At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964, José Mojica Marins)

Opens with a woman talking to the audience, Elvira-style, then the screaming sfx over the opening titles make it feel like this is gonna be a campy carnival ride of a movie. It’s not really, despite the TV Batman scene transitions, must just be José “Coffin Joe” Marins having as much fun in the editing room as he appears to be having in the lead acting role. The dubbing (and everything else) isn’t technically great, but it’s an honestly eccentric movie, up there with Death Bed on the pile of horrors with justifiable cult reputations.

Joe/Ze is the most feared man in town since he has no faith, and no compunction about violence and murder. He’s also a rude, shitty guy – at the beginning his woman tells him something, he replies “you have talked enough,” and walks out. He goes to the bar, cuts off a guy’s hand, whips another guy terribly, then returns home and kills his wife with a tarantula, then a second later he’s getting all moral on a random man. Seeking an heir, he kills his friend and rapes her girl, but she commits suicide – then the doctor wants to investigate the friend’s death, so Ze pokes out his eyes and sets him on fire.

After dude has been so terrible you’d think the last ten minutes of him screaming and running from vengeful ghosts would be more rewarding, but that fact that he lives to appear in a sequel gives the impression that Marins wasn’t serious about the comeuppance, he just enjoyed being bad for ninety minutes. Even on my standard old DVD, the avenging ghost’s stop-motion granite aura looked rad.


The Unliving (2010, Hugo Lilja)

I had some extra time, checked out a nice HD copy of this half-hour Swedish short. Nice twist on the ol’ zombie apocalypse. Mark and Katrin are in love – he installs wiring in zombie brains turning them into docile workers, she goes on raids into the city and nailguns zombies to walls so they can be captured and brought to Mark’s lab. They’ve each got problems – she kills a coworker who gets bitten, which is against the rules – and he spots his own mom and brings her home instead of drilling her brains, which is definitely against the rules. I assume their bosses are corrupt and there’s a whole gov’t conspiracy going on and this would’ve been expanded had they ended up making a feature version, which it feels like this very much wants to be… I kept stopping myself from being impressed with the massive amount of work put into this short because it ends up feeling like an overpriced advertisement for something, or an extended trailer for a miniseries. Or maybe I’m just cynical – it has some good character bits, like Katrin coming home, seeing her partner’s zombie mom, and stress-eating cereal. The director and writer finally got their break into features with 2018’s space adventure Aniara.

Greaves and his crew film in the park (they have permits!) a couple of actors performing a trite scene – but they’re also filming themselves filming these things, and filming the director trying to work things out, and filming the crew voicing their concerns about the scene and the director. It’s an exciting concept, hampered by the small problem of being no fun to watch.

I suppose these are professionals, not hippies, but it’s still 1968 and listening to them talk invites dark flashbacks of Lions Love. And the editing of individual scenes is nice but the overall structure seems slack and random – I want to have examples, but Criterion Channel is mad that I’ve got an external monitor attached, so it’s not letting me review.

This is aka La Residencia, but I already have enough horror movies with generic titles like House, so I appreciate the English version. All these movies that have big music and lazy credits as some fancy people arrive at a large house by carriage, I never think they’re gonna be good. This one was… alright. You’re not even sure it’s a horror movie until, as in Halloween, all the bodies are discovered in the final five minutes.

Before that it’s a boarding school drama, with a stern headmistress, a new girl, a bitchy kissup girl, a couple suspicious employees – and the principal’s son who hides in the walls and cuts up the girls for parts. The movie is Spanish, set in France, spoken in English. I was surprised the movie killed the new girl – a couple of the deaths were fun, including Isabelle’s slow-mo stabbing in the garden.

L-R: defiant girl, strict principal, kissup girl

The director died just last year, also made the acclaimed horror Who Can Kill a Child? Principal Lilli Palmer was in The Boys From Brazil. New girl Cristina Galbó went on to Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. The boy in the walls starred in Deep End.

Isabelle with the boy in the walls:

Timid Sasha gets up, runs through a brutal hierarchy of shithead children, through all the mirrors and reflections on water that young Tarkovsky can muster, attends a disappointing violin lesson, then things are looking up when he befriends a steamroller driver from the courtyard.

I figure the kid’s gonna get beaten up at some point, and he does, so the real tension is from wondering what will happen to the violin. Will it survive, will the shithead kids destroy or deface it, or will they break Sasha’s spirit so he destroys it himself, a la young Jodorowsky in Endless Poetry? Well it’s the first one, but there’s a scene when he’s run off to watch buildings get demolished with his steamrolling buddy and the shitheads find the violin left behind, then it’s untouched when Sasha returns, so I’d like to think there’s more to that story and it got cut for time. Remarkable little movie, with beautiful color on the blu-ray.

“Cops are pigs / cops eat shit!” You know when your cynical movie opens with a couple of news guys chancing upon a car wreck and filming the dying victims before bothering to call an ambulance, the movie’s gonna end with the death of a main character and the camera looking back at us, accusingly.

Pausing to get a beer halfway in, I looked up the female lead Verna Bloom (paper-mache artist in After Hours, Mary in Last Temptation of Christ) and realized our lead is Robert Forster – I had no idea, never seen him young before. Forster wheels around town with his soundman (Peter Bonerz of Catch-22, later director of Police Academy 6: City Under Siege) in the lead-up to the ill-fated Democratic National Convention. They follow a kid home and Forster falls for his mom Eileen (Verna).

Robert and Verna enjoying some TV:

The movie has character to burn. Playful editing, very mobile camera, and full of Zappa songs. A black community confronts the white camera crew about exploitation in the media, the morals of Mondo Cane are discussed, and in a movie (/city/year) where police are the villains, the reporters discover that their TV bosses have been letting cops study their raw footage. After Forster is fired, and before he’s hired by someone else to cover the convention, he seems like a calm and okay guy, just a good dude who loves shooting film and hanging out with Eileen and her pigeon-loving son Harold – so it’s the profession that’s sick, not him personally.

This would’ve been a vaguely-memorable late’60’s anti-establishment movie, but for the ending. Harold goes missing, Forster’s at the convention, so Eileen walks the city wearing a bright yellow dress in the midst of the real police riots – some of the most intense location shooting I’ve seen.

Wexler shot everything from Burt Reynolds’ film debut in 1961 to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Conversation, to Hal Ashby and John Sayles movies, to concert docs and a Zappa video.

There’s shooting and there’s shooting:

Thomas Beard for Criterion on the movie’s True/Falsey nature:

Wexler has had a kind of double life as an artist, known both for his poetic reportage and for his role as a studio craftsman, and his bifurcated career is mirrored in the dual nature of Medium Cool … To watch a fiction film and subordinate its plot and characterizations to the documentary value of the world it depicts, or, alternatively, to watch a documentary and constantly question its veracity, is to read the work against the grain. Given the design of Medium Cool, a film that explicitly functions as both document and fantasy at once, to view it at all is to read it against the grain. It’s a movie whose very composition not only allows for but demands multiple kinds of perception and visual thinking; it preserves its own disorder.

As far as I could remember from watching the early Criterion disc in 1999, this was a short-ish movie about bell casting, so imagine my surprise discovering that it’s a long-ish episodic movie about a painter with an extended bell-casting sequence at the end. Not my favorite Tarkovsky – too Catholic, and I think we’re supposed to know something about 1400’s Russian art history going in, because otherwise there’s not much drama following around this painter who never paints anything.

Turns out I also remembered the intro – a man flying away on ropes and balloons – a soviet myth according to the commentary, of the first flight of man – followed by a shot of a horse rolling over. Andrei and fellow painter/monks Kiril and Danil take shelter in their travels and witness a profane jester being brutalized by the cops.

Danil, Andrei, Kiril:

Some years later, an elder painter named Theo invites Andrei to work with him, invoking jealousy from the other monks, particularly whiny bitch Kiril, who beats his dog in anger (the movie is not kind to animals in general). Andrei takes along his slacker assistant, gets into an escapade with some naked pagans, some people get blinded, then there’s a long section of war and torture because a prince and his brother are feuding, and I didn’t know the motivation for most of this until reading a plot summary later – I thought the point was “the 1400s were terrible, yet Andrei still managed to paint beautiful things”. At the end of this though, Andrei has quit painting, or even speaking. Funny to watch this movie about a painter not painting, the day after Devotion, which features writers not writing.

Theo and Andrei:

Painters, not painting, as usual:

The movie jumps forward a decade to the part I remember – a young bellmaker’s son is approached to cast a new bell for a church, by order of the prince, who will throw a party if they succeed and kill them all if they don’t. Young Boriska claims that his recently deceased father passed on the secrets of bellmaking, but actually the kid is making it up as he goes, publicly barking orders and commanding a hundred men, but privately sick with worry. Andrei and Kirill are hanging around while all this is happening, doing nothing helpful, and it ends with the triumphant ringing of the new bell, then a color slideshow of period icons.

Boriska:

Final movie watched in the 2010’s. I rewatched Orpheus near the beginning of the decade, and it took me this long to get to the next one. Meant to watch the trilogy closer together, then go through the Lucien Clergue book, but instead it took 15 years and I don’t have the book handy, think it’s in storage. I did find The Eagle Has Two Heads and The Human Voice and The Difficulty of Being, the last of which was written in 1957, so has no wisdom about the making of this film. But like this film, the 1957 book seems very precious and big-headed about the magic powers of Jean’s great poetry.

A semi-sequel, opening with a clip from the end of Orpheus with the dialogue silenced, Jean ends up stepping inside his own film and interacting with his characters Princess Maria Casares and her accomplice Heurtebise. They’ve put Jean on trial for something or other, and this conversation eats up 25 minutes of an 80-minute movie, erasing the memory of the beautiful silence of the opening scene with constant chatter. The underworld actors look terrific at all times, at least. Jean puts himself in the position of being defensive about his art – when you are this explicit about the nature and intent of poetry, it ceases to be poetic. When he first entered the world of his previous film, I thought this is some Beaches of Agnes / Simon Cinema stuff, but this centerpiece trial feels more like an Orpheus DVD extra.

Before the trial, a bewigged time-traveling Jean visits a professor at four times in his life: as a schoolboy (Jean-Pierre Leaud! This played Cannes exactly a year after The 400 Blows), as a baby and a dying old man, and finally the active doctor he’s seeking. He follows a horse-headed man, rediscovers his Orphic character Cégeste, then to the trial, where he gives the best line to another character: “He is a poet, which makes him indispensable, though I don’t know what for.” I liked the lack of set dressing, shooting in an undressed studio and against ancient/timeless walls covered in modern graffiti. Into a Kafkaesque underworld ruled by Yul Brynner, where Jean is javelinned to death then reborn.

From Cocteau’s essay reprinted for the Criterion discs, it seems he intended Orpheus to be the narrative centerpiece between two less-narrative films. And more than those other two, this one was filmed on intuition:

Often, while making the film, I understood so little of what I was producing that I was tempted to call it absurd and to cut it out. At those times, I forced myself to condemn my own judgment and to tell myself that if the film wanted it that way to begin with, it must have had its reasons, or that reason had nothing to do with it.

The essay has one thing in common with The Difficulty of Being: shitting on French audiences, “where every member of an individualistic crowd puts up an instinctive resistance to what is offered him,” for not appreciating poetry and fantasy in cinema. Shot by Roland Pontoizeau, a Resnais associate who’d worked on Le chant du Styrène – the DP of Orpheus was off working with Melville and Rohmer.

Released from church school on vacation, all the students immediately steal from the market, assault women, and generally terrorize the town. Three dim individuals get lost in the country and find a barn to bed down. In the night, a crone hits on Philosopher Khoma Brutus, and flies away with him when he refuses her, but he knocks her down and beats her senseless with her own broom – crisis averted. I mean, the old witch transforms into a beautiful young girl, but that’s probably nothing to worry about.

But back home, the Michael Shannon-looking rector sends Brutus to give last rites to a landowner’s lovely daughter, who was beaten nearly to death by unknown assailants in the night. Brutus is terrified, tries to escape the whole way back to the farmhouse and… stuff like this starts happening:

Also, cranes!

The now-dead girl’s very unhappy father locks Brutus in the chapel for three nights to pray for her soul. Night one goes okay – she rises from her coffin, but the magic chalk circle he draws around himself keeps her away. “A cossack fears nothing,” he swears drunkenly to the guards… survives an all-night assult by her floating coffin the next night, but the stress turns his hair white, and he tries again to escape.

He’ll get a thousand gold pieces if he survives night three, goes into the chapel drunk as hell, then the movie pulls out all the stops. The effects are just great, like Goofball Cocteau. Shadows and projections and disembodied arms and skeletons, dwarves and wall-crawling demons and many-eyeballed goblins, attack from all sides, but he’s safe in his chalk circle. Then everyone steps the fuck back when she summons Viy, a golden-eyed giant, and when the foolish cossack locks eyes with the beast, his soul is lost and the monsters descend on him.

Russia’s first(?) horror movie, supposedly based on the same Gogol story as Black Sunday. Lead actor Leonid Kuravlyov came up with Tarkovsky, but only appeared in his student film, and is better known for starring in the sci-fi comedy Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future. One of our codirectors died in 1984 – the other, Kropachyov, did production design for Hard to Be a God. Art and effects by Russian animation legend Aleksandr Ptushko, whose 1935 stop-motion feature The New Gulliver sounds cool.

Twenty-three SHOCKtober movies this year… I would’ve guessed the worst would’ve been Cannibal Holocaust, or another Italian horror, or the late Ken Russell, or one of the 1980’s movies… but it ended up being this made-for-TV horror-comedy stop-motion feature. The very words “stop-motion feature” make for a must-see movie, and this month’s The Wolf House was an insane masterpiece, but this thing felt like a celebrity Scooby Doo episode.

Outside of the stop-motion (especially anything involving water), Bride of Frankenstein Phyllis Diller’s laugh is the main source of enjoyment – otherwise it’s all horrible jokes and slow, pointless plot and voice impressions. All the world’s monsters, plus a sap (Jimmy-Stewart-sounding Felix Flankin) convene at Dr. Frankenstein’s castle for something or other, then fight over the doctor’s inheritance and his “formula for destroying matter.” I think we turned it off after red-haired Francesca falls in love with Felix for hitting her, or maybe it was during the endless song she sings right afterward. The monsters are all hoping IT doesn’t show up, so I watched the end of the movie the next day, but IT was just King Kong minus his trademarked name.

Most voices were by Allen Swift – his career ranged from Howdy Doody to Courage the Cowardly Dog. In the late 1950’s he was on WPIX channel 11 NYC as “Captain Allen,” ensuring his eternal legacy via the Arcwelder song. Karloff played the Doctor, at the end of his career, the year after voicing The Grinch. Francesca was Gale Garnett, who beat Bob Dylan at the Grammys a few years prior, and also appears in future Shocktober classic The Children. Diller was in her celebrity prime, the year before Tashlin’s Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell. Rankin/Bass made this between their Rudolph and their Frosty, long before their Hobbit and Last Unicorn, and the cowriter was Mad Magazine creator Harvey Kurtzman, whose jokes work better in print.