A few of the most beautiful shadow-moments and one of the greatest monsters in all silent cinema hung around a flabby retelling of Dracula – it’s maybe my fifth-favorite Murnau film, but I was happy to watch it on the big screen with an excellent, tightly synchronized live band, Invincible Czars.
In memory of two recently-departed horror directors, who made some of the best horror films in history, I caught up with two of their worst pictures…
To begin with, a bullshit voiceover lets us know that this spaceship, created with colored lights and 1980’s computer graphics, has some inexplicable gravity technology – just trust us, we’re on a spaceship but there’s gravity. I don’t recall Star Trek worrying themselves with explaining the ship’s artificial gravity, except when it broke in the sixth movie.
Discovering nude-vampire crystals inside the space anus:
Fallada, looking like an apocalyptic preacher:
“I almost have the feeling I’ve been here before” as they fly into a giant vaginal-looking tunnel. Astronauts discover nude, crystal-encased space vampires and bring them home via a badly failed first mission plus a second rescue mission. The sole survivor of the first mission is Steve Railsback (later of Scissors and Alligator II: The Mutation), who couldn’t help but sexually harass the female alien (Mathilda May, later of some Chabrol and Demy films) and becomes psychically connected to her. Railsback works with Peter Firth (Tess, Equus) and alien-invaded doctor Patrick Stewart to track down the vampire girl, while dapper white-haired Professor Fallada (Frank Finlay, one of Richard Lester’s Musketeers) and barely-competent Dr. Bukovsky (Michael Gothard, Oliver Reed’s executor in The Devils) try to contain the evil – and fail utterly, as most of London falls to the vampire-zombie plague.
Patrick Stewart Replica:
Return of the Living Dead Zombie Phantom Alien Vampires:
More perverted and apocalyptic than most 1980’s horror movies, at least. The movie’s pretty okay, but the concept is cool as hell, so it’s got my respect. Tobe’s follow-up to Poltergeist, produced by Cannon Films, cowritten by Dan O’Bannon, who made Return of the Living Dead the same year, which ties into our next filmmaker…
I’ve heard Jean Rollin’s movies are very bad, but I’ve also heard that they’re sensual atmospheric wonders full of naked woman, so finally I am finding out for myself. Started with Rollin’s fourth feature after Rape of the Vampire, The Nude Vampire and Requiem for a Vampire, cowritten by Bernard‘s daughter Monique Natan. The verdict: it’s bad, but it’s true about the naked women, and I also enjoyed the groovy electric guitar music.
Half the cast: newlyweds framed by mute girls:
Whatever is going on, we’ve got two women who aren’t saying a word and there’s a coffin ritual and some unhappy guys chained in a castle. I’m starting to suspect vampires. The next(?) morning newlywed Isle (Sandra Julien of Je suis une nymphomane) arrives with her guy (Jean-Marie Durand, who had a career in film doing everything except acting) and learns that the cousins she has come to visit have just died. Then the cousins show up and say no, just a joke, everything’s fine. Isle meets the two silent women and two others: widow Isabelle (Nicole Nancel of Don’t Push Grandpa Into The Cactus) and Isolde (Dominique of Rollin’s previous film), who walks out of a clock. Everyone’s a vampire, of course, and there are playful attacks and serious attacks and lots of boobs, and I think Isolde uses boob-daggers to stab Isabelle in her boobs, and despite all this bawdiness I couldn’t focus very hard because it’s all so terribly dull, the sort of thing that happens when your slow arthouse movie relies on a sense of atmosphere you failed to create. There are some freeze-frames and fun camera pans, but there’s no saving it. One of the cousins was Michel “The Ethnologist” Delahaye, at least.
The Ethnologist and his dark-haired brother in front of some vampire wall art:
I guess the groom and the two unnamed girls from the beginning help defeat the evil Isolde and/or Isabelle, then the two male cousins and the bitten Isle die on the beach as the sun comes up. It’s possible that the groom Antoine was meant to be our hero, but he also gets beaten up by a library.
Isolde and her daggers… I’m actually trying to avoid nudity in the screenshots because I know all my traffic on this post will come from guys searching for “boobs”, but with this movie it’s difficult:
Every wall in the castle where they filmed has been vandalized:
Filmed in super-grainy black and white on set of a lesser Christopher Lee Dracula movie. Mostly it’s not the behind-the-scenes type footage I’d expected, but the actors of that film in character, either rehearsing or performing their scenes shot from a different angle. Scenes are even edited in order corresponding to the Dracula story. We often see the production lighting, and sometimes catch the crew and camera peering from the sidelines, as if haunting the characters from another era.
No sync sound until the end – instead it ranges from symphonic music to low doom-strings to bird sounds and construction noise to ambient loops. In the last few minutes, Christopher Lee explains then reads Dracula’s death scene from the novel.
The synopsis states that this film is “a sly political allegory about generalissimo Francisco Franco” but I’d like to hear some support. IMDB says “Cuadecuc” is Catalan for “worm tail.”
Recalling without imitating such classics as Nosferatu and Vampyr, the film uses high-contrast cinematography to evoke the dissolution and decay that strikes viewers who see those films today in fading prints. It all adds up to a kind of poetic alchemy in which Portabella converts one of the world’s worst horror films into one of the most beautiful movies ever made about anything. (It’s characteristic of his artistic integrity that he refused to allow Cuadecuc-Vampir to be used as an extra on a Count Dracula DVD.)
Acció Santos (1973)
It’s odd that the other short on this disc is Play Back, which I’ve watched before, because this one could very easily share the same title. Carles Santos (composer of Cuadecuc Vampir and the composer/star of Play Back) performs a Chopin piece in the first half, then listens to a tape recording of his performance in the second. The part that turns this from a typical conceptual piece into a weirdly frustrating one is when he plugs in headphones, leaving us in silence for the last four minutes of the film.
Feels like it wants to be Mulholland Drive-ish, as young beautiful Elle Fanning arrives in the L.A. fashion business and experiences nightmarish visions before she’s eaten alive by her competitors. Dialogue delivered in weirdly silent rooms – I was expecting more keyboardy soundscapes, and maybe that would’ve helped get me on the wavelength of cool horror and deep mystery the movie seemed to think we were on together.
Elle is the Fanning from Super 8 and The Boxtrolls (older sister Dakota is the Fanning from Night Moves, War of the Worlds and Coraline). She arrives in town with her photographer friend, Karl Glusman from Love – another lethargic, sex-minded movie I had to struggle to keep from turning off. Elle meets makeup artist Jena Malone (the girl Donnie Darko likes) and a couple of evil models, gets work with famous photog Jack, and avoids her awful landlord (a miscast Keanu Reeves).
Neon Demon is an inert object, mostly comprised of color-saturated tableaux and walking-dead, anti-psychological “performances” … Much like Matthew Barney’s films, The Neon Demon delivers in chunks and slabs, but never seems cognizant of cinema as a time-based art.
T. Robinson for The Dissolve:
Amirpour has said she was inspired in part by the way wearing a chador made her feel like a bat, and that mental image becomes clear in a moment where The Girl leaps, and looks both like she’s spreading her wings and like she’s wearing a superhero’s cape.
That image (and the girl “floating” down sidewalks on a skateboard) and some lovely widescreen cinematography, slow posing and cool rock music are mainly what we’ve got here. Sure there’s a story: Arash’s slick car is repossessed by local drug dealer because of dude’s hopeless drug-addict dad, then when the dealer is murdered by a wandering vampire, Arash finds himself in an unexpected position of power. The story is almost beside the point though, as the movie drifts along on atmosphere and mood – not a horror mood really, but a derivative Jarmusch aloofness which would be more valuable had he not made his own vampire movie the year before.
Doesn’t really do anything else besides be gorgeous, occasionally letting its pieces click together into something thoughtful like the way she finds her moral boundaries blurring as she interacts with different people. It’s funny and beautiful and mostly disorganized and definitely overlong, but as stylish mood pieces go you could do a lot worse.
Amirpour is Iranian but this was shot in California. The local prostitute was Mozhan Marnò (star of The Stoning of Soraya M.), the girl was Sheila Vand of Argo, and Arash just appeared in another Iranian horror film, Under the Shadow.
Stories don’t just lead into each other like in The Saragossa Manuscript – they melt and morph into each other, thanks to codirector Evan Johnson’s digital manipulations, which don’t replace Maddin’s usual bag of tricks, but join the choppy editing and texture fetish and everything else. Some of his early movies had somnambulist rhythms, but this one is ecstatic from start to finish.
Had to watch this a couple times before I could report in.
Second time through, I noted the order of stories:
How to Take a Bath, with Louis Negin
Submarine: Blasting Jelly and Flapjacks
Starring Negin again with Ukranian Greg Hlady, panicky Alex Bisping, Andre the Giant-reminiscent Kent McQuaid, and mysteriously-appearing woodsman Cesare (Roy Dupuis of Mesrine and Screamers).
Like the men in the submarine, The Forbidden Room has an overall mood of anxiety and despair, in the sense that we are asked to grapple with its heady delirium of character trajectories and stunted arcs, all the while searching in vain for some absent center, the organizing “captain” who is supposed to pull it all together. In its endless ruptures and disconnections, The Forbidden Room brings us up short, placing us back in that capsule where the image is a form of confinement, a shortness of breath.
Cesare sets out to rescue the kidnapped Margo (Clara Furey)
Cave of the Red Wolves
with lead wolf Noel Burton, bladder slapping and boggling puzzlements!
Amnesiac Singing Flowergirl
Margo again, with mysterious necklace woman Marie Brassard (sinister Jackie from Vic + Flo Saw a Bear) and patient Pancho (Victor Andres Trelles Turgeon)
The Final Derriere
Red Wolves / Woodsmen / Submarine / Bath / Submarine
Squid Theft / Volcano Sacrifice
With Margo, squid thief Romano Orzari and Lost Generation attorney Céline Bonnier (The Far Side of the Moon)
The Forbidden Room may (or may not) be inventing narratives from thin air, but whatever history these abandoned projects might have had is completely supplanted by the present Maddin (and co-director Evan Johnson) invents for them. These stories belong to him now. The Forbidden Room may forego the hypnotically autobiographical thrust of recent efforts like My Winnipeg and Brand Upon the Brain!, but it feels no less personal for it.
Mill Seeks Gardener
With shed-sleeper Slimane Dazi and unpredictable runaway Jacques Nolot
Injured Motorcyclist at Bone Hospital
Caroline Dhavernas and Paul Ahmarani
Doctor kidnapped by skeleton insurance defrauders
Lewis Furey (Margo’s father IRL) as The Skull-Faced Man, and Eric Robidoux as the bone doctor’s long-lost brother who is also a bone doctor.
Psychiatrist and madman aboard train
Gregory Hlady again, Romano Orzari again, and Karine Vanasse (Polytechnique) as Florence LaBadie
Florence’s Inner Child
Sienna Mazzone as young Florence with crazy mother Kathia Rock
Parental Neglect / Madness / Murder / Amnesia
Bone Hospital / Insurance Defrauders
Mill / Criminal / Doctor
Volcanic Island / Squid Theft / Submarine / Bath
“I haven’t finished telling you: the forest… the snow… the convict… the birthday”
Woodsman Gathers New Allies
Kyle Gatehouse as Man With Upturned Face, Neil Napier as Man With Stones On His Feet and Victor Turgeon again as Listening Man – these are the same actors who played the Saplingjacks earlier, and again they don’t enter the cave with Cesare.
Margo and Aswang The Vampire
The Forbidden Room was shot mostly at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, piecemeal, in front of a live audience, following which Maddin and Johnson artfully distressed the digital footage and added priceless intertitles. The project took advantage of whichever actors were available to it on a given day.
Elevator Man Unprepared For Wife’s Birthday Kills His Butler
All-star segment with Mathieu Amalric, Udo Kier and Amira Casar (Anatomy of Hell, Piano Tuner of Earthquakes).
[Amalric] gleefully indulges in Maddin’s pure and peerlessly florid sense of melodrama, which here becomes a mechanism for foolhardy and paranoid men to ruin their lives as they attempt to rescue, love, or murder the beautiful women who didn’t ask for their help.
Dead Butler Oedipal Mustache Flashback
Maybe my favorite segment, with Maria de Medeiros (Saddest Music in the World) as the Blind Mother and more mentions of flapjacks.
Ukranian Radio War Drama
With Stranger by the Lake star Christophe Paou as the prisoner
Mustache / Return of the Dead Father
Diplomat Memoirs of Cursed Janus-Head
Together, Maddin and Johnson have crafted a formal masterwork jolted by digital after effects, recreating the look of decaying nitrate stock, shape-shifting the image with multiple superimpositions and variegated colour fields (the general look resembling decayed two-strip Technicolor), and compositing swirling transitions that connect (or bury) one film within the other (and the other, and the other). To try and describe “what happens” in The Forbidden Room is both forbidding and beside the point, for the 130-minute film stands more as an interminable, (in)completed object on its own, like the work of one of its main influences, the French poet, novelist and playwright Raymond Roussel (from whom Maddin and Johnson borrow their technique of parenthetical asides); one comes to understand this object, and what it’s trying to accomplish, only while watching it.
Peranson’s writeup is from the Toronto Film Festival, after which nine minutes got removed from the movie. Since nobody at the festivals was able to exhaustively account for all the stories within stories, it’s impossible to track down what got lost. It seems, though, that any lost footage (and more) can be seen in the Seances.
Andreas Apergis and his fiancee Sophia Desmarais (Curling)
Night Auction Doppelganger
featuring LUG-LUG, hideous impulse incarnate!
Stealing Mother’s Laudanum
Maddin (in an essential Cinema Scope interview) on the film’s 2+ hour length:
We could have easily had a 75-minute version … but viewers that like it, we wanted to feel like we’d broken their brains, really left a physical impression on them, left them exhausted. Hopefully exhilarated and exhausted, in a good way. We wanted “too much” to still be insufficient … it would be nice if it came out in one endless ribbon, that, like John Ashbery’s poetry, you just snip off for a beginning and an end, and just ask the audience how much they want.
Dead Father / Elevator Birthday Murder Plot / Margo and Aswang / Woodsmen
Red Wolves are Dead, Rescue is Cancelled
Submarine / The Forbidden Room / Book of Climaxes
Fortunately Polanski has more kinda-horror movies so I can continue the spree of his films which I started last Shocktober. Made between Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby, this one’s not quite up to their level. The lighting and composition are extremely lovely, but this aims to be a horror-comedy, and the editing’s too slow for comedy or action. It helps that when shots go on way too long Polanski will sometimes speed up the film, but he refuses to cut away for so long that sometimes I wonder if he doesn’t know what editing’s for. This approach would work well for the slow-burn dread of Rosemary’s, and I’ll bet viewers who watched this goofball movie at the time were ill-prepared for what would come next.
Polanski and Sharon Tate:
Our lead comedy duo is Professor Abronsius (the excellent Jack MacGowran of The Exorcist and Age of Consent) and his dim assistant Alfred (Polanski). They’re hunting vampires, hanging out at an inn where Alf lusts after hot innkeeper’s daughter Sharon Tate (of Eye of the Devil) and the locals downplay vampire activity, even denying there’s a castle nearby, which is of course home to dramatically well-dressed Count von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne of Pirates and Frightmare) and his handsome son Herbert (Iain Quarrier of Cul-de-sac), who are planning an attack on the town. The bumbling interlopers rescue the kidnapped Sharon and escape, but too late, as she has been turned and attacks Polanski in the back seat while the professor drives off. Great closing narration: “That night, fleeing from Transylvania, Professor Abronsius never guessed he was carrying away with him the very evil he had wished to destroy. Thanks to him, this evil would at last be able to spread across the world.”
Count and son:
Also featuring innkeeper Alfie Bass (a ghost in The Bespoke Overcoat), his wife Jessie Robins (known to play characters named Fat Woman, Large Woman and Bertha), maid Fiona Lewis, who I just saw in Dr. Phibes Rises Again, and as the count’s hunchback, boxing champ Terry Downes.
Trying to blend in:
“I dreamed you murdered me.”
Bizarre movie. Stumbly, natural dialogue. Inexplicable character behavior and barely-explained story. Trippy dissolves and music make you feel like the whole movie is a dream sequence. I can’t tell if it’s artistic, indulgent, or (probably) both.
Love this shot of saxophonist behind lamp, making it appear that he’s hitting a giant bong, a visual metaphor for this movie:
George Meda (director Gunn) meets Dr. Hess Green (Duane Jones, star of Night of the Living Dead), and according to plot descriptions I’ve read elsewhere, turns him into a vampire, but I thought Hess was a vamp all along and that after trying to kill him with an ancient dagger, George shoots himself to death. The shooting works out for Hess, who drinks George’s blood then throws him in the wine cellar.
George’s widow (unbeknownst to her) Ganja (Marlene Clark of Switchblade Sisters) arrives later and makes herself right at home, seducing Hess and being abusive to his butler Archie (Leonard Jackson, title star of Super Spook). Soon they get married (does she have to prove to anyone that her previous husband died?), he stabs her with the knife and they’re vampires together, and now I get it, the knife turns people into vampires? Some sex and blood and nudity later, I think Hess gets a religious mania and maybe kills himself, leaving queen vampire Ganja to find new beaus and victims.
Too many sidetracks, like George telling a horrible story then ending up drunk in a tree, introducing Hess’s son who is then never seen again, and an energetic preacher. But it gets credit for having a completely different feel than other vampire movies I’ve seen, even the similarly dreamy (but far more sleek and story-driven) The Hunger. Gunn was a playwright and screenwriter, also made a never-released wife-swapping movie and a barely-released soap-opera satire. Spike Lee is a fan, remade this as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus last year.