Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

A very special PRC greeting to all you Mad Monsters!

Make it a Strange one!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dangerous Intruder (1945)

Jenny Jackson (Veda Ann Borg) awakes to danger.

Dangerous Intruder is PRC's attempt at a murder-mystery about a strange family à la Guest in the House (1944). Struggling ingenue Jenny Jackson is hitchhiking back to New York from Boston when she is struck by a reckless driver. She wakes up in the the stately home of one Maxwell Ducane. Suspicious movements at night, a bedridden matriarch with a generous will, and Max's ranting about his clay pottery ("Earth and fire, the elements harnessed for use and for beauty! For irreparable and perpetual proof that man is master!") all adds up to trouble.

Mystery be damned! Charles Arnt plays Max
with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

Filmed a month prior to Detour, Dangerous Intruder shares a screenwriter (Martin Goldsmith) with that PRC masterpiece but, unfortunately, little else. Despite a few quirky moments, such as the scene where Max is struck in the head with a golf ball and starts babbling sinister confessions, the film never generates much interest. The following dialogue sums up the aimless direction of the movie:

Maxwell: "Your coming here, if I were a superstitious man, would seem like a sign...something in the nature of an omen."
Jenny: "Yes, but what of?"
Maxwell: "I haven't the faintest idea."

Strand/Telenews, Cincinnati

Here's a quartet of irresistible ads from a long-gone theater in the heart of downtown Cincinnati, in the sound era alternately known as either Strand or Telenews. These date from 1944 to 1947.

If I had been around back then, I surely would have been a member of the Crime Club.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Diary of a Nymphomaniac (1972)

Linda Vargas (Montserrat Prous), nymphomaniac.

It begins, in proper Jess Franco fashion, with a strip act. Bathed in a red glow, two women caress each other to a ritualistic, driving rhythm. One woman---the younger looking of the two---stares intently into the audience. After the show, she directly approaches a middle-aged man. Several bottles of champagne later, the drunk and smitten man exits the club with the woman. In a rented room, as they sloppily remove their clothing, the same driving rhythm from her stage performance fades into the soundtrack. This is not a scene of an awkward man fumbling with a prostitute---it's a ritual. Moments after climaxing, the woman carefully pulls a knife and runs it across her throat, collapsing on the spent man.

Murder or suicide?

With a flashback structure reminiscent of Citizen Kane, this melodrama is the tale of a wife's investigation into her husband's alleged murder of a stripper-prostitute named Linda Vargas. What straight-laced Mrs. Ortiz discovers is the life of a damaged soul with too much love to give. Beyond being treated to a garish title, frequent nude scenes, and counter-culture kitsch, Franco also constructs a fully satisfying character arc. The tattered edges of the extremely modest production (far from the most minimal of Franco's oeuvre) only serve to heighten the confessional nature of the story. Like the glimpses of Linda's scrawled diary itself, this film rides on the emotions of humiliation, arousal, and revenge.

The film chronicles Linda's varied sexual relationships from an early molestation on a ferris wheel (perpetrated by Mr. Ortiz from the opening scene), which is filmed like a self-contained experimental film (the fading in and out, and overlapping of music as the carnival ride dips up and down is masterful), to her encounter with a cold, clinical, and dominating doctor (Franco staple and symbol of European decadence Howard Vernon!). Along the way, Linda proves herself too passionate for her lesbian affair with The Countess de Monterey (Anne Libert), while the Countess' boy toy collapses at his wife's feet when he is caught in bed with our protagonist. With each blow dealt to her, Linda develops into more of a nymphomaniac. She outlines her dependence on sex in her writings:
"When I'm depressed, as I often am, I think of an enormous erection or the moist, warm tongue of a young girl. And I feel better when the beautiful little pussy is opened up slowly and grows moist. That's when we really live. Everything else is meaningless and dead."
These explicit ramblings breakdown the chaste Mrs. Ortiz, who in a later scene is seduced by Linda's fellow stripper, Maria. With Linda's voice in her head----"He must pay!"---Mrs. Ortiz disposes of the diary, and with it the evidence to acquit her husband. Justice is served.

Jacqueline Laurent (as Mrs. Ortiz) is much less crabby
here than she would be in the disturbing Lorna, the Exorcist,
which Franco filmed during the same period.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

"An Obscenity of Violence"

On April 20, 1979 Dawn of the Dead came to Cincinnati:

I almost feel like apologizing for dredging up this Cincinnati Enquirer mini-review, but I think it illustrates how shocking the film's violence appeared:

Such wonderfully colorful writing! The version I saw, however, was exciting, uniquely plotted, wryly topical, well-acted, and, well, yes, relentless. I love how the writing and performances are torn apart while the direction, simply, "isn't that good."

And in case you were wondering Love at First Bite got a resounding four stars!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Love Crimes (1992)

"I love your eyebrows and little slender wrists. I love your
little daddy long legs."---the sadist sizes up Ms. Sean Young

Sean Young plays a District Attorney in a performance that, at times, seems to be channelling Joan Crawford. Unfortunately, besides thick eyebrows, these two actresses have very little in common---and herein lies the main problem with Love Crimes. This lead role requires a transformation from assertive, shoulder pad wearing career woman into a male-dominated submissive, and Sean Young misses the mark on the first part of this equation. But don't let this stop you from watching this film, as it offers many smutty delights.

"Maybe what you need in this case is not clear cut evidence
of rape but a proof of perversity."---advice given to Dana Greenway

Dana Greenway (Young) has latched onto a case following a man (Patrick Bergin) who pretends to be a famous fashion photographer, David Hanover, conning women into posing nude for his camera. The problem with the case is that he never clearly commits a crime larger than theft, as he carefully manages to break down the women's will into submitting to his commands. And, as Dana's partner comments while looking at some of the photos in evidence, "They're enjoying the hell out of themselves." Dana is drawn to the man---who never reveals his real name---in an investigation based more on self-discovery than justice.

"David Hanover" picking up a new model.

There is a breaking point in this film where it goes from a rather typical cat and mouse legal thriller into psycho-sexual lunacy. Dana, realizing that her mannish (actually boyish) appearance is giving her away in her pursuit, decides to have a makeover. Amidst blue-tinted flashbacks to a traumatic childhood incident of witnessing her father with a strange woman, Dana starts caking on the makeup till she looks like the slut. Recognizing what she's turning herself into, she smears the makeup off.

It is readily apparent that Dana is preparing herself to be bait for Hanover, with a little too much gusto. She finds Hanover through her new school teacher persona without too much difficulty, and we see how he slowly breaks down her personal space (giving her a supposed palm reading) then taking on her headspace. "We're not strangers, it's only that we just met," his cheesy line is actually entirely correct.

"What were you afraid I'd do? What were you afraid
I wouldn't do?"

But you can't deceive a con man for long. When Hanover discovers who Dana really is, out in his rented country getaway, the situation turns into a sort of S&M summer camp. Through trapping her in a closet, handcuffing, stripping, and, in an unforgettably prolonged scene, spanking her, Dana learns to love her master. Her frigid, blue-tinted neuroses give way to a warmly-toned fantasy of making love to Hanover:

As if their psychic connection was more satisfying than any earthbound coupling, Dana and David never consummate their relationship. After parting ways (well, they don't just separate, but for the sake of brevity I'll move along...), David gets back to his old tricks, but making a wealthy, older woman act like a horse as he smacks her with a riding crop just isn't the same as before. Dana, likewise, has holed up in her apartment, her work no longer meaningful. The film ends like most thrillers end, but Love Crimes is actually a convincing, uncomfortably poignant story of star-crossed lovers.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

"A Case of Depressive Psychophobia": Voice in the Wind (1944)

The crashing waves underneath the credits eventually dissolve into a view of a serene body of water as a voice intones:

"Again it has happened, and in our time. That hundreds of thousands of innocent people, human beings like you and me, have been forced in unprecedented terror to flea their homes and their countries. Some of those who fled the medieval darkness of Europe succeeded in reaching their goal: America. You may have encountered them just around the corner---human beings like you and me. Some didn't. And they are the ones our story is about. Like those who found themselves cast ashore in the lonely island of Guadeloupe in the Lesser Antilles in 1940, cast ashore without reason, without friend, without hope. Human beings like you and me. Maybe you can feel with them, maybe you can't."

The last line rings of harsh accusation---there is nothing reasonable about Voice in the Wind. You'll either succumb to its despairing tone or be put off by its strangeness. There may not be a way to categorize a film that is an extension of the poetic realism movement, an anti-Nazi propaganda piece, fog-shrouded psychological horror, demented slapstick comedy, ethereal romance, celebration of the arts, and an experimental film. If not for Arthur Ripley's other masterpiece, The Chase (1946), we might be able to call this film singular. These two Ripley "believe-it-or-not's" are clearly spawned from the same delirious mindset, from a director described by Edgar G. Ulmer to be of unsound body and mind.

Otherworldly mystery is established from the first scene. The sound of a foghorn punctuates the night, as a lone man walks determinedly into a bar. With a paranoiac stare, he approaches the bartender who clearly knows the man.

"Pernod's no good for you, Pernod's no good for anybody. It makes you play the piano, and I don't like the piano. I hate the piano. And I don't want you to play the piano. So...I don't give you no Pernod." LONG PAUSE "Whiskey, yes. Double, triple, cuatro. But, NO PERNOD."

He, of course, pours a Pernod for the wild-eyed man. Opening his cash register, he pulls out some cotton (right next to a set of false teeth) and stuffs it in his ears.

An old woman walks up the rickety stairs to her apartment. Inside her husband fans himself in a rocking chair next to a bed-ridden young woman.

Together, they walk through a beaded curtain onto their porch. The emotive sound of a piano can be heard in the distance, leading their conversation to the player, "El Hombre, the crazy one." Pulling drags from his pipe, he diagnoses the enigmatic pianist. "I would call it a case of depressive psychophobia, probably the result of a head injury."

She speaks quietly, "Strange, how beautiful he plays. Takes you you wish they were."

"Things as you wish they were,” he agrees.

She has teared up. "Well, I guess that's the way it is with us oldsters. Always looking back."

"But today, even the youngsters of twenty are old and looking back. Hopelessly looking back. Trying to remember, trying to find the thing which they have lost, the thing which may have given meaning to their lives. Lost...lost. Like our little friend lying in there. Lost and dying because she cannot get back the one thing she loves."

The camera dollies in, magically parting the curtain, to the bedridden woman's face. She slowly opens her eyes, raises her head as if an invisible force were beckoning her. The piano playing ends. The foghorn blows. Her eyes seal back up.

The connection of these characters, their foreign accents, and their location is unclear. They exist in a melancholic island, somewhat exotic, both humid and foggy. What ails the angelic looking woman in bed? Who is the insane piano player and what happened to his head? Even the contents of the bartender’s till raise questions.

El Hombre was Jan Volny in another life, a respected Czech pianist who dreamed of going to America with his wife, Marya---the withering angel we saw earlier. On the eve of his capture by the Nazis he laments their tyrannical invasion.

"Listen." The sound of marching outside puts a pall over his face. "Since they've came, Marya, there's come over me a kind of darkness and despair. The simple truth and beliefs I thought I'd found in poetry and in my music now seem forever lost. There is no dying and no death. The spirit of man is a thing apart---a thing of beauty, of truth, and of love. Since they came, it now seems but pure mockery. An insistent voice keeps whispering: stay home, stay where you are, snipe and hate with the rest."

Though a whispered, somber tone is maintained through most of the film, a harsh element is introduced in two forms. First, there are the Nazis, foremost Captain von Neubach, an effeminate who interrogates Jan after he disobeyed orders and played the verboten melody---Bedrich Smetana’s “The Moldau”.

Von Neubach: "You played it because you wanted to arouse the anti-German feelings of the audience, not because it's beautiful music!"

Jan: "Maybe you're right. Maybe beautiful music does arouse anti-German feelings. Maybe anything beautiful does and that's why you hate it. Because you don't know what beauty is, because it's beyond you, because you can't destroy it with all your soldiers and Gestapo-men with all your tanks and Panzers with all your poor, foolish, and ridiculous---"

Jan is promptly bludgeoned into a crazed idiot. After escaping the clutches of the Germans, Jan finds a ship about to set sail. Three brothers, ringleader Angelo, the strong, silent Luigi, and the whistling young one Marco run this ship. We first see Angelo arguing with Luigi’s latest floozy. After wishing a death by shark attack upon the brothers, Angelo flies into a fury, smacking the woman over and over, screaming incessantly:

"And this is for the baby shark! And this is for the papa shark! And this is for the mama shark! And this is for the baby shark! And this is for the papa shark! And this is for the mama shark!"

When the woman collapses, they erupt into hysterical laughter. Later in the film, Jan/ El Hombre thinks back to his time with Marya. They were together on bench, Jan reading form Shelley's "Alastor: Or, the Spirit of Solitude":

"All else, selfish, blind, and torpid, are those unforeseeing multitudes who constitute together with their own, the lasting misery and loneliness of the world. Those who love not their fellow-beings live unfruitful lives, and prepare for their old age a miserable grave."

The world is divided between the lovers and, as Jan calls them, "The enemy---the philistines." The Nazis and the marauding brothers (though brother Angelo has an intuition about El Hombre's dual nature, which leads to his salvation) do their utmost to destroy Jan and Marya's union, but they are drawn together on a Caribbean island for one moment before death. "There is no dying and no death," Jan says to Marya as his head slumps onto her body.

In his New York Times review upon Voice in the Wind's release, Bosley Crowther commented on the eyestrain caused by the film's dark cinematography. He saw a brand new 35mm print. Once that print has been duped down to 16mm, transferred to VHS and, later, compressed onto a DVD-R disc, it is a wonder anything can be made out at all. But it is evident that Eugen Schüfftan, who lensed such moody pictures as Le Quai des brumes (1938) and Les Yeux sans visage (1960) as well as many low budget Hollywood pictures---including Voice in the Wind---where he went uncredited due to his union status, lent just the right brushstroke of light to the pool of darkness. A newly-struck re-release print would be a cause for celebration, just to bask in the glow of the candle from the last shot, seen above.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

White Zombie revivals

This is from the May 13, 1944 Cincinnati Enquirer:

Dostoevsky and Lugosi---two chiller dillers!

The following day's ad:

I found this ad from a 1946 Cincinnati Enquirer:

The third feature ("Stark-Authentic-Horrible" Camps of the Dead) is a documentary about Nazi concentration camps, which seems just a tad out of place next to the fantastical main features. I can't imagine how that went over with the kids.