Tag: Barbara Steele

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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by on Sep.17, 2010, under Daily Review

Cronenberg has always been one of my favourite directors. I’ve been watching his films since I was 14 and they’ve always captivated me, but as time passes by, I grow wary to revisit some films as they might just disappoint. Was it a time and place which makes a film special and how will they stand up against today’s standards? Has Cronenberg got better with age? After this week, I’m so glad I’ve included a few of his early films in the project as they are perfect beyond belief and I actually think they have had more of an impact on the older version of myself, rather than the innocent teen all those years ago.

Shivers is set in a super modern, state of the art apartment block on a luxury island. As you can expect, the complex has everything from swimming pools to it’s own hospital. It’s this hospital in which scientists are working on experimental procedures. A parasite which can eat and replace a damaged organ, but one scientist has other ideas working on a parasite which will induce a sexual lust sending its host into a frenzy. When his work goes wrong, he attempts to destroy his experiment within his teen girlfriend. It’s not long before the whole apartment are crazy with lust.

This in effect is a zombie film, but once again, Cronenberg focus’ on the human emotion and desires with connotations of social needs and changing climate. Every taboo is touched upon here. From the opening scene, with an old scientist strangling a teenage girl, a brutal scene without music brings the horror and reality to the viewer. Later, a father kisses his daughter with passion, (I just know you’ll like my daughter, Erica!) old and young are crazy fiends, but it’s not a clear cut film. Some characters embrace the change, waiting and watching as their body morphs, notably Allan Kolman as Nicholas (A character later mirrored as Set Brundle by Jeff Goldblum in the Fly). Other characters, Nurse Forsythe (Lynn Lowry) show desire before the outbreak, suggesting a possible early infection, although this is not the case, she just craves the attention of her Doctor, who attempts to keep things professional.

Another shocking point to make is Cronenberg’s repeated signature of involving children as viewers to extreme violence, a trait which I’ve noticed in many of his films. I’m not sure if the children had prior knowledge to what was about to happen before the camera’s role, but he captures a pretty shocking expression every time.

The cast are perfect here too, clinical and dry, solemn and in control as Cronenberg always likes them. His direction is superb, no-one captures emotion at such a stripped down level like Cronenberg. Lynn Lowry, Barbara Steele, Paul Hampton and the brilliant Wally Martin.

Finally, the climax of the movie is such a success. The swimming pool scene is one of the most memorable I’ve ever known. Shot as what should be a bleak ending, this actually celebrates and embraces the infection which has taken over. A love affair of desire and wanting which works as much as a happy ending rather than the expected. The chemistry between Lowry and Hampton is electric and when they kiss, it wrap’s the film to perfection. I must also mention one final note regarding a speech which Lowry makes a little earlier on in the film, she tells Hampton of a dream. This speech is one of the finest moments in any film I’ve ever seen. It’s as memorable as the Long Live the New Flesh one from Videodrome, yet not nearly as recognised.

‘I had a very disturbing dream last night. In this dream I found myself making love to a strange man. Only I’m having trouble you see, because he’s old and dying and he smells bad, and I find him repulsive. But then he tells me that everything is erotic, that everything is sexual. You know what I mean? He tells me that even old flesh is erotic flesh. That disease is the love of two alien kinds of creatures for each other. That even dying is an act of eroticism. That talking is sexual. That breathing is sexual. That even to physically exist is sexual. And I believe him, and we make love beautifully.’

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