After amazing opening title artwork, we open with a festive animal-slaughter montage, why? So far so familiar – golden-haired beauty Julie (Zdena Studenková, also of a Sleeping Beauty movie) loves her merchant father, whose entire fortune is in a wagon train that gets violently lost when it strays too close to a cursed castle. Julie’s sisters are actually nice to her until the family’s fortune turns, then they become horrible. Dad is imprisoned in the castle when he searches for the lost shipment, and when released for a day to say goodbye to his family, he’s mid-conversation when Julie grabs a horse and rides off to take her father’s place.

It’s halfway through the movie before we see the beast’s face – he’s a BIRDBEAST! – and fifteen minutes to the end before Julie sees it. The castle and its furnishings are alive in a shady and sinister way, overall more of a horror movie than any other adaptation I’ve seen, always whispering to Beast that he should kill Julie. There’s also no Gaston equivalent, nobody from town looking for Julie, and after she visits home and everyone’s a pain in the ass to her, she runs back to her Beast, who transforms out of love, to a really nice piano theme by Petr Hapka (whose music was in Ferat Vampire and The Grandmaster!)

The sisters: Jana Brejchová was in Return of the Prodigal Son and Baron Prasil and I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen, and Zuzana Kocúriková was in, uh oh, an Alain Robbe-Grillet film. Dad was in Murder Czech Style. Vlastimil Harapes is under the bird-beast makeup, had a smallish role in Marketa Lazarová.

Local crime boss Bob Hoskins gets back into town, and quickly has to figure out what’s going on when some of his top men start getting killed right when Bob was gonna go legit by signing with real estate developer Eddie Constantine and profit off the 1988 olympics. Turns out some of his guys took a side deal from the IRA, stole from them, and now his whole organization is under attack.

Eddie, Helen, Bob:

Bob’s in his first starring role, Helen Mirren is his unamused sister, their curlhaired partner Jeff is Derek Thompson (just off the rock musical Breaking Glass) and Paul Freeman (villain of next year’s Raiders of the Lost Ark) is Bob’s buddy who gets stabbed to death by none other than Pierce Brosnan (twelve years before his performance in The Lawnmower Man landed him the James Bond role). Bob won’t accept defeat, takes on the IRA at a demolition derby, and it almost looks like his plan’s gonna work. Decent 1980’s movie, does not live up to expectations of being an early Criterion release that I’ve been wanting to watch since it came out… in fact, the DVD release was late 1998, which is closer to the release of the original film than it is to the month I finally watched it.

Very promising, opening titles over an auto assembly line, “with the participation of Bert Haanstra,” the factory work bringing to mind his great short Glas. Alas, Tati fell out with Haanstra (and his funders, and somehow Lasse Hallström), and this ended up a fitfully amusing, semi-improvised road-trip film that incidentally features Mr. Hulot as an auto designer helping transport his creation to a trade show.

The joke is that delays and misfortune make them miss the show completely – they get a flat tire, the truck’s clutch goes out, etc. But it’s hard to feel sorry for them (not that the movie asks us to) when they also run out of gas, get arrested for speeding through a border crossing, cause a ten-car rube goldberg car crash, and don’t seem to know what day the show starts – this is all professional incompetence. Anyway they’re a likable crew except for the grating American PR rep Maria.

Besides Hulot’s presence, you can catch glimpses of the style of the guy who made Playtime only a few years earlier, and can also catch his influence on Roy Andersson. Some cute bits: after the second garage stop Tati makes a rock music video out of traffic lines and road marking patterns. Montage of people’s windshield wipers matching their personalities, some good sight gags in the police station, Maria’s constant stylish wardrobe changes. But there’s also this disastrous bit:

Learned from Jonathan Rosenbaum’s article that Haanstra shot the nose-picking montage, and at least some of it is unstaged.

Jonathan Romney for Criterion:

Tati certainly appears less in control than in the vast coordinated ballet of Playtime. For the most part, the jokes in Trafic drum up a sense of languid, almost apathetic chaos, without there always being conventional payoffs to give the comic business a sense of purpose. Notwithstanding the painstakingly synchronized pileup scene, the film is characterized by slow-burn gags that create an overall comic atmosphere rather than work toward a clearly defined goal … Without a doubt, Trafic contains a hovering tone of despair that makes it a somewhat melancholic pendant to Playtime.

Final tally:
Perkins > Bacall > Gielgud > Connery > Cassel > Balsam > Roberts > Bisset >
(good/bad frontier)
Widmark > Hiller > Quilley > York > Bergman > Finney

Richard Widmark wakes up dead on a train, after asking detective Poirot to protect him the day before. Widmark was the mastermind of a heinous kidnapping in prologue, also a huge asshole, and it turns out all of the suspects had motives, each of them affected by his crime, and conspired to kill him together.

Languorously paced, and centered around Finney’s Mike Myers-like appearance and accent, it’s a near-disaster of a movie kept sporadically afloat by a few good scenes and performances, and a touching ending. Anthony Perkins was Widmark’s assistant – nervous, of course… Bergman is a timid religious fanatic who says “little brown babies” pretty often… Vanessa Redgrave is cute and smiley, having an affair with Sean Connery… Wendy Hiller in weird makeup and weird accent plays a princess.

Lumet made a lotta movies, more than forty and this was about the midpoint. The only other of his movies I’ve written about are his very first and his very last. Obviously a weird year for the oscars – Finney was nominated, Bergman won, and the whole list looks like New Hollywood and Old Hollywood in an ugly clash, trading awards between The Godfather II and The Towering Inferno.

“It’s after the end of the world / Don’t you know that yet?”

Sun Ra finds a new planet, decides to bring over some Black people. He appears in the 1940’s as stage pianist “Sunny Ray,” playing futuristic jazz piano to the annoyance of the patrons (the Back to the Future of its time). Some sort of interdimensional devil finds him, and challenges him to card games in the middle of the desert.

Somehow I thought this movie was a concert/rock doc, but it’s not a doc of any sort. Ra ends up in present-day California and observes all kinds of dickish behavior. He is kidnapped by NASA agents, who tie him up and torture him by playing him “Dixie” in headphones, until he’s rescued by young men who were earlier arguing about whether Sun Ra was selling out by releasing his music on LPs. There’s a sidetrack where the (white/racist) NASA guys beat up some prostitutes, a running joke where the devil-man has two naked women and his crony gets excited only to be kicked out so the devil can have both women for himself, and at the end, one of the young men sacrifices himself to save Sun Ra from an assassin, then all the decent(ish) Black people are raptured away to Ra’s planet before Earth explodes.

The youth of today:

The wikis say Ra made his own edit, 20 minutes shorter, cutting out the blaxploition stuff, which would probably be for the best. No info on the director… cowriter Josh Smith’s other credit is a G-rated family movie about a kid’s baby seal. Devil-man (Ashley Clark called him a “megapimp”) is Ray Johnson, who showed up 15 years later in a previously unheard-of TV version of The Bourne Identity, and his hanger-on is Chris Brooks, who played both Hieronymus Bosch and Jesus Christ in his short career. But that’s all if you believe IMDB credits, which are often bunk. I see a John and a Chris, a Johnson and a Smith – these are all generic pseudonyms, since this movie was clearly made by aliens from the future.

Too many closeups for a movie with such horrid dubbing. I listened to the English version for a few minutes, which seems to have a more balanced sound mix, but reluctantly returned to the Italian. I bought the Criterion box set of this trilogy, and in the extras you hear all about the difficulty in making these, the world travel adventures, filming on an active volcano, and the artistic work, recreating Bosch paintings with live actors, designing compositions and colors inspired by Dürer and Paolo Uccello… but while watching them, you can’t shake the feeling that they’re hastily-dubbed, silly-ass sex comedies.

You know the setup: a diverse bunch of weirdos gather around, their guide says that on the way to Canterbury they should each tell a story. Firstly, old rich dude (wicked-eyebrowed Hugh Griffith of the Dr. Phibes movies) seeks a wife, finds hot young Josephine Chaplin (Shadowman), but she falls for hip young Damiano and cucks her blind husband. Buncha stuff happened in the second chapter – a dude is burned to death, the devil (Accattone star Franco Citti) tricks another dude into hell – then ol’ Chaucer, played of course by our Pasolini, gets the idea to start writing these down.

From one Chaplin to another – highlight of the movie is Ninetto Davoli, the messenger from Teorema, doing a Chaplin parody as a cheerful tramp who is easily distracted by gambling and prostitutes. More silliness follows, overlong episodes lacking the sped-up film effect of the Ninetto. Two young dudes fight over Michael Balfour’s wife Jenny Runacre (star of Jubilee and The Final Programme). Laura Betti of (A Bay of Blood) marries a dull anti-feminist and so bites his nose off. More wife-stealing, and multiple fart jokes – I liked the section where some stupid young men go on a quest to kill Death, and almost immediately get distracted and murder each other.

Also featuring Welsh wrestler and Jon Langford subject Adrian Street – I think this is him?

Opens with a shaky walking cam, some zooms and shock edits, brief gore and nudity, but feels like its own thing, distinct from the Argento and Fulci movies I usually end up watching. Since discovering the great Michele Soavi last year, I’ve been optimistic about expanding my Italian horror canon. Ferroni was a familiar name because of his Brigade, and this, his penultimate film, was quite good.

I don’t think this was the intention, but I’m going to think of this as one of those stories where someone shows themself to be a real asshole, then they get severely punished by paranormal forces. Nicola is an entitled city dude, played by Gianni Garko (star of the Sartana series, Fulci’s The Psychic, and Dracula Blows His Cool) who busts up his car then intrudes on a rural family as they’re returning from father’s funeral, claiming he doesn’t want to be a burden, but also insisting everyone listen to his problems and give him immediate assistance.

Until the car can be fixed, Nicola is stuck with the seven remaining family members, who are worriedly whispering about ending a curse, so he gets gradually clued in. It’s not long before the hot daughter Sdenka falls in love with the stranger, and also the dead man’s brother goes out to fight the witch in the woods, returns cursed, and after being stabbed in the heart his face melts nice and slowly, and the movie just chills out and watches it go.

Mouseover to melt Uncle’s face:
image

The second half ends up like so many horrors, with family members in the dark outside yelling someone’s name over and over. The curse catches them quickly, since it causes the afflicted to seek to turn the one they love most, a detail reminiscent of It Follows. “The terror of loneliness – they kill others primarily because they want company, and those victims search for their own company… a neverending chain of death, unless one can break a link,” says the organist in town after Nicola gets his damned car fixed. Meanwhile back at the ranch, the youngest wanders off, comes back bloodthirsty and kills her mom, then all hell breaks loose and our dude returns to a total zombietown. He flees his loving Sdenka, arrives crazed and nonverbal at a hospital, where Sdenka tracks him down, he stabs her and… she doesn’t melt, so he’s just a lunatic murderer.

The same Tolstoy story (here adapted by the writer of Kill, Baby… Kill! and at least two others) was also filmed as the Boris Karloff section of Black Sabbath a decade earlier, The Vampire Family in Russia two decades later, and a Fear Itself episode by Larry Fessenden. Damn good music – the composer also did La Notte and Deep Red, and died before having to hear one of his songs in Gaspar Noé’s Love. The DP shot The House That Screamed, which I’d hoped to catch this SHOCKtober but the month wasn’t long enough. Sdenka is Agostina Belli of a Richard Burton Bluebeard and Fulci’s The Eroticist, and her family members include Roberto Maldera (The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave), Cinzia De Carolis (Cannibals in the Streets), and the Deneuve-looking Teresa Gimpera (Spirit of the Beehive).

In late 1970’s Paris, Anne, the boss of a porn film company (pop star Vanessa Paradis) has to deal with being dumped by her editor (You and the Night‘s Kate Moran) and being investigated for the murder of one of her actors, actually perpetrated by a masked psycho wielding bladed sex toys.

Anne decides to deal with this by filming a porn parody of the investigation called Homocidal and casting herself as the murderer.

As actors keep dying, she visits a bird museum, discovers the victims are visited by a blind grackle, an extinct bird, and tracks down the story of a tormented youth, burned half to death by his father for being gay, come to the city as a scarred, homocidal adult.

Also featuring Nicolas Maury (You and the Night, Heartbeat Detector) as Anne’s blonde director, and Yann’s fellow-traveler gender-bending filmmaker Bertrand Mandico as the dramatic, floppy-haired cameraman.

With the giallo lighting, M83 music, movie theaters and rare birds, this was mostly up my alley.

Michael Sicinski on letterboxd:

If there’s one dominant hetero influence at work in Knife+Heart, it’s Brian De Palma. This is a sexualized murder mystery, based in part on who has the power of the gaze, who has been sidelined by desire, and how killing is a perverse sexual substitute. And even as the gravity of life and death are acknowledged, Gonzalez shares with De Palma a taste for the ridiculous, a recognition that movie violence can exorcise psychological demons precisely because it is not real, and the more outlandish the better.

I love the convenience and the selection of the Criterion Channel… and the quality, and the extras, but it’s tough to take screenshots, which ruins my blog flow. This was presented with Biller’s The Love Witch, which I was sorely tempted to watch a third time, but thought I’d better check out her debut while it’s online. Set in the early 1970s, it’s more campy than Love Witch, with self consciously horrible dialogue, shot like a cross between a sitcom and an advertisement. These aren’t complaints necessarily. Of the actors, I only recognized Sheila’s horrible husband Mark, who led the ren-fest scene in Love Witch.

Anna plays Barbi, whose husband Rick leaves her for weeks at a time. Anna and her friend Sheila decide home life is dull, so they sneak off to a modeling agency and get jobs as call girls. Anna as “Viva” meets a nudist musician, a hot girl named Agnes, and a big-deal artist… stars in a few musical numbers and a psychedelic animated fantasy. On one hand, as Viva she becomes a glorious sex goddess, but still everyone she meets is abusing her.