Our hero James Fox is trashing the office of a gambler who didn’t pay protection, which is a trend in movies I watched this week. The gambler then trashes Fox’s place and gets shot for it, now Fox has to lay low until his boss can get him onto a boat for New York. He stays with some druggie beatniks who grow mushrooms, led by Anita Pallenberg and including Mick Jagger. Now we’ve got two of the worst kind of people in movies: the violent gangster and the drippy hippie. The hippies’ influence is felt on the filmmaking – once we arrive at the house, the editing stops jumping into the future/past and the camera roves around more.
Hard to see Fox’s makeshift red-paint hair-dye job in this light:
Mick dances with a fluorescent light then lip-syncs a music video. Fox inevitably gets fed a crazy mushroom. When his men come to pick him up, he shoots Mick in the head and maybe becomes him. At one point I paused to look up whether Bergman’s Persona had opened in the UK early enough to have been an influence (yep, mid-1967).
Brown sugar in the foreground when Mick is introduced:
It’s all more sordid than I was expecting… gonna have to be one of those respected cinema classics that doesn’t become a personal fave. At least Peter Labuza agrees. Roeg’s first movie as (co-) director, having ended his cinematographer-for-hire career with Petulia. Writer/director Cammell later made three other features which all sound intriguing: an audiophile serial killer, Anne Heche as a call girl, and a computer impregnates Julie Christie.
Enid is a film censor (Niamh Algar, also of a Barry Keoghan drug dealer drama) with a set of strict rules, applying an even-handed scientific process to the banning of video nasties, then finding her life becoming one. It gets there gradually – the first death is almost an hour into the 83-minute movie. Hazy slow-mo traumatic flashbacks are not so good, the rest is fine, especially when a sleazy Michael Smiley shows up (she impales him on one of his own film awards). She ends up on a film set which is all a dream conspiracy. Didn’t totally work for me, but I appreciate postmodern takes on the schlocky horror movies more than people who revere the originals seem to.
I bailed on this after a couple scenes at Sundance, but only because I had work in the morning, not because I didn’t want to watch the rest. Still bugged by the new guy (Joel Fry of Paddington 2) being allowed into the lab unmasked before passing his array of pandemic-virus tests. He’s assigned a guide (folk-horror vet Ellora Torchia of Midsommar) and heads into the woods to do something or other, despite being bad at the outdoors, and hopefully run into his boss Dr. Wendell. There’s talk of underground network “like a brain” between trees, and later we’ll get a nice spore-releasing montage (the earth breathing) and ritual mushroom water – after A Field in England, it’s Wheatley’s second piece of mushroom art.
First they find Wendell’s ex Reece Shearsmith (The League of Gentlemen), who kidnaps them, then Wendell herself (Hayley Squires of Colin Burstead), who blasts the movie’s Clint Mansell score through tree-mounted speakers with accompanying strobe lights, and each tries to convince the newcomers that their ex is the crazy one. There’s a powerful ancient stone with a hole through it, and arguments over everyone’s intentions. Dr. Wendell claims both of the men were drawn towards her experiment when they contracted ringworm (a fungal infection: more mushrooms). When they finally enter the spore cloud, the movie goes psychedelic. Good pandemic movie – besides the plague in the cities, it is kinda about people going nuts in isolation.
Who’s crazy – mum?
And that’s it for SHOCKtober 2021. Final ranking:
1. Mad God
2. The Empty Man
4. The Devil’s Candy
6. Office Killer
7. Final Destination
A good haunted house movie, much scarier than the 1970’s one, with some good demons and a new twist: the couple can’t move out of the extremely ghost-filled house because they’re Sudanese refugees who barely survived a treacherous boat ride that killed their daughter, and have been placed here by the government, their only chance to stay in Britain. He’s Sope Dirisu of the Snow White and the Huntsman sequel, and she’s Wunmi Mosaku of Lovecraft Country and the Wyatt Russell episode of Black Mirror. Ghosts in the house, crows in the walls and thugs outside, nowhere to hide. When he’s scraping off all the wallpaper and pulling out the wiring, and she’s trapped in the maze of their housing complex, I start wondering if they died at sea and England is hell, but they’ve got other secrets: their “daughter” was a girl they kidnapped to get preferential treatment while escaping. But instead of hell-vengeance, the wife kills the witch and they patch up the walls to please the housing people, and try to live in relative harmony with their racist neighbors and house full of spirits.
Hate-watched this Nightingales documentary on the plane, even though the Sparks doc was right there. Turns out this was made by a popular TV comedian named Stewart Lee, and half the movie (barely) covers the pre-Nightingales band The Prefects, then Nightingales mk I, then the hiatus and singer Robert Lloyd’s solo stuff, then Nightingales mk II. The other half is “hey everyone, it’s me, Stewart Lee, and I’m making this movie, look at me, making a movie.” He also laughs onscreen at his subjects’ quips even more than Scorsese did in Pretend It’s a City. Lee sits in a pub and gets Lloyd to tell a minor incident from his past career, then they repetitively, informally discuss the incident, then cut to someone else who was there at the time saying “oy, that’s not how I remember it,” repeat that formula ten times. Maybe five minutes of good music in the whole movie. Nightingales shared a member with The Fall, were heavily krautrock-inspired, went through a mid-80’s country phase – the band still seems worth checking out, too bad about the movie.
L-R: Pikachu, Lee, Lloyd:
“How do you want to be remembered? The film will leave a record of you.” Lloyd says his songs, which, yeah, are probably gonna outlast the doc. Unconfirmed whether Lee is wearing a GBV shirt in one scene, but I did spot a Waxahatchee poster. It’s perfect that Lee spends the whole movie comparing Lloyd to a King Kong statue that used to stand in the square, then when they track down the statue for an emotional finale, there’s rain on the camera lens. They cover Lloyd’s food writing gig, the fact that he makes more money from horse betting than from the band, and stage a table read of his mid-90’s failed TV pilot – I finally had to skip ahead during this part. When the closing credits hit I was writing down names of people who I’m mad at (turns out both directors have worked with Chris Morris), but the final scene under the credits was nice – a lipsynched music video, the only good scene.
Good house and one good character: Roddy McDowall as a jaded, buttoned-up medium refusing to let the spirits in. He and some others are sent by a rich guy to live in the definitely haunted house to prove the existence of an afterlife. Arrogant scientist Clive Revill (CHUD II: Bud the Chud) almost sinks the movie, but fortunately the house wins, and Roddy outlives Clive. Roddy’s fellow medium is Pamela Franklin (Food of the Gods, The Nanny), the first to die, and Clive’s long-suffering wife Gayle Hunnicutt (Eye of the Cat) is allowed to live. Roddy defeats the ghost by taunting it relentlessly, which seems a bad strategy, but don’t underestimate the British weakness against taunting. Written by Twilight Zone vet Richard Matheson. Hough has made his share of cult faves, and also a Howling sequel, which I’ve probably seen but the sequels were all so shitty I’ve never tried to straighten out which movie was which.
This was pretty good, and less than half the length of Woodlands Dark & Days Bewitched, which I watched as an extended intro. After his men and horses died with bright red paint for blood, romantic lead Ian Ogilvy (Puppet Master 5 and a Peter Cushing haunted junk shop movie called From Beyond the Grave) returns home to marry his beloved Sara (Hilary Dwyer, who’d return to Vincent Price and witches in Cry of the Banshee) with the blessing of her preacher dad. Meanwhile, Vincent Price is going from town to town with his brute beardo torturer sidekick Robert Russell (of the pre-Revenant Man in the Wilderness) getting paid for ferreting out witches, who are drowned using the Monty Python & The Holy Grail technique or burned or whatever’s convenient.
Next time Ian is away, the witchfinders roll into town. Price’s game is to get cash and get hot women. Sara agrees to sleep with him for a time, but he drowns her dad and brands her a witch, and Ian forgives her (weird for a dude in a period film) then sets to hunting the hunters. Price is on the outs with Beardo and has to hire a substitute torturer in the next town, finally gets beaten to death when Ian catches up.
Appreciate that the townspeople left her alone except to enter her house with ladders and put up this witch sign like a happy birthday banner:
Reeves and DP John Coquillon (soon to join Peckinpah) acquit themselves nicely, with a lotta zooms, some nicely framed closeups, a real cool water-to-fire transition. The sound editor however had a minute of anguished cries and kept looping them.
Photojournalist Jack Nicholson isn’t having a great time in Saharan Africa, sees an opportunity and grabs it, stealing the identity of his suddenly deceased hotel neighbor, the only other white guy in town. Jack’s abandoned wife Jenny Runacre (The Final Programme, Jarman’s Jubilee) investigates, while Jack faithfully follows the dead guy’s appointment book, even after learning that he was an arms dealer, and meets the same fate as the guy he’s impersonating, though he gets to hang out with Maria Schneider along the way.
Maria, Jack, Gaudi:
Thought I’d seen this a long time ago, but maybe I’ve confused it with The Conformist again. MA: “Actually, the entire story takes place in a short period of one day, from early morning until some time before sunset” – that’s not true, it’s set in four countries and we see a UK newspaper article about Jack’s death in Africa, and we see Jack’s appointments spread across a week in the book. Maybe he meant as the film was originally written. The fourth movie I’ve seen in the last few years to play in the 1975 competition at Cannes. Argh, the execution footage in this wasn’t faked.
Maybe Hitch has always wanted to be this explicit, and the times/censors just haven’t allowed it. This is his sweariest, nudiest, grimiest movie, starring nobody, about a woman-strangling sex maniac who frames his buddy for his crimes. Double featuring with Gun Crazy – this one is less naturalistic, or maybe people in Britain just talk like this.
Our guy Jon Finch (Polanski’s Macbeth the year before) is washed up and broke, tries to get cash from his ex (Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Lady Macbeth in a different production) right as she’s serial-killed, so Finch becomes the prime suspect. He’s caught but escapes, and the noble cops keep following leads even after his arrest, so justice is eventually served. Hitch’s particulars have changed, but the structure is standard. Some attempts at levity worked for me (Bob dumping a body in a potato truck, then getting taken for a potatoey ride while searching for an incriminating pin he dropped), and some did not (the lead detective’s wife serving trendy foreign cuisine to her crestfallen husband).
Necktie Killer Bob (Barry Foster of Twisted Nerve) and victim Barbara Leigh-Hunt:
Our guy Finch is also friendly with next victim Anna Massey (Peeping Tom):
The rare female non-victim with her cop hubby and Sgt Speerman: