strolls home through the empty Italian city streets, and witnesses a murder taking place beyond a window up above (Haven’t we heard this plot before somewhere?) A psychic, who earlier on in the evening, read the mind of a killer in the audience of a seminar, the murder left sharpish, only to return to the psychics home later on, to remove any evidence. A brutal murder which ends up at the window, witnessed by Marcus. He races up to the apartment  but it’s too late. Afterwards, he’s questioned by the police, but something is not quite right in the apartment. Something has changed, something has moved. But what has Marcus got himself caught up in? Daria Nicolodi encourages an investigation in her role as a photojournalist.

The film is beautiful, great pace and electric performances from Nicolodi and Hemmings. The pair show great character, comedy and serious but always solid and realistic. Argento just points the camera and lets the pair go, they are mesmerizing and perfect here. The plot twists and turns to uncover some crazy stuff and a bleak past. The whole thing is wrapped together with a stunning soundtrack care of Goblin.

It’s interesting to compare thjis one to Crystal Plumage, but also Argento’s repeated use of windows for murder scenes, here, Crystal and Inferno so far all have very graphic murders based around windows. Interesting. Lets see how many more we find this week.

The film is perfect and one of Argento’s most coherent of films, focusing on the dynamic main actors which allows Argento to make some subtle tricks with the camera. The gore is good too.

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Inferno

by on Sep.27, 2010, under Daily Review

This is something else. It’s quite unlike anything you could ever expect to watch and to begin to describe the plot is slightly outside the realms of possibility here. Argento takes us to a place that very few directors manage to take us, a vision of his own mind, a plot within his thoughts, brought to the screen through determination and a very supportive producer. The result is a glorious visual event which will stimulate the mind as well as they eye.

The plot follows on from Suspiria, the tale of the Three Mothers (Mother of Sorrow, Tears and Darkness), the world leaders of Witches Covens, who rule from mansions in three prime spots, New York, Rome and Freiburg. Here, we witness the events between Rome and New York as Sister and Brother stumble upon the dark secret which is covered up by death to anyone who dares involvement.

The films looks amazing, probably Argento’s greatest achievement. Stunning colour, grand set pieces which collect to an amazing film. It’s unlike anything else due to it’s fantastical plot, which allows characters to discover secret rooms and underground flooded basements, corpses floating too, but characters who will take a dip in such secret places for the chance to discover something special. Old mythical books telling the secret of the house, the witches coven and facing the danger of being discovered. It’s all here, a collection of imaginative set sequences which make up the complete film. Everyone who gets an idea of what is going on is soon murdered in some crazy way, be it by demon of butchers knife, rats or cats.

One of my favourite scenes is in the lecture hall in Rome. A glorious scene with who I can only gather is one of the Mothers with a furry cat, casting a spell on Mark (Leigh McCloskey) in order to confuse his mind, prevent him reading a letter of warning about his sisters discovery in New York. The camerawork, score and visuals here are outstanding, this on top of the plot which is so cool, you just can’t take your eyes off the screen.

Argento’s most outrageous film and my favourite of all.

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The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

by on Sep.26, 2010, under Daily Review

The perfect place to start for any horror fan, or for that matter, any film fan wanting to get an understanding of the reasoning why Argento is credited as one of the leading directors in the field. This is where it all begins, a classic giallo, totally inspired by Bava, but totally Argento from start to finish.

Sam, (Tony Musante) an American writer working in Italy witnesses an attempted murder through a huge glass frontage of an Art Gallery. But something is not right and the situation keeps playing in the back of his mind. Meanwhile, he’s stalked by the killer and questioned by the police. He decides to undertake some investigations himself.

Beautifully shot, this film is crisp, sharp and perfect in execution which in some way differentiates away from the Bava feel which is far more of an artistic one, Argento’s is more clinical. The lighting is also perfect and a toned down imitation of Bava which can be a good thing which can bring a bit more of a balance to the film. The actors can step up to the mark, rather than fade into the arty direction and become part of the overall image. The plot is also very solid and intriguing, the whole idea of Sam having something in his mind, a missing clue to the murder attempt which he witnesses with flash back visions of that night. That whole scene is outstanding too. The structure of the gallery window, through which Sam watches the crime is like a huge cinema screen that Sam is trying to climb through.

Something else to point out, the opening scene totally reshot by Tarantino in Death Proof, frame for frame as a voyeurist takes photographs from a distance of his target. Tarentino also adds the original score from Bird with the Crystal Plumage, adding another little clue as to his chosen homage.

As I say, this is a great place to start. Over the next few days, we’ll see Argento’s direction change and move into a more vivid style, and pull back to this original look and feel as he’s been trying to recapture his original magic, not of the Suspiria and Inferno, but of ‘Bird’, Deep Red and Tenebre.

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Week 48

by on Sep.25, 2010, under 365 Schedule

I’ve holding back from this week for a long, long time. Argento has been such a huge inspiration in my life, but will his films stand up against my memory?

  • Bird With Crystal Plumage
  • Inferno
  • Deep Red
  • Phenomena
  • Sleepless
  • Opera
  • Tenebre
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Blood and Black Lace

by on Sep.25, 2010, under Daily Review

For me, this is Bava’s finest moment. His triumph of the genre which moves him away from all that gothic stuff into a giallo crime thriller with some brutal shocking murders. Still ultimately Bava’esque in lighting and cinematography design but focusing on a more contemporary plot and feel.

Recognised as one of the first slashers, this is a basic who-dun-it. A masked killer picks off model from a Rome agency, one by one murdering in a brutal manner before leaving them top be discovered. But what is the reasoning? What is the motive? This has a real Hitchcock feel about it, although what’s missing is a solid snappy script. The film looks glorious with gels lighting Roman hallways of beautiful apartments, a film focusing on the highlife and elegance which even makes the art of murder look beautiful and glamorous. The killer, skulking around the shadows with a long black coat, leather gloves and hat and a perfect white faceless mask. Beautiful Italian models hiding secrets, looking for answers and terrified that they could be the next on the list.

Bava tried his hand in an assortment of genre’s but this has got to be his most successful from an artistic and complete perfection point of view. The film is solid from start to finish building tension and atmosphere in abundance, ridiculously brilliant in it’s beauty and appearance, evey scene balance perfectly with shadow and colour.  And what about that final pan around the house in the last few minutes?

Magnificent.

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Black Sabbath

by on Sep.24, 2010, under Daily Review

This is a collection of short films, tied together with Boris Karloff as compare. Quality and a genius stroke by Mario Bava. This collective showcases the talent and versatility of the director and it’s an obvious first stop for the uninitiated as we get to see a sample of subtle styles from the Italian master.

We have an original obscure Tolstoy vampire tale which projects a new spin on an old theme. A father who has been cursed has a vampiric infection in which he can only feed on family and those he loves. It’s a twisted idea and most shocking when his god child becomes his first victim. Karloff plays the father with an amazing performance in which he just makes it look so easy, Susy Andersen is also stunningly good. Rich in colour and classic gothic style, it’s an ambitious tale and the longest of the three. Another tale tells of a nurse played by Jacqueline Pierreux, who attempts to steal a ring from a dead clairvoyant client but becomes haunted by guilt. A claustrophobic tale of darkness and terror.

The final tale, which slots in between the other two is my favorite of the three. A beautiful woman receives malicious menacing phone calls from who she believes is an exlover, imprisoned. Calling her friend for comfort, the night is about to get a bit crazy. This is more of a crime tale, and a vision of Bava’s direction and focus on the Giallo. Michele Mercier who is absolutely stunningly good takes thee lead as Rosy. The tale has a racy lesbian undercurrent with her friend, Mary. Lit with Blue and Red, which became Bava’s trademark especially in Blood and Black Lace, also adopted by Argento (Crystal Plumage/Inferno). The Telephone sequence is perfect in pace, style and structure which still looks as fresh and classy as it would have done back in 1964. How amazing it would have looked back then. I would have loved to have seen a reworked version of this, as a full length feature, as it’s structure is very much that of a classic situation play. Another final point, the opening sequence was lifted by another very famous American film back in 1996 staring Drew Barrymore. In fact, the whole movie’s concept is based on this short. Amazing to witness the comparisons.

This is a great collection. The Telephone stands out for me, but this collection will entertain all; a little something for everyone.

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Whip and the Flesh

by on Sep.23, 2010, under Daily Review

Chris Lee plays Kurt, and evil bugger who likes to dominate women. After returning home to the family mansion, he soon catches they eye of his brother’s  wife, Nevenka (Daliah Lavi). Soon, he’s cracking the whip against her bare back, waves crashing behind his deed and she seems to love it. Kurt has upset someone though, as the next morning he’s fund with this throat cut, but that’s not the last we’ve seen of Kurt as he returns as a ghostly whip cracking figure.

The film is beautiful, gothic, dark and devious with such a taboo channeling through the whole film, one of lust and desire, impossible love and longing from beyond the grave. Bava has a real risqué plot on his hand with this one which otherwise would fall right into the Edgar Allen Poe Corman movies. How does one take a story of a woman that craves the crack of the whip across her skin, love the feeling enough to leave her husband for his brother, even crave this when he’s dead and gone to the point of bringing him back for a little more. This is Lavi’s movie. She makes this work and it’s her performance which is solid and believable, dream like, desperate and full of lust and desire.

Bava takes all this and shoots it with the expert eye, perfect lighting  with coloured gels and glorious long shadows. The performance he coaxes out of Lavi is exceptionally good, whilst Lee is always a solid lead actor. The film is quite slow though and even though this can be addressed as setting the scene and building up the tension, it feels slow as the plot is a simple one which really doesn’t carry the full film. If it wasn’t for the glorious look and feel with Lavi in this outstandingly good role, the film would be a curio, but nothing else. Bava makes this a special film. Watch on a very large screen, dim the lights, sip some red win and indulge yourself in Bava goodness.

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Black Sunday

by on Sep.22, 2010, under Daily Review

Mario Bava’s first film as director is this beautifully created adoption of The Viy by Nikolai Gogol, a Russian Gothic tale of witchcraft and vampirism. The plot is a classic revenge tale. A witch and her lover, after being caught and tried for dabbling with the devil, they are encased in a metal mask, with big spikes on the inside which penetrates deep into the skull. Entombed in an open coffin with a cross visible, just in case. But the Witch has one last curse before they are condemned, she will be back to haunt the family forever.

Some many years later, a pair of fops break down in their chariot and explore the landscape whilst the poor driver tries to sort out the wheel. They discover the tomb and for some crazy reason, remove the mask, in doing so, slicing his skin and dripping some blood on the Witch. That’s all it takes and she’s back for revenge intent on replacing herself as a new distant relative who is a very close doppelganger. (Both played by the tremendous Barbara Steele)

Bava has a perfect cinematographers eye and this film works because of it. It’s beautifully filmed, sharp and crystal clear, yet dreamlike and shadowy with wispy smoke and dark corners with creepy characters hiding along corridors and cellars. A real scene is set from the opening scene and carried through to the end which has been done before with other films from it’s period by other directors in other countries, but non can claim the full rounded collective of artistic cinematography, great building of atmosphere as the plot matures, quality actors who need little in the way of direction and a classic gothic story to hold the thing together. On top of this, we have some real shocking scenes which seem harsher in black and white. The mask being nailed in Princess Asa’s (the Witch played by Steele) face is a real shocker and later on in the film, when she lifts her cloak to expose a rotting corpse is really successful. There is some other amazing makeup effects. An aging scene with Katia (Steele) is quality and I’m still not quite sure how this was pulled off. It’s traditional theatrical makeup, but it’s completed so smooth with no real loss of frames or choppiness.

Bava’s first outing is a great film. I’m looking forward to a bit more this week to see how well he matures.

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