I felt bad for skipping Bava this Shocktober – it’s been a near-annual tradition to watch one of his overrated movies – so I watched this in December to cool down after A Hidden Life. Extremely cool opening titles, at least – bold colors in low light, each actor posing for their credit with mannequins and flowers and birdcages. Maybe I should quit while I’m ahead…

We open with Drug Fiend Franco (Dante DiPaolo, a townsman in Seven Brides) bothering model Nicole outside a fashion house. “Have you tried asking Isabella,” she suggests, and in the next scene Isabella is battered and murdered by a faceless rorschach dude.

Isabella’s final stroll:

Fun scene where Nicole finds her late friend’s diary, tells everyone, then each person in the room wordlessly conveys “I am gonna steal that fuckin diary.” You see, they are all druggies and criminals with guilty consciences, which makes them all potential killers or victims – very Knives Out. Nicole goes to Franco’s house, which is infested with fancy furniture and vases, where the killer flicks the lights off and on, and somehow sneaks up on her wearing a suit of armor. I lose track of which beautiful woman is which for a while, as they’re all murdered by Rorschach… spiked glove to the face, hot furnace to the face, pillow to the face, you name it.

L-R: someone (Cristiana?), designer Cesare (Luciano Pigozzi of Exterminators of the Year 3000), Franco, Nicole

The police arrest all the men, but the killings continue, so the investigator gives up, and multiple-murderers Cristiana (Hungarian Eva Bartok in her final European role before retirement) and boyfriend Cameron Mitchell (four years before Ride in the Whirlwind) celebrate getting away with it… after one more murder, which they pull off, but then turn on each other.

Recovering the diary that doomed Mary Arden tried to destroy:

Mad killer Cristiana:

One could call this the finale in Mario Bava’s Black Trilogy after Black Sunday in 1960 and Black Sabbath in 1963, except that these are fake titles invented by U.S. distributors, and also Bava made six other movies in between. This one was actually named something like Six Women for the Murderer.

I’ve been enjoying some HD rewatches of movies I’d previously seen many years ago on crappy video – classics like Close-up, Koyaanisqatsi, Paths of Glory… and Darkman. This is the perfect connection between his Evil Dead trilogy and his Spider-Man trilogy, and was probably an answer to Tim Burton’s Batman. It proved Raimi could maintain the tone of his filmmaking, shooting a fundamentally ridiculous story, filling in details both comic and horrific, without (arguably!) toppling into camp.

Really good ratty bandages and scar tissue in this movie:

Matt Singer:

It’s eerily like a Taken movie when you watch it now: Liam Neeson’s life gets wrecked and he swears revenge using (in this case literally) superhuman fighting skills. It also includes the phrases “The Rangeveritz Technique” and “The Bellasarious Memorandum.”

Double-Durant:

Liam Neeson is perfecting his formula for liquid skin, about to propose to Frances McDormand, when bad guys melt his face and hands and blow up his lab, so he seeks revenge while wearing a series of limited-time false faces. Hallmarks of 1990 include the evil property developer plot (still being used in 2016, actually), the bad hair and bad cars, and one guy in every gang having to wield nunchucks. I’d forgotten the part where Neeson is rescued post-explosion and doctors fix up his nerves so he feels no pain and incidentally has superhuman strength and rage issues.

You can tell he’s evil from the lighting:

Ted Raimi plays one of the baddest bad guys, shooting Neeson’s lab assistant to death. The evil property developer, also McDormand’s boss, is Colin Friels, also in Dark City, which I bought at the same time as this movie. Great Bruce Campbell cameo as Neeson’s getaway disguise face at the end. Dialogue is kinda clunky, but what do you want from a movie called Darkman.

For some reason she’s more freaked out by the lookalike than the dead man:

In the commentary, cinematographer Bill Pope says Sam and the Coens might still be doing secret revisions of each other’s scripts. Darkman Legacy: the late Larry Drake was always happy to return as Durant, including in the TV series pilot (with UK TV’s Christopher Bowen as Darkman) and two straight to video sequels The Return of Durant and Die Darkman Die (with Mummy Returns star Arnold Vosloo as Darkman, and a hilarious scene with a rocket launcher in a tunnel).

“What goes up must come down.”
“Brilliant!”

No dialogue for the first ten minutes, stylish use of camera, Vincent Price, and a mechanical band called Dr. Phibes Clockwork Wizards – this is already a favorite movie. Huge step up from the Freddie Francis anthology horrors I’ve watched in Shocktobers past. But British horror just can’t help itself from being campy.

Vulnavia and dog:

Hopefully this was an influence on Se7en, as Phibes (Price, a few years after Witchfinder General and The Oblong Box) takes revenge on the doctors present during the hospital death of his beloved wife via the ten curses of the pharaohs, killing doctors with bats, frogs, rats, locusts, etc. It also may be an influence on the Saw movies, as Chief Surgeon Joseph Cotton has to cut a key from inside his son’s chest before he’s killed by a slow acid drip.

Inspector Trout (Lindsay Anderson regular Peter Jeffrey) figures out the curses thing but doesn’t do much else besides attract unfunny fish-name jokes. Dr. Cotton actually knocks him out to go face Phibes alone. Phibes has an unexplained female assistant named Vulnavia (Virginia North of a James Bond movie and a James Bond knockoff movie). A guy who describes himself as a head-shrinker gets his head crushed by a Halloween III frog mask. Terry-Thomas has a cute role as a doctor who secretly watches snake-charmer films when the housekeeper is away; he bleeds to death but still returned for the sequel.

T-T:

Quality cinematography by Norman Warwick (Tales from the Crypt). Who is Fuest? He went straight from making acclaimed horror films to ABC after-school specials. Gotta check out his Phibes sequel and The Final Programme.

Amazing locust death (LOL at the full-body smiling-woman sketch):

I know there’s a rule that Italian horrors need a minimum of three titles, but I don’t see why this is mainly known as Black Sunday when The Mask of Satan is its original title and far more descriptive. I believe this is my first Mario Bava movie unless we’re counting Danger: Diabolik on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Fun camerawork, great lighting and atmosphere, and mixed effects (swell zombie makeup vs. rubber bat on a string). Opening titles are unintentially funny (The Mask of Satan, produced by Jolly Films).

Wide-eyed Barbara Steele (of 8 1/2) is the resurrection of a murdered witch from the 1600’s, killed by nailing a devil mask onto her face. In present day, a stumblebum professor (Andrea Checchi, hotel detective of The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse) pauses between clumsily destroying ancient relics to purposely remove the mask, and then I get confused because the witch is reborn but also has a doppelganger descendant living in the castle next door. The professor gets himself possessed, so his student (John Richardon of Torso and One Million Years B.C.) becomes our hero. He wrestles the devil in a hallway and wins! I’m used to rooting for resurrected ghosts to take revenge on the families of their murderers, but this movie makes it hard, the zombies all rotting and horrid with no vampiric panache. It also takes its Christ vs. Devils thing very seriously, and the townspeople with pitchforks and torches are the good guys.

Anyway, if I ever move into a castle, first thing I’ll do is measure all the walls House of Leaves-style to check for hidden passageways.