After Possession and Cosmos, I’ve been anxious to watch more Zulawski. There’s a World War II drama, a space-travel sci-fi cult thing, a love triangle story, and this one, with which I informally kicked off SHOCKtober this year.

A nervous, wild-eyed stranger arrives at a convent in total bloody chaos where two political prisoners are being held. He kills Thomas, saves Jacob, kidnaps a nun and rides the hell out of there, but everywhere he goes is about as hysterical as the convent, and Jacob starts murdering people with a knife. He buries his father, attacks his friends, murders his mother, gets injured in a duel, deliriously gives up his co-conspirators to the stranger, then is killed. The nun takes out the devil, who transforms into an animal as he dies. It’s all very intense, and I didn’t always follow it (nor its political allegory which got it banned), but it’s definitely something else.

Jacob and the stranger:

Jacob’s mom with snake:

Jacob and the nun costarred in Zulawski’s feature debut The Third Part of the Night the previous year, and devil Wojciech Pszoniak was in Wajda’s Danton.

Jeremiah Kipp (director of The Minions and Contact) in Slant:

Jakub is led home by his dark-clad benefactor, only to discover that everything has taken a turn toward the rancid and horrible. His father has committed suicide, his mother has transformed into a prostitute, his sister has been driven insane, and his fiancée has been forced into an arranged marriage with his best friend, who has turned into a political opportunist and turncoat. Leading him through this world turned upside down is the man in black, who continually whispers sarcastic platitudes in the hero’s ear and inciting him to acts of extreme violence … As usual for his films, the camera hurtles vertically across rooms and fields and spirals around as the actors pitch their performances at maximum volume. Society for Zulawski is just a thin veneer used to disguise the horrible sadism and unhappiness lurking inside every human heart. The Devil would make for maudlin, depressing viewing if every scene didn’t feel like explosions were being set off, sending the inmates of a madhouse free into the streets outside.

I thought we were seeing a one-off screening of a movie that had bypassed our town in limited release, but it turns out perhaps it was an advance screening, and it’ll open here eventually? Either way, if cult movies still exist, this one would appear to qualify. It’s got the photography of those stark, perfectly-lit black-and-white Eurasian films (see also: The Virgin Spring, The Turin Horse, Hard to be a God) blending mythology with harsh reality, a romantic love story with devil-dealing – plus ghosts that turn into giant chickens, and farming implements (and snowmen) possessed with slave souls. And humor!

I think it’s director Sarnet’s third feature – his last one was a Dostoevsky adaptation. Gratified that I didn’t recognize Baron Dieter Laser from the other shit I’ve seen him in.

After sitting through two stiff early horrors, this was more like it – the voodoo-magic of White Zombie and satanism of The Devil Rides Out thrown into a noir-blender. Unlike The Fly its style and music can’t quite transcend its 1980’s origins, but it’s a good try.

Angel is Mickey Rourke, and I’m not used to seeing him pre-Sin City – he looks more like Mathieu Amalric here. He’s hired by the devil Robert De Niro (“Louis Cyphre… Lucifer… even your name is a dime-store joke”) in 1955 to track down devil-dealing singer Johnny Favorite who disappeared without paying his debts (reminiscent of Hellraiser from the same year). Angel follows the leads to New Orleans, meets Favorite’s ex Charlotte Rampling, Favorite’s daughter Lisa Bonet, and Favorite’s bandmate Brownie McGhee, all of whom end up murdered. But Angel himself is the missing Johnny, and after he tracks down all his old friends and family (and has sex with his own daughter btw), he blacks out and murders them, before the devil reveals all and Johnny/Angel is taken away.

Low-key indie comedy about a weirdo misfit pyro stand-up comedian. Bits of surreal dream-logic invade the story now and then, and I like how there’s no “normal” reality that the movie returns to. The comedian buys an apple from a fruit-stand seller in a cheap devil suit, and after eating it an an apple tree starts growing through his skin. He kills his abusive neighbor with a baseball bat, commits petty arson & vandalism, has basic money problems, sometimes bombs onstage and sometimes does alright, and all these things are given equal weight. This could forever sit comfortably on the cult shelf of any video store, if video stores still existed.

Theoretically we’re rooting for pyro drifter Joshua Burge (also of Buzzard and Coyote) even though he’s really not a good comedian, has rage issues and nothing much going on. His rivals, besides the now-dead neighbor, include a bald fellow comedian, the comedy club owner who keeps bumping Josh from the schedule, a werewolf car-lot mascot, a convenience store clerk, a bike thief, a heckler, and of course The Devil. After taking care of the neighbor, Joel has a string of good luck and minor rebellions, but is also getting taken down by the apple tree, and finally he ends up inside the ape suit.

Potrykus in Cinema Scope, on debuting in Locarno:

Growing up, European cinema was always exotic and incredibly distant. I wasn’t prepared for the tables to turn. Suddenly, I felt like we were the ambassadors of not so much American independent cinema, but of the Midwest as a landscape. Ape’s empty city streets and mundane convenience-store bureaucracies were now the exotic. Locarno as a whole quickly picked up on the politics of the film that are normally overlooked in the US, the subtle racial commentary and economic issues. To them, it became a full-blown political film … I plan on sticking around Michigan as long as I can. I think it’s important to stick with the people who understand you and have been there since the early days … In the end, I just want to hammer out a weird little shack in the forest with my friends, not construct a tacky skyscraper with a bunch of strangers.

Bonus: the illustrated movie poster is great… this is the second LNKarno pick with a poster I wanna own (and both movies have scenes where audio tapes get destroyed, hmm). The guy who played the devil became a director, making a string of demon and alien movies… must’ve gotten really into his role. The rival comic and even Dorito Guy are also directors – looks like there’s a happening scene up in Michigan.

“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”).

Meditative drifter David Dewaele (a Dumont regular who died in 2013) and sad teenager with family problems (Alexandra Lemâtre of no other films) are apparently friends (I can’t shake K. Uhlich calling them “Hipster Jesus and Anime Goth Girl”), and in the opening minutes he murders her stepdad for her.

Rest of the film is less story-driven and more mystical than we’d expect from that opening. David is some kind of a healer. Alexandra is pursued by an amorous guard, but she likes the emotionally unavailable David instead. There’s a forest-fire / walk-on-water scene that brings to mind Nostalghia, a disturbing rabies-sex scene, the unexpected rape/murder of Alexandra and her much-more-expected resurrection. What does this mean for the case against her murderer, who gets caught in the previous scene?

Strange sound design – during long shots we hear someone (the cameraman?) breathing loudly. I rather liked this movie, but my critics who’d seen his earlier work did not. S. Tobias: “Another tedious variation on themes that would seem too specific to repeat … His impeccable style has never been in question; it’s his purpose that seems in doubt.” I’m also not sure what it adds up to, but it’s mysterious and pretty enough (Cinematographer Yves Cape also worked on Holy Motors) to keep me happy for a couple hours.

Mom, on encountering her resurrected daughter:

Andréa Picard defends the film in Cinema Scope:

Hors Satan’s elliptical nature and multiple readings are firmly beholden to the film’s form; Dumont has referred to his emphasis on “sensations” and the retrospective (instead of fleeting) meaning of images attained through careful composition and construction. With a striking refinement and reduction of his palette, and a sly sense of humour, Dumont has reached a new level in his filmmaking.

Played in some sub-category of Cannes with Elena, The Day He Arrives and Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Lance Henriksen is sent by a corporate board of sinister white men to date and impregnate Barbara, who is afraid of her own eight year old daughter Katy, who caused an explosion to win Atlanta a basketball game. But first: bald children, wicked clouds, John Huston in an Obi-Wan robe and an unhappy-looking Franco “Django” Nero, who I found out from the closing credits was supposed to be Jesus Christ and whose opening narration sounds an awful lot like Star Wars with the names replaced by Bible characters. This all sounds nuts, and it is – a lost classic of cheesy/weirdo horror cinema revived by Drafthouse Films.

Unhappy Jesus:

After the bonkers intro it’s back to the family scene, which is playing out like We Need To Talk About Katy. Soon Katy shoots her mom (Joanne Nail of Switchblade Sisters and Full Moon High), who is then confined to a wheelchair and hires Shelley Winters (of Bloody Mama and Tentacles) as a housekeeper who might be working for God/Huston. Shelley affects nothing in the household besides bugging everyone by singing “mammy’s little baby loves shortnin’ bread” and saying things like “A great philosopher said that our characters are our fates. And some scientists now believe that planets somehow understand this.”

Shelley introduces herself and her finches:

Huston (the same year he made Wise Blood) is God, who works in mysterious ways, allows Katy to kill the Atlanta cop (The Big Heat and Experiment In Terror star Glenn Ford) investigating her mom’s shooting, then after many scenes standing on Atlanta roofs frowning at the sky (and after playing Pong on a projection screen with Katy) he finally kills her and Lance with a flock of pigeons.

Playin’ Pong with God:

Huston looks surprised at what he’s done:

Have I mentioned that Katy’s Satan-Falcon kills a cop by messing with the street lights?

Or that between Pong and the pigeons, there’s a Lady From Shanghai funhouse scene?

Lance was just off The Omen 2, which this movie is ripping off. We’ve also got Sam Peckinpah (who I just saw in Invasion of the Body Snatchers) playing Barbara’s ex, and the leader of Lance’s white-man cabal is Mel Ferrer (of two unrelated films both called Eaten Alive). Director Paradisi had bit roles in some Fellini films, also made a movie called Spaghetti House, and cowriter Ovidio Assontis also produced Pirahna 2: The Spawning, as his IMDB bio mentions proudly. And have I mentioned this was shot in Atlanta?

Men In Black 2 (2002, Barry Sonnenfeld)

Hey, I never saw this, always wanted to, but heard it was bad. Just the thing The Last Ten Minutes was invented for. The two mismatched partners are joined by Rosario Dawson with nuclear jewelry and pursued by Evil Lara Flynn Boyle till she’s eaten by a subway monster. Jones tells Dawson she’s the fifth element, Smith is attacked by shockingly subpar effects. Did you know there was a part 3? Neither did I.

[Rec] 3: Genesis (2012, Paco Plaza)

Previously watched [Rec] 1 and remake-sequel (remaquel?) Quarantine 2. Can’t find [Rec] 2 on netflix because their search is ridiculous, so let’s pick up here. Loving couple is trapped in kitchen by encroaching zombies until loudspeaker bible recitation stops them. Dude has a sword, which actually seems like a smart zombie weapon. Girl is bitten by an elderly fellow (bad hearing, immune to loudspeaker), guy cuts off her arm but he’s stupid and slow, and they both die. From one of the directors of the first one, but not shot first-person, so the title doesn’t make sense anymore. The girl was in Ramin Bahrani’s Man Push Cart.

[Rec] 4: Apocalypse (2014, Jaume Balagueró)

Oh, this is from the other director of the first one, and looks a lot worse. Stars Angela from parts 1 & 2. A guy with bad hair helps Angela kill zombie monkeys with a boat motor. Why does the bad guy have a snake-tongue? A boat explodes!

The Interview (2014, Goldberg & Rogen)

Those two guys are trying to escape N. Korea. Cue the loud action scenes. Katy Perry soundtracks the fiery death of President Randall Park (Danny Chung in Veep), then we get an anticlimactic escape from the country. One of the directors wrote for Da Ali G Show.

Horns (2013, Alexandre Aja)

The one where Harry Potter is a demon, from the director of the great Hills Have Eyes Remake. Dang, no horns, Harry must’ve had them cut off already (a la Hellboy?). His brother (Joe Anderson of Across the Universe) is sad, so Harry goes walkies with Max Minghella, and there are guns, and wow, Harry sprouts wings then turns into a full flaming demon and has homicidal maniac Max brutalized by snakes. I think Harry’s dead girlfriend is alive again but I stopped watching because my roomie locked his keys in his car. Is this Wolf Parade over the ending?

The Sacrament (2013, Ti West)

Sorry Ti, but after two-and-a-quarter disappointments you join Aja in Last Ten Minutes purgatory. Joe Swanberg in death cult compound is running from gunmen, everyone is dying, and it’s shot first-person a la [Rec] 1. Isn’t this the same plot as one of the V/H/S/2 segments from the same year, which West and Swanberg were also heavily involved with? Joe semi-rescues AJ Bowen (of every Adam Wingard movie) with the shakiest shaky-cam I’ve ever witnessed. Ends with unnecessary solemn title cards. Boo.

Maniac (2012, Franck Khalfoun)

Fuuuck, this is also shot first-person – and out-of-focus, no less. Co-written by Alexandre Aja. Khalfoun made P2 and acted in Aja’s Haute Tension – they’re as close as the West-Swanberg-Wingard crew. I think Elijah Wood kidnaps Nora Arnezeder then she stabs him with a mannequin arm and runs him over. Then she dies, so he marries a mannequin. Most of these movies are very bad, but this one looks unusually, especially, very very bad.

The Conspiracy (2012, Christopher MacBride)

Grainy first-person pinhole camera with blurred-out faces. Why do all these movies hate cinema? Dude wakes up in the ritual sacrifice room, then is chased through the dark woods while wearing an animal head. Finally a series of talking heads dismiss whatever conspiracy theory the hunted/murdered cameraman presumably uncovered. MacBride has made no other movies and hopefully it’ll stay that way.

Automata (2014, Gabe Ibáñez)

It’s balding trenchcoat dudes with shotguns vs. slow, clunky robots. The robots are talking wise, getting themselves shot, when a fully bald Antonio Banderas arrives. His plan of action is poor but he still kills two guys and the third is dispatched by a Short Circuit lizard. Weird/nice to see a robot-future movie where some of the robots (not the lizard) are actual props, not people or digital effects.

I, Frankenstein (2014, Stuart Beattie)

From the trailer this looked like epic nonsense, but it’s actually more coherent than most of the others I just watched. Bill Nighy! The final battle: Frankenstein Eckhart vs. angels, gargoyles, a merman, lots of fire, men in suits, poor digital effects and Bill Nighy! Meanwhile there’s a bunch of computer progress bars and “access denied” messages. Progress bars are always a great source of tension in movies, eh? A massive Matrix-like chamber full of bodies begins to self-destruct. Eckhart (is he the monster or the doctor?) defeats demon-Nighy, saves some lady from a fiery apocalypse and collapsing castle. Beattie wrote the Pirates of the Carribean movies (and Collateral), his cowriter was an actor in Men In Black 2.

Took a couple weeks off the blog, now back to the SHOCKtober backlog. Got a new visual theme to support larger images (and incidentally phones/tables/etc) so beginning with this post, screenshots are no longer limited to 640px wide. Party!

After enjoying The Tenant, I decided to rewatch the rest of Polanski’s “apartment trilogy:” this and Repulsion, both of which I’d seen on cable so long ago that I may as well have never seen them at all before now. Obviously these movies were the highlight of Shocktober this year, alongside Hellraiser, Scanners and Possession. After not paying him much attention until 2011, I’m a big Polanski fan. All three apartment movies have terrific peephole shots, and this and Repulsion both have a dream sequence in which a ticking clock is the only sound. I found out in the extras that Polanski threw off the lipsynch in another dream sequence on purpose – I’d been annoyed at the technical flaw but he meant it to add to the unreal atmosphere.

Omaha native Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and husband Guy (John Cassavetes, same year as Faces) shop for an NYC apartment with realtor Elisha Cook (Phantom Lady, The Killing), settle on a place with nosy neighbors whose previous tenant passed away just a few days before. Mia’s first friend (Victoria Vetri, Playmate of the Month right before this filmed) jumps to her death soon after they move in. Already this is sounding like The Tenant, but instead of the new tenants going slowly insane, aspiring actor Guy makes a deal with the intrusive Castevet couple next door to have his wife impregnated with the antichrist.

Collateral damage: the suicide woman, who it’s assumed was meant to be the demon child’s host before Rosemary came along, Hutch, the couple’s best friend before the whole demon pregnancy thing (Maurice Evans, a lead ape the same year in Planet of the Apes), Guy’s competition for a major acting role (he goes inexplicably blind). I think Rosemary’s doctor, the great Charles Grodin (as opposed to the doc the Castevets choose for her, Ralph Bellamy of The Wolf Man), is allowed to live.

Even without the demon baby, moving in next door to the Castevets seems like horror movie material – this may be what led to The Tenant. Paradoxically, the crazy Castevets also keep the mood light, injecting humor into the horror. Ruth Gordon won an oscar (beating the star of Cassavetes Faces), would star in Harold and Maude a few years later, and Sidney Blackmer played Leslie Nielsen’s dad in Tammy and the Bachelor. The ending is intense, though – Rosemary discovering the whole conspiracy, walks into a room with her demon baby, her traitor husband and a bunch of revelers yelling “hail Satan,” and instead of hurling herself out the window or burning the place to the ground, she approaches the cradle and starts to rock it gently.

Polanski’s first American film after Repulsion and two others in England. There was a sequel! It starred Pontypool‘s Stephen McHattie as the demon kid now in his twenties, with Patty Duke and Ray Milland. Mia Farrow starred in Secret Ceremony, another disappearing child/hysterical mom movie the same year as Rosemary’s.

Author Ira Levin in 2003:

Lately, I’ve had a new worry. The success of Rosemary’s Baby inspired Exorcists and Omens and lots of et ceteras. Two generations of youngsters have grown to adulthood watching depictions of Satan as a living reality. Here’s what I worry about now: if I hadn’t pursued an idea for a suspense novel almost forty years ago, would there be quite as many religious fundamentalists around today?