Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Passport for a Corpse (1962)

The great Paul Muller plays a cohort in crime.

It begins like countless crimes; a group of men sitting around a table illuminated by a single, hot bulb. Outside of their small congregation is pure darkness. They’ve been studying the plans laid out on the table for some time now. You almost choke on the air, thick with smoke trailing up from each of the four men’s cigarettes. The next day, in the blaring sunlight, these men embark on a payroll heist---a blizzard of smoke bombs and gunfire. Time has elapsed, and we see the men’s car now only contains one at the steering wheel (his name is Marco), another bleeding to death in the back seat, and a satchel of cash. The man in the back gasps for air and dies. Marco sees a strangely familiar woman near his hotel room, the same woman he had glimpsed in a park before this nightmarish business began. Back in his room, he informs his wife that he is a wanted man. They make a hasty plan to separately cross the Italian border and meet up in a French cafĂ©. This is where the film takes a detour from the typical crime story and becomes something darker. Something noir.

Marco (Alberto Lupo) tucks himself into an uncomfortable ride in a coffin.

Hiking through the snow-covered mountains towards the border, Marco eyes a hearse being held over at the checkpoint. While the coffin is under inspection inside the station, Marco removes the corpse, lays the money in the coffin, and seals himself in for a ride. It may have been a ticket to freedom, but the hearse is forced to return to Italy because of some missing paperwork. Marco is deposited in a frozen morgue for the night, alongside the stiff bodies of his partners in crime. His voiceover narration sounds increasingly frenzied, and rightfully so: he’s learning what it’s like to be dead. Burning small piles of money ("Better poor than dead," he says to himself) to keep his hands from freezing, he manages to open the locked door with a makeshift explosive made from his stash of bullets. He wanders into the night like a resurrected corpse. Driving a stolen car, he sees that mysterious, beckoning woman---the same woman that has been following him throughout this crazy ordeal---in the middle of a desolate stretch of road. It’s the last thing he sees before pulling over and falling asleep at the wheel.

In the blinding light of day, Marco stumbles deliriously through bleach-white snow. “I don’t know how to pray, but God forgive me,” he intones. The bag full of money becomes a meaningless burden. Another small figure in this endless landscape emerges, slowly walking closer and closer to Marco. It is the woman. She spreads out her hooded cloak and envelopes the screen in black.

"Help me God, don't let me die like this."

"Destiny...or was it Death?" Linda Christian descends upon the screen.

The economically plotted screenplay is credited to Glen Arenos and Carl Ferrero, with scenario and direction by first-timer Mario Gariazzo (The Bloody Hands of the Law, Play Motel). Its central concept, that of a man smuggling himself in a coffin, is irresistibly squirm inducing. The film's morbid and nightmarish imagery, and its downright condemning tone, make this one a unique ride, a rare combination of horror and noir. The final, icy, scene of divine justice reaches a crescendo with Marcello Giombini's score---a driving, spaghetti western-esque, mix of angelic chorus, organ, xylophone, and electronic stings---mixing with Marco's pleas to God. It's a wonderfully satisfying conclusion.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

With both barrels...

I've gotta catch up with The Lady and the Monster! Can't go wrong with Erich Von Stroheim!

Notes on Devil Bat's Daughter (1946)

Nina: "Bats! Bats!"
Dr. Morris: "It's not a bat, Nina. It's a bird."
Nina: "My father!"

I must remind myself that Devil Bat's Daughter actually exists. Others have seen this sequel to The Devil Bat (William K. Everson briefly discusses it in his essay on Strangler of the Swamp in his seminal Classics of the Horror Film), a few, I'm sure, have appreciated it. I keep coming back to it, just to reaffirm that it is not a fevered dream. The title, though reminiscent of many other horror movie sequels, just doesn't roll off the tongue like Bride of Frankenstein or Dracula's Daughter, nor does it initially make sense. This movie is not about the spawn of a evil flying mammal, as might be expected. Instead, it is about the daughter of a mad scientist whose experiments in cell growth stimulation on bats got the best of him (Bela Lugosi, entirely absent from the sequel, earned the nickname The Devil Bat in the interim between these two films). Familiarity with the more typical earlier film is not required. Devil Bat's Daughter is the film one might dream about while nodding off to a late night viewing of The Devil Bat.

Nina MacCarron is alone in the world. She is taken to the police in a catatonic state after learning of her father's death. Overcome with visions of giant bats, she is given to Dr. Morris, a New York psychiatrist out of place in the small town of Wardsley. Dr. Morris sees Nina as the perfect fall girl for the murder of his wife. Awakened from a drug-induced slumber, Nina finds herself at the bottom of the stairs, a bloody pair of scissors next to her.

And a dead body. This brief shot I find particularly disturbing, the indignity of a completely sympathetic character (Morris' sickly wife) in what looks like a crime scene photo.

Nina's fragile mind is shattered.

This movie has gotten under my skin, its myriad scenes of people sleeping, dreaming, and awaking in the typical B-movie tempo is almost trance-inducing.

Nina has to be one of the most inert heroines of all-time. She is in bed in nearly every scene.

Not quite horror, not quite thriller, certainly not just a sequel, Devil Bat's Daughter is a PRC oddity like no other.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Jess Franco in conservative Cincinnati

Cincinnati hosted some first run Jess Franco films, though we were reticent about the titles. Eugenie's journey is stopped short from going "into perversion", while Succubus had no title at all!

8/22/71, the co-feature is directed by Mac Ahlberg.

Who knows what readers of this summer of '69 ad
thought of this mysterious, nameless film?

Frankenstein 2000 (1992)

Donald O'Brien glows green as Frank 2k.

Poorly dubbed, sparsely plotted, and with a tacky commercial tendency, Joe D'Amato's Filmirage productions are rather disreputable affairs. I love them for their cheapness, their community theater histrionics, and all the unusual locations these intrepid Italians filmed. Frankenstein 2000 found Filmirage in Austria, of all places. Donald O' Brien (Dr. Butcher, M.D., himself) plays Ric, an ex-boxer with a soft head and a soft heart for single mom Georgia Danson (Buio Omega's Cinzia Monreale). Ms. Danson, who owns a cool video rental store and possesses telekinetic powers, is plagued by visions of her little moppet, Stefan, dying violent deaths. This does not factor into the plot but does provide a few outrageous moments to liven up the otherwise dry first half. Three young Austrian punks rape and beat Georgia into a coma and use their influence with the town security guards (strangely, this town has security guards as well as police) to frame Ric. To completely smother the case, the security guards kill Ric and make it look like suicide. Re-animated by Georgia's psychic powers, Ric comes back to seek revenge, and the audience is treated to some monster mayhem:

The morgue attendant is killed in eye popping close-up.

Ric rips out an electrical pole to smash some security guards!