High-Rise (2015, Ben Wheatley)

Loki moves into a class-stratified apartment building topped by The Architect Jeremy Irons, and it quickly goes to hell. There’s lots of drinking & smoking & cocaine & sex (with Baroness Sienna Miller) above, while the lower floors lose power and their composure. Belatedly the movie tries to tell us who is whose secret mistress or absentee father, but we’ve lost interest in personal details by that point. Not a dystopian-universe Snowpiercer thing like I expected from reading some Ballard stories – the world outside the apartment seems mostly unaffected.

I liked Pontypoolian Luke “Not Chris” Evans as pregnant Elisabeth Moss’s shithead-turned-documentarian husband. Some okay music choices too, like closing with The Fall’s Industrial Estate, and an upper-class chamber version of Abba’s S.O.S. (later, the sadsack Donnie Darko version doesn’t work as well)

Evans:

Tom Charity in Cinema Scope:

Seizing on the delightfully oxymoronic possibilities of an apocalyptic period film, Wheatley has retained the ’70s period trappings … Yet the movie feels of our time too, immediate, or perhaps imminent, a flash-forward (not backwards) to a present tense we already know in our bones: savage, chaotic, cannibalistic, and doomed. As Ballard puts it, it exists in “a future that had already taken place, and was now exhausted.”

Black Christmas (1974, Bob Clark)

On the heels of A Bay of Blood, here’s another godfather of slasher films. I’d heard and heard that this was good but still wasn’t anxious to watch it because sometimes the most highly recommended movies turn out to be losers (ahem, The Changeling), but surprise, it was good. Sorority house is gradually emptying due to holidays and also because the remaining girls are being murdered and stashed in the attic, the bodies never found so the survivors don’t know to be afraid. And unusually, no crazed killer backstory – we never find out who’s murdering people, or why. So, suspense is generally higher than in most of these kinds of things.

Argento covets this shot:

Kidder ain’t kiddin’:

I was surprised when Margot Kidder was killed, but I guess Sisters wasn’t a mainstream hit and the Superman movies wouldn’t start for a few years. Instead, Olivia Hussey (of 1968 Romeo & Juliet) makes the last stand with her semi-crazed boyfriend Keir Dullea. Victims Ms. Mack (Marian Waldman of Phobia) and Phyl (Andrea Martin, who’d play Ms. Mack in the remake) and Claire (Lynne Griffin of Dream House) are dead in the attic while Detective John Saxon (between appearing in Enter The Dragon and Mitchell – the man had a strange career), his moron assistant Doug McGrath (Ghosts of Mars) and Claire’s guy Art Hindle (his third 1970’s horror I’ve watched in two months, after Body Snatchers and The Brood) uselessly look around campus not realizing the calls are coming from inside the house.

Saxon spends most of his time on the phone:

Those calls feature some of the dirtiest dialogue I’ve heard in a non-porno 1970’s movie. Also surprised by the abortion debates between Olivia and Keir, and the amount of comedy in the movie. Director Bob Clark is better known for his other holiday movie A Christmas Story but he did a couple other 1970’s horrors I might check out.

A Bay of Blood (1971, Mario Bava)

There are some things you’ve gotta do in SHOCKtober, and one thing is you’ve gotta watch something Italian. As the saying goes, if you haven’t got Argento, a Fulci will do. If you haven’t got a Fulci, woe unto you.

This is one of those giallo things where everyone is knifed to death by unknown black-gloved assailant(s). In this case, I think it’s not a single crazed killer, but everyone killing everyone else in order to gain ownership of the bay that all their houses border. At least it seems that way, but it was really hard to care about any of these generic characters – I barely had their names and/or relationships sorted out when they’d be hastily murdered. Dialogue was in English on my copy, and reasonably well-synced, a nice surprise (though the words themselves, and the actors speaking them, remain quite poor). And of course Bava’s got enough style – lighting and zooms and focus tricks – to keep things watchable.

Laura Betti transcends this stupid movie:

Frank and sexy secretary:

Bug Man:

Let’s see if we can piece together what happened. The movie’s only good story idea is staging the death of an elderly landowner (Isa Miranda of The Late Mathias Pascal and La Ronde) by using her own diary entry reading “I am tired. My life no longer has meaning” as a suicide note. I guess this is done by her husband Filippo, who is immediately killed by squid fisherman Simon (Claudio Camaso of John the Bastard), illegitimate son of the hanged countess. Squid Simon has a rivaly with insect hunter Paolo (Leopoldo Trieste, young husband in The White Sheik), who’s scheming with fortune teller Anna (Laura Betti, the miraculous servant in Teorema). Realty Dude Frank (Chris Avram of Voodoo Sexy) and his girlfriend/secretary are also scheming with various participants somehow. Renata (Claudine Auger of Yoyo and Thunderball) is daughter of the count and countess, I think, arriving late with her husband Albert (Luigi Pistilli of Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key) to claim the bay. I think these two succeed, then are shot to death by their own young kids in an epilogue, the movie’s final “fuck you” to its characters and/or viewers.

Our ignoble heroes, Renata and Albert:

Filippo beneath the Squid Thief’s slimy cargo:

Also, with no apparent connection to anything else, four young partying sex-crazed kids (including a skinny-dipping Brigitte Skay, title star of Isabella, Duchess of the Devils) break into a house on the bay and get quickly murdered.

Duchess of the Devils:

The Duchess’s boyfriend catches a machete to the face:

This movie, sometimes known as Twitch of the Death Nerve, was a relatively late film from Bava, arriving some years after his early-to-mid-60’s horror heyday. I guess the others didn’t catch on like this one, since it’s credited as one of the most influential slasher/giallo films (though I’m not sure that’s anything to brag about), with some if its deaths directly ripped off by Friday the 13th sequels.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978, Philip Kaufman)

Wasn’t planning it this way, but I guess my viewing of Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers, and last year’s SHOCKtober screening of the 1956 original (and I suppose The Invasion) were all prelude to this wonderful Alamo screening of the best Body Snatchers movie. It loses the 1950’s prudishness, ramps up the energy and paranoia (and humor, when Jeff Goldblum is onscreen) and lands on an even bleaker ending than the original tried to imply. It could almost be a sequel instead of a remake – the 1956 ends (not counting the dumb framing story) with Kevin McCarthy screaming on the highway, unheeded, and early in this version McCarthy appears on a city street yelling “We’re in danger – you’re next!” just before getting killed.

“A disquieting paranoid thriller informed by the conspiracy theories of the period and the jaded cynicism that followed the death of the counterculture movement,” per Adam Cook.

Donald Sutherland is our new McCarthy, a San Francisco health department investigator and the boss of Elizabeth (Brooke Adams: The Dead Zone, Shock Waves). Donald likes Liz but she’s married to Art Hindle (lead dude in The Brood), who is the first to be invaded – not counting their psychiatrist guru friend Leonard Nimoy, who was probably a pod from the start. While uncovering the plot and figuring out what to do about it, they huddle with friends Goldblum and his wife Nancy (Veronica Cartwright, in The Birds as a teen, later Alien and Witches of Eastwick).

The Shaun of the Dead trick of pretending to be a zombie and walking among the others seems to work, until Donald and Liz get shocked by something and scream. Donald spotted a pod next to a homeless dude (and his dog) and kicked it – a few scenes later the dog is walking around with the dude’s face. As in the original, Liz is only left alone for a few minutes when she falls asleep and gets replaced, melting in Donald’s hands as her pod version rises up, telling him to join them.

Screenplay by W.D. Richter, later director of Buckaroo Banzai with Goldblum. Fun angles and shadowplay, and perfectly balanced tone of terror and action – no wonder a couple movies later Kaufman’s The Right Stuff got eight oscar nominations. Sutherland was later in the quite bad Puppet Masters, in which Earth is invaded by mind-controlling alien parasites, and McCarthy would reprise his role yet again in Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

Film Quarterly:

Visually, the movies couldn’t differ more. Siegel’s unadorned black-and-white has yielded to Kaufman’s lyrical color, tilts, handheld shots, and high key lighting. Michael Chapman’s photography is both lustrous and penumbral, with deep shadows and crowded, mobile frames. Annexing the genre’s salient mood of engulfing dread, he has made the new Body Snatchers a film noir in color.

The Decameron (1971, Pier Paolo Pasolini)

I guess I’m starting to get Pasolini’s style, thanks not to this confusing movie but to the blu-ray extras, which say he combines his knowledge of art and iconography with deliberately naive framing and ignorance of film history and style, influenced by Gramsci (“the revolutionary potential of the arts”) and the neorealists (who insisted on a “high level of political and cultural engagement on the part of directors and writers”). In retrospect I can see how these ideas work, but in my experience of watching the movie, it seemed like a silly bunch of populist, amoral comedic sex stories, lightly enjoyable.

First, someone is murdered in a cave, but it’s dark and I’m not sure what’s happening or if it’s important.

Then Andreuccio (Ninetto Davoli) is scammed by a princess who claims to be his long-lost sister before ejecting him into a toilet and stealing his money. He finds fortune with grave robbers later that night, stealing a gemstone ring from a bishop’s crypt.

Masetto pretends to be stupid and mute in order to gain favor with the nuns and eventually have sex with all of them.

A husband returns home to his cheating wife Peronella where she has stashed her lover in a huge vase, pretending that he’s interesting in buying it. This is when I realized that none of these episodes are related in any way.

Legendary liar/forger Ciappelletto (Franco Citti, title star of Accattone – aha, learned that he’s the murderer in the prologue) is dying, gives a final fake confession to a very impressed priest.

A multi-part episode framed by the story of a painter (Pasolini himself) working on a mural… also featuring young lovers Caterina and Ricardo caught nude on a balcony and forced to marry… Lorenzo is killed by his lover’s brothers and she finds his grave and keeps his head… and a sex fiend returns from the dead to tell his buddy that the afterlife has “nothing against screwing around”

Back to the painter: “Why complete a work, when it’s so beautiful just to dream it?”

Won a prize in Berlin (despite featuring some of the laziest dubbing work I’ve ever seen) where Vittorio De Sica took the Golden Bear. “It also quite infamously started a trend of pornographic films based on Boccaccio’s Decameron, something Pasolini actually found very upsetting,” per Patrick Rumble’s vital video essay.

Belladonna of Sadness (1973, Eiichi Yamamoto)

“Anything… so long as it’s bad.”

Billed as a long-lost feminist animation, as if viewers would be fooled – and some were. In the first ten minutes our heroine is gang-raped by nobles, who conspire to keep the townspeople desperately poor, then she sells her soul to the devil for revenge, and it only gets more grim from there. Yes, it’s nothing but pure punishment for the shining couple of Jean and Jeanne, introduced as some Christian ideal couple before Jeanne is repeatedly devil-raped, brings plague and orgies to the people and is ultimately burned at the stake and Jean becomes a hated tax collector and nobility puppet then gets murdered at his wife’s execution.

Jeanne getting hella raped:

Jeanne joking around with penis-satan:

It’s kind of a musical, making the most of very limited animation – mostly long pans across large still drawings. I appreciate the indie-animation ambition and the uniqueness of having so much sexual imagery, but the end result is dated and unpleasant.

Surely it’s not the movie’s fault for being so shitty to the people, and especially to women, for truly history was very shitty, especially to women, but after murdering our heroes the movie hastily tells us that women (ahem, topless women) led the French revolution so I guess that makes up for everything. The illustrations are pretty cool, anyway.

D. Ehrlich with context:

Strange even by the impossibly high standards of Japanese cinema, the wild and exhausting Belladonna of Sadness was conceived by Osamu Tezuka — the godfather of manga — as the third and final chapter of Mushi Productions’ Animerama trilogy (a series of explicitly adult animated films that also included erotic riffs on “Cleopatra” and “A Thousand and One Nights”).

The Brood (1979, David Cronenberg)

One of the most mental divorce-horror films, reportedly based on the director’s own experience retrieving a daughter from an ex-wife’s cult. Made between Rabid and Scanners, I liked the lead actor (horror regular Art Hindle of Black Christmas and Body Snatchers ’78) better than any pre-Videodrome Cronenberg hero.

It seems Art’s wife Nola (Samantha Eggar of Walk Don’t Run) is under the psychiatric care of “psychoplasmics” weirdo Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed, lending necessary gravity to a movie about psychosomatic killer dwarfs), and there are custody/abuse questions about their daughter, which Nola solves by sending her mutant children to kill her own parents, Art’s new girlfriend, and eventually Oliver Reed.

Family meeting:

The outsider conspiracy theorist in this movie who clues in Art about the doctor’s bizarre studies is the same actor (Robert Silverman) who played the wise outsider in Scanners. But it’s Gary McKeehan (of The Italian Machine) who first mentions “the disturbed kids in the warehouse, the ones your wife’s taking care of,” casually as if everybody already knew. Oliver Reed eventually gets on board helping Art with the rescue operation, helping to redeem whatever the hell has been happening at his institute.

In the extras Cronenberg mentions that after making Stereo and Crimes of the Future, before joining Cinepix to make Shivers, he had to decide if he was going to wholeheartedly pursue filmmaking – “I gave up the idea of being a novelist.” Forty-five years later he’d return to that idea for the great Consumed.

Carrie Rickey for Criterion:

The Brood was released the same year as another film about a custody dispute, Kramer vs. Kramer, which subsequently took the Oscar for best picture. In 1979, Cronenberg, himself recovering from a difficult divorce and custody contest, noted of his most personal film, “The Brood is my version of Kramer vs. Kramer, but more realistic.” Originally, I thought he was joking.

Masterworks of Avant-Garde Film: 1968-2002

Watching shorts from the Flicker Alley blu-ray, part four.

Film that Rises to the Surface of Clarified Butter (1968 Owen Land)

Repetitive little piece in which people draw a character, then it comes to brief stop-motion life, then they ponder this, then it happens again with a constant, quiet burbling horror of a soundtrack. Not as much fun as I’m making it sound.


Our Lady of the Sphere (1969 Lawrence Jordan)

I was rather dismissive of this last time but I’m starting to find its variety of techniques and combinations of images and cutouts from old-time illustrations pretty charming. It’s certainly a funnier and more imaginative way to spend nine minutes than the last movie was. “Jordan orchestrates the film in terms of a rake’s progress” say the liners, but I couldn’t make out much of a story (though I could identify recurring characters, at least).

Mouseover to hit the bear:
image

Mouseover to BZZZZZZT the donkey:
image


DL2 (1970 Lawrence Janiak)

Differently colored patterns fill the screen to varying degrees, from starfields to spaghetti-o’s to shower-curtain dots to bright silly-string and confetti parties, all created by organically Begotten-ing strips of film. Chiming, percussive soundtrack. Hypnotic and strangely relaxing to watch, though next time maybe play my own music.


Love It, Leave It (1970 Tom Palazzolo)

Speech from a car show plays over a nudist festival. Speech honoring the military plays over clowns. Then the soundtrack goes into a hypno-loop of “love it, love it, love it, leave it” under images of contemporary America (sports and recreation, demonstrations and celebrations, people and get-togethers and riot police), the sound finally mutating into a patriotic song layered over itself like that remix I made of the Brave trailer. The liners say he had a “sharp eye for Americana,” true. And the last page of Cinema Scope #66 points out where more Palazzolo films can be found, if I get into an Americana mood later.


Transport (1970 Amy Greenfield)

One of those dance shorts where the camera moves with the dancers, only the movements here are not too exciting – small group of people lifting each other across a dirty field. And the sound is completely unbearable, a series of horrible tones like the ones they play in movies after a bomb goes off to indicate tinnitus in the lead character. Also, two minutes of opening credits in a six minute movie?


Sappho & Jerry, Parts 1-3 (1977 Bruce Posner)

Early film by one of the anthology project’s many film restorationists. Three two-minute pieces where Bruce takes existing film elements, combines, mutates and split-screens the living hell out of them, adding more simultaneous frames in each ensuing chapter. Great fun.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:


Ch’an (1983 Francis Lee)

Pans, zooms and crossfades of black and white watercolors, with some short bursts of animation. Nice texture closeups of the watercolor work. I preferred Lee’s 1941 from earlier on the disc (these are his first and last films).


Seasons… (2002 Solomon & Brakhage)

Gorgeous variety of textures and patterns, colors and rhythms. “Intentionally silent” doesn’t fly with me, so I played the second half of the new David Grubbs album, which I would highly recommend. If I understand correctly, Brakhage did the textures and patterns, and Solomon did the lighting and coloring? Bravo to both.

I dig this frame because it looks like a dragon crashing into an aerial antenna:

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973, Peter Yates)

A tired-looking Robert Mitchum is a crook trying to stay out of jail by making deals to give up his friends. His fellow crooks are suspicious of him, and the cops owe him no particular loyalty, so it looks increasingly (to us, if not to Mitchum) that there’s no way out. Shortly after the cops get the drop on Eddie’s bank robber friends, Eddie is unceremoniously executed by the bartender he thinks is his friend (Peter Boyle of Taxi Driver). At least they had a nice night out at a hockey game beforehand.

I especially dig the general atmosphere (and the funk guitar soundtrack). Everyone acts cool but threatening. C. Stebbins called it a “relentlessly melancholic film where chess pieces are moved through quiet back-dealings and dialogue exchanges infused with ever-maneuvering fatalism.”

Mitchum, unamused:

Kent Jones:

There’s not a punch thrown, and only two fatal shots are fired, but this seemingly artless film leaves a deeper impression of dog-eat-dog brutality than many of the blood-soaked extravaganzas that preceded it and have come in its wake … Two crisply executed bank heists and a logistically complex parking-lot arrest aside, the kinetic excitement here is sparked by the verbal and gestural rhythms between the actors as they plead for their lives across dingy Beantown tabletops.

Boyle and Jordan:

Laughs: Katy told me Peter Bogdanovich was in the TV show she’s watching, and I was seeing him everywhere in this movie – turns out most men in 1973 looked like Peter Bogdanovich. I also got chuckles from the lead cop (Richard Jordan of Logan’s Run and Interiors) being named Dave Foley, and another character called Jackie Brown.