Released from church school on vacation, all the students immediately steal from the market, assault women, and generally terrorize the town. Three dim individuals get lost in the country and find a barn to bed down. In the night, a crone hits on Philosopher Khoma Brutus, and flies away with him when he refuses her, but he knocks her down and beats her senseless with her own broom – crisis averted. I mean, the old witch transforms into a beautiful young girl, but that’s probably nothing to worry about.

But back home, the Michael Shannon-looking rector sends Brutus to give last rites to a landowner’s lovely daughter, who was beaten nearly to death by unknown assailants in the night. Brutus is terrified, tries to escape the whole way back to the farmhouse and… stuff like this starts happening:

Also, cranes!

The now-dead girl’s very unhappy father locks Brutus in the chapel for three nights to pray for her soul. Night one goes okay – she rises from her coffin, but the magic chalk circle he draws around himself keeps her away. “A cossack fears nothing,” he swears drunkenly to the guards… survives an all-night assult by her floating coffin the next night, but the stress turns his hair white, and he tries again to escape.

He’ll get a thousand gold pieces if he survives night three, goes into the chapel drunk as hell, then the movie pulls out all the stops. The effects are just great, like Goofball Cocteau. Shadows and projections and disembodied arms and skeletons, dwarves and wall-crawling demons and many-eyeballed goblins, attack from all sides, but he’s safe in his chalk circle. Then everyone steps the fuck back when she summons Viy, a golden-eyed giant, and when the foolish cossack locks eyes with the beast, his soul is lost and the monsters descend on him.

Russia’s first(?) horror movie, supposedly based on the same Gogol story as Black Sunday. Lead actor Leonid Kuravlyov came up with Tarkovsky, but only appeared in his student film, and is better known for starring in the sci-fi comedy Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future. One of our codirectors died in 1984 – the other, Kropachyov, did production design for Hard to Be a God. Art and effects by Russian animation legend Aleksandr Ptushko, whose 1935 stop-motion feature The New Gulliver sounds cool.

The movie opens very promisingly, with an owl… then things get nuts real fast. A team of knights are led by a Gilliam-looking toadie to a cave full of witches – innocent-looking, but supposedly cursed by the cross-shaped mark under their feet. All-out massacre ensues, beheadings from Knight-POV, the camera inside their helmets with cross-shaped viewports, as a Philip Glass tune plays. After stumbling across Soavi last SHOCKtober with The Sect, I was right to check out his other work, though are all his movies about basement-dwelling satanic cults?

Soavi worked with Gilliam on Baron Munchausen the year before this:

Flash-forward a few hundred years, it’s the first day for church librarian Tomas Arana (a cook on the Red October the following year). He’s almost hit by stuff falling off an art restoration scaffold (shades of Don’t Look Now), later makes out with the artist Barbara Cupisti (Argento’s Opera), then finds an ancient parchment and imagines it could be the secret to a lost science that could turn him into a god – not bad for a first day! Genius codebreaker Tomas figures out that the ancient runes are just mirror-writing, sneaks into the church at night and unleashes demons. These crazy demonic effects scenes are where Soavi’s movies really excel, laying all other late-80’s movie demons to waste, and with his crazed angles and quick, precise camera moves, it feels like Sam Raimi must’ve been a fan.

Back to the plot, Tomas is now obviously possessed and creeping on 13-year-old Asia Argento, daughter of the churchwarden, who sneaks out to discos at night. Her dad Roberto Corbiletto (Fellini’s Voice of the Moon the next year) has also lost his mind, suicides by jackhammer on the cursed cornerstone in front of horrified priest Hugh Quarshie (Nightbreed), his blood setting an ancient rube goldberg into motion, locking everyone including a wedding-photo party and a class of kids inside the church.

Asia wearing Eastern Europe:

I can’t tell what old bishop Feodor Chaliapin (Inferno) is up to – he understands what’s happening, but doesn’t appear to be helping. Meanwhile, innocents are being abducted by caped demons or eaten by giant lizards, a woman cheerfully beheads her husband, and another escapes into subway tunnels only to get mooshed by a train.

Enraged Corbiletto:

Father Corbiletto is alive again, I guess, and has gone fully mental, kills the schoolteacher in a rage – none of the kids seem to notice, since they are in the pews bonding over Nietzsche quotes (seriously). The restoration artist is raped by a goat-devil. Fortunately, Asia remembers the opening scene from a millennium before she was born, and tells Priest Hugh that if he pulls the murder-dildo from the skull of the church architect in a basement crypt, the whole church will collapse, killing everyone and ending the curse. As the bodies of the damned rise in a giant mud-dripping mass, he triggers the ancient self-destruct sequence as Asia escapes.

The good content you crave:

The dubbing is appalling, but the music (by Glass, Keith Emerson, and Goblin) is very good – demons whisper from the soundtrack, a welcome relief from the screaming strings of the netflix movies. Filmed in Hungary, since it was hard to find any churches willing to let them shoot all this satanic shit. Originally posited as Demons 3, then rewritten when Soavi came aboard – Cannibal Ferox auteur Umberto Lenzi would finally crank out a third Demons a couple years later.

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).

Shula is not a witch, but is tied to a leash and sent to live in witch camp, with other women who are actually not witches but have proven inconvenient to keep around. From the enraging first section (mob superstition meets government corruption) and the tragic/triumphant ending, it’s a beautifully shot movie, and our first from Zambia.

Only a couple minutes after Buster Scruggs ended, the opening titles of this movie announced that it’s a story told in six chapters – what are the odds? Unexpected suicides in both movies too. It’s not that I wanted a faithful remake, since the plot is the weakest thing about Argento’s Suspiria, but what made them turn a bonkers Italian horror about witches in a dance studio into a 2.5-hour movie set in Berlin during the Baader-Meinhof hijacking, with long sections about a psychiatrist who lost his wife in the Holocaust? What’s the meaning of Tilda Swinton playing both Evil Mothers in charge of the studio and also the psychiatrist? Nice plot twist with Dakota Johnson (the older sister in Bad Times at the El Royale) appearing to be the fresh-meat new girl with especially good dance-murder skills, later revealed to be the reborn Mother Suspiriorum come to cleanse the school by killing one or both Tildas. I mean, this was a lot of movie for a single weeknight, so I think that’s what happened. I have mixed feelings, but pretty sure I need to keep watching all of Luca’s movies (this is my second of the year).

Chloe Grace is a paranoid escaped dancer in the opening scenes, then disappears forever, followed shortly by suspicious Olga, who gets gnarled up in the practice room. Mia Goth (A Cure for Wellness) is the dancer who shows Dakota around, and Jessica Harper cameos as the psychiatrist’s dead wife. Most unexpected name in the credits: The Turin Horse cinematographer Fred Kelemen as one of the cops who Psych Tilda asks for help. Writer David Kajganich has also done a Body Snatchers remake and a Pet Sematary remake.

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky compares it to “the movies Nicolas Roeg was making around the same time, confounding mosaics of predestination and psychoanalysis … It’s a movie where most of the characters are liminal figures, mid-phase between identities. It is packed with doors, mirrors, ceremonies, rehearsals, shared secrets, and make-up, suggesting commonalities between the backstage world and the supernatural through collage.”

This was the second Italian horror of SHOCKtober, and usually it’s wisest to stick with one Italian horror, but I was psyched about Suspiria Remake. There is screaming in the first two seconds of the movie, a good sign. Finally watching Kill Baby Kill after years of hearing about Kill Baby Kill, so the title card was a surprise:

It is slightly Dracula-ish for a second, a doctor being dropped off outside town by a coachman who refuses to drive any further. Dr. Eswai (Giacomo Rossi Stuart, star of War Between The Planets the same year) has a cravat and nice hair, is joined by local student Monica, who of course will end up being involved in the supernatural conspiracy. It seems a long-dead little girl appears to people, then they die mysteriously soon after, a precursor to The Ring.

There’s a beardy inspector, a bald burgomeister, and a wild-haired mystic girl, and you can’t always tell whose side anyone is on, but really they’re all just suspicious and terrified because of the baby murders, which are somehow caused by the dead child’s mother, a reclusive baroness. After the burgomeister dies, his girlfriend the mystic goes on a suicidal revenge quest, takes out the baroness, and our innocent heroes are free to get outta this burg.

Ruth the Sorceress (Fabienne Dali of Le Doulos) was cool, and I liked all the colored lights shining on the sets. Apparently the lighting and camerawork are the reason for this appearing on so many best-horrors lists, but prosaic me was paying too much attention to the silly plot. Bava directed some 15 movies in the 1960’s, including The Mask of Satan and Black Sabbath and I’ve got Five Dolls for an August Moon around here somewhere.

The first film by Studio Ponoc is also Yonebayashi’s third feature based on British children’s lit, with much of the familiar visual style and same crew members as Ghibli, so it’s more a continuation than anything bold and new. We’d also just watched Castle in the Sky, another movie where a girl with unexplained powers is chased from a floating castle. We played spot-the-reference as Mary finds a flower that turns her into a super-powerful witch, rides to witch school, then gets pursued by the schoolmasters who want to harness the flower’s power to crossbreed animals, or do some Captain America kinda thing, I dunno. It’s all very attractive, and impressive on the big screen, but like its witchy predecessor, it started to feel like we were just watching a kids movie.

Second movie I watched this week where the lead girl is told at the end to not look back. Some obvious parallels with other Ghibli movies – the romantic lead boy who transforms into a flying creature to work for/against wickedness (Howl’s Moving Castle), living dust sprites (My Neighbor Totoro), the lead girl nervous because she’s moving to a new house in the country, kooky/friendly old folks, villains who are maybe not so evil really, and fantastical beasts galore – like a Ghibli’s Greatest Hits thrown into a giant bathhouse. The greatest.

One of the weirder movies in theaters last year. Meticulous art design, color, makeup and costumes, with a look referencing the glory of technicolor. Once the actors showed up speaking their dialogue methodically, carefully pronouncing every syllable, I assumed it was going to be self-consciously campy along the lines of The Editor, but I eventually got over that. I suppose it’s its own unique thing, though unlike the unique things made by Cattet & Forzani or Peter Strickland or Yorgos Lanthimos, my mind stubbornly refused to ride its feminine groove.

M. Sicinski’s online Cinema Scope review makes beautiful sense of all the pieces… after reading, I went from thinking “oh well, that was pretty good/failed experiment” to desiring to watch it again soon.

The Love Witch is so exaggerated in its twin concerns — magicks and genteel, womanly behaviour — that they come to intersect imperceptibly, even when they don’t fit together at all. (Elaine’s garish, Lovecraftian self-portraits, for example, or her mad-scientist laboratory set-up, come to seem completely of-a-piece with her wide brimmed sun hats and her pinky extension in the all-women’s tearoom) … Biller’s control over her own filmic world parallels Elaine’s witchcraft in that both are pervasive and thoroughgoing … The Love Witch does demonstrate the power that resides in matriarchal practices that are frequently scorned for their ostensible lack of seriousness.


SEPT 2017: Watched this again, confirmed it’s a misunderstood masterpiece.

“According to the experts, men are very fragile.”

Elaine has freaked out Wayne:

All I learned from IMDB is that the libertine professor Wayne is on General Hospital, Star recently played a zombie stripper, and I should probably watch Viva, which costars Biller with this movie’s beardy warlock fellow.