Friday, October 20, 2017

Night Train Murders

NOTE: CONTAINS SPOILERS


I picked up the KILLER THRILLERS COLLECTION a while back to get a copy of STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER - a favorite of mine. I figured I get the film I want and two others I have not seen before. Maybe I'd like them. I love STRIP NUDE, though the title is still cringe-worthy. :)

Baba Yaga was a ton of fun as well, so I was way up on my purchase.

Then...I watched NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS and HATED it. I thought it to be mean spirited and cruel. Yes, I understood that it, too, was based on the Ingmar Bergman classic The Virgin Spring like Last House on the Left (also mean spirited), but I had not stomach for it and just wanted it to end.


Later I posted this on the DARK DISCUSSIONS PODCAST PAGE (a great podcast, by the way!) and one of the leaders basically said that he loved it and thought that I would as well. I thought I missed something - stuck on the violent aspects instead of the story, perhaps. I made note to return to it at some point in the future. Seeing as this is GIALLOctober at the Horror Show, it seemed like a good time to do a re-watch. And, I was pleasantly surprised.


The story is very "Virgin Spring". Two girls are heading home to visit and run into some bad folks. Very bad folks. Blackie and Curly are scoundrels. They are train hopping and avoiding the ticket master when they run into the girls and "The Lady on the train". The girls are friendly enough with them and the Lady is VERY friendly with them - having sex with Blackie in the lavatory in a heated rush.

The girls jump trains when a delay threatens to hold them back from their destination and the dastardly trio also hops trains.  Now, all five of them are in a train car in a rather deserted train and the girls lovely holiday dinner goes horribly wrong. They are raped and defiled and eventually - sadly - killed.


In Virgin Spring fashion, the evil trio ends up at the same house as one of the girls parents after the Father sees them at the train station as he's trying to pick up his daughter and her friend. After the parents figure out that these people have hurt their daughter,  revenge is dealt out by the Father and his shotgun. I found this to be very satisfying indeed. heh

Simple plot well executed. But, on this viewing I found several things that I found to be very interesting. Namely the Lady and her arc.

Now, the two men are very cartoon-like. We see them stealing from people and bashing things and scooting around trying to avoid paying for their train trip. Curly (with curly hair)  plays a harmonica and is a little creep while Blackie (with black hair) seems to have a BIT of a heart, but not much. But, the woman is a far deeper character. 



When we first see her, she's wearing a veil on her hat. A bag of hers falls and naughty, sadistic photos are hurriedly pushed back into her the case quickly. Then, at one point, she lifts her veil - maybe sometime around meeting the evil duo.  From that point on, she's as evil as the two men. She's mean and a full sadist with the two girls. She eggs on the men and even holds the girls for them at one point. She's loving the mean spirited games and is all in.


When they get to the girl's Family Home and things go sideways for the trio, she quickly says that she was also taken advantage of by the two men and that she tried to help, but couldn't. The parents assume that she must be telling the truth. I mean, another woman wouldn't do that to two college girls - right?

The men are dispatched and she stands there like a grim statue, then she lowers her veil again as if to tell the viewer, "I've had my fun and now it's time to replace the mask I wear in society."  I loved that aspect of the film. It was grand.

On the whole, I don't think I'll be returning to this as often as I return to Strip Nude for your Killer of Baby Yaga, but I don't hate it like I did on my first viewing. It's well worth a watch even if you only watch it once.

If you loved and return to Last House on the Left, you'll love this film. Check it.









Thursday, October 19, 2017

Spasmo








Umberto Lenzi  passed away today at the ripe old age of 86. A sad day for sure. I figured I'd revisit one of my faves from him today in honor. The awesome and odd...SPASMO!








Again, we have the classic giallo trope of a man and woman getting caught up in a plot - stumbling into it by accident, then having to solve the mystery to clear their names.



Christian Bauman (Robert Hoffmann) meets Barbara (Suzy Kendall) and the two hit it off. Hit it off so well that they get romantic and ole Babs gets him to shave off his beard.  While Christian is shaving at her place, a man breaks in with a gun and a fight ensues.  The gunman is killed. Barbara's OTHER man shows up and they all head back to this harbor. Christian goes back for something he left at Barbara's home...and the body is gone! hehehe    Barbara reappears and the two of them start off on their journey trying to sort things out.

Chris says, "I'm telling you for the last time, I want you out of this mess."
Barbara says, "I'm telling you that we'll get out of it together."

Love it. :)

There are these fun moments of people popping up and being woven into the complex and odd little plot line as things roll along. The plot thickens, thickens some more, then gets even thicker as things progress until we have this beautiful, stew-like mixture of beautiful women, mental illness, and a wild little mystery. 


Those mystery elements abound including a series of very disturbing mannequins found all over the place. Homes, the woods...   All creepy.

We also have that "are they good or bad?" aspect that I love. Some things are so convenient that it makes you think, "Heeeeey...are they really a bad guy?" hehehe

I love the way Lenzi shoots things in here. We get several cool gialli camera moments. Floating, hand helds. Zoom in on eyes.  Sweeping camera pans.


I don't want to say much more about this film. Suffice it to say that it's one of my favorite giallo films. It has all the tropes I love!

Farewell, Mr. Lenzi!










What Have You Done To Solange?








"Not after what happened to Solange...."







What Have You Done To Solange? is a hard watch for sure, but it's a grand giallo and one that holds up over time. The subject matter is rough, so be warned. However, it's a fun mystery with some fantastic character development and beautiful cinematography with a haunting score by Ennio Morricone. 


Fabio Testi plays Enrico 'Henry' Rosseni - a teacher at a girls school. The dashing Rosseni is having an affair with one of the girls and is with her when she sees a knife flash in the woods. The gruff Rosseni is annoyed with Elizabeth (Cristina Galbó) for stopping their make out session over a silly delusion, however her vision of the knife proves to be a reality that Rosseni becomes helplessly involved in as the mystery unravels around him. 

We have another relationship playing out in the film in a similar way to WHO SAW HER DIE? as Rosseni's wife Herta comes to grips with the fact that her husband is cheating and pulling further and further way from her every day. And of course we have an inspector looking into the case. :)
The acting is top notch in the film and the pace keeps things moving along nicely. Relationships seem real and play out in very interesting ways as it becomes very obvious that there's something deeper going on at the school. 

Massimo Dallamano's Direction holds attention and his cinematographer background shows. Joe D'Amato is the cinematographer (and a CID officer in the movie!) and you can see where his style is starting to really come through in this, his 10th cinematography credit out of a WHOOPING 167! 
 

Like I said earlier, the graphic nature of the kills is pretty awful, but the way it's played out is extremely tasteful. Well, as tasteful as it can be. And the overall tone of the film isn't exploitative, which helps a lot. We get a mystery that's solid with people undergoing many changes as the film rolls on. There are some smart and subtle changes as well, like the character of Herta shown and tight hair bunned and cold in the beginning of the film and softening a bit as she and Henry start to work out their marital issues. 



Now, the film isn't perfect. We still have a few moments where you question why Inspector Barth is working with Rosseni so closely - especially since he's a suspect at one point. And there is a moment of exposition towards the end that was a tad sloppy to say the least. ("Let me explain exactly why the killer has done what they've done. Where's that PowerPoint I created a moment ago...." )  hehehe   However, the story is well worth some of the more minor quibbles and it's still one of my favorite mystery gialli and well worth a viddy! 









Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Valley




Well this was an interesting little SHUDDER (U.S.) nugget. THE VALLEY (Weinberg) was a highly entertaining little tale. The six, subtitled, 56 minute long episodes are tight and lean.

I really don't want to say a whole lot about it, but I thought it might be on a few people's LIKE list if they gave it a chance. I wasn't going to at first, but another post similar to this one said that it had some cool things to offer and they were right.





We have a murder mystery set in a sleepy, little valley town. The main focus is wine making. When a man awakens in the vineyard staring up at the dead body of a young woman and not knowing who he is, he makes his way into town to seek help. However, when he returns with the small band of townsfolk, there is no body there.




I kinda looked at this as TWIN PEAKS meets COLOMBO with a dash of X-FILES flavoring here and there. It's a slow burn, but I really enjoyed the story.  You also have the mystery elements, town dramas, and a hint of the paranormal that really keeps things moving.

Well worth a viddy.







The Moose Head Over The Mantel



I got word that there was a chance to see and review this film and jumped at the chance. I had reviewed a previous production by these folks called THE BIG BAD and had enjoyed it, so I was excited to see their new offering. And - spoiler - I loved it.

The Moose Head Over The Mantel review comes with a main caveat: This isn't your standard horror film. It's not a simple watch that you half pay attention to while gulping down handfuls of popcorn. There are some complex goings on here that require thought. If you're wanting horror bashes like HATCHET or THE CONJURING, leave this one alone - you probably won't be happy.  

However, if you like fine acting and an excellent story presented in an absolutely interesting way, proceed!





Now, let's start with their awesome tagline:
One family. One hundred years. Countless victims. 
Love it. We have it all right there.



The Moose Head Over The Mantel tells the story of the Hoffhienze Family. A family with a past filled with tragic stories. As 1983's Lillian Hoffhienze-Bachman, her husband Jay, and their son move into the family home, the onionskin-like layers of family history unfold. We have six stories that go all the way back to 1881, all seen by the titular...moose head over the mantel.

I loved the concept. It's a fun and entertaining way to present things. While the gimmick of the moose head isn't 100% (We see several angles of the room, but I let it go after the first few minutes) the story is super solid and the use of the head as a central hub was very cool. People see the huge thing and all have questions about it. And, it seems to move as well. That combined with some very cool sound designs and music queues keep the flow and pace of all the stories super fluid and kinetic.


We jump around in time between 1983, 1966, 1945, 1922, 1904, and 1881 seeing how generations of Hoffhienze seem to be the center of horrors of various sorts - "a bloodline wrought with abuse, dysfunction and violence." As things move on, you see the patterns and understand that the family is doomed to be in this violent cycle.

All the stories are strong here, which can sometimes be an issue in multi-story line films. I've seen anthologies where you love one of the four stories and that's a sad thing, indeed. I found something special in each one of the tales and thought that the way they were presented was exceptional. It was like watching a fluid play that worked like a top notch time piece. The gears of the story spun along and you saw various time periods whirl before you, but I never felt lost or confused. I believe this is due to the strong writing style of Jessi Gotta who also played Lillian Hoffhienze-Bachma. She knows how to write characters you actually care about and are interested in. Combine that with and additional five, solid Directors that have a background in producing and performing live theater and you have gold.

Directors:
Rebecca Comtois     ...     (segment "1966") 
Bryan Enk     ...                (segment "1983") 
Jessi Gotta     ...                (segment "1945") 
Matthew Gray     ...          (segment "1904") 
Shannon K. Hall     ...      (segment "1922") 
Jane Rose     ...                 (segment "1881")





Now, this is a slow burn of a film. No MTV like cuts or music videos here. You need to think about it like we're setting in for an atmosphere filled,  gothic tale. Spooky tales told around the fireplace. Maybe a moose head peering down at you eerily in the firelight. :::grin::: Old tales of the past. Creepy tales spawned by real life stories. Yet another interesting layer the film. 


Statement:
The Hoffhienze family story is influenced and inspired by the notorious lives of H.H. Holmes, The Bender Family, Lizzie Borden, Carl Panzram and The Fox Sisters, as well as the Spiritualism movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the rise of psychiatric pharmacology in the 1970s and ‘80s.



I highly recommend  The Moose Head Over The Mantel. It's not just a film. It's an experience. An immersion into a series of spaces and time periods that adds a new and vibrant energy into a genre that can really use it!




TRAILER:

THE MOOSE HEAD OVER THE MANTEL | TRAILER from Inappropriate Films on Vimeo.




The Bird with the Crystal Plumage revisted





It's been about five years since I've reviewed The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, so I thought it was time to revisit the film. I've been in a bit of an UP WITH DARIO! mood of late after seeing Suspiria on the big screen in 4K. There is a sweet spot with his films, but his later films have merit as well. I'm going to hop around his catalogue and see what there is to see and what I'd like to review again now that I'm a bit older.









Bird is part of the Dario Argento "Animal Trilogy" of films that include Bird, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, and The Cat o' Nine Tails. Like many of these trilogy arrangements, I'm not sure Dario set out to make a series of animal based films at first, but it's a highly marketable aspect of the films and it was ripe to be exploited. Out of the three, Bird with the Crystal Plumage happens to be my favorite.


The film opens with the classic giallo trope of a man named Sam Dalmas who's on his way up and out. He's completed a writing job, he gets paid, and now it's time for him and his new girlfriend to fly back home. However, he's spots a potential murder in progress at an art gallery and, when he tried to get in to help, he's trapped between two glass doors and can't go in or out. The murderer flees. The woman stumbles towards him and collapses to the floor.  He's forced to wait for the police to arrive as the poor woman struggles to stay alive. What a fantastic and tense moment!

Sam gets swept up in looking for the killer. The police keep tabs on his as he investigates the players and the net grows wider and wider each day as more and more information comes to light. And, of course, as Sam moves through the web of intrigue, the killer makes threats to Sam and his girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall).


I just love the film on so many fronts. We get Argento's great camerawork and wild storylines. We get some really cool set pieces to view as well. But, we also get a laundry list of wacky characters as Sam inches closer to the killer. Folks like Mr. So Long - a man in prison that Sam questions about the goings on who happens to stutter, so he says "so long" after sentences to get himself to stop. His eyes bulge out and are spread apart and there are some cute little parts like where Sam gets confused by the "so long" and stands to leave.

"Hey! Where are you going?"
"You said 'so long', so I thought you were done talking.'

Good stuff.

The plot twists and turns and avenues are explored to multiple dead ends. Then the big third act gets really wild as things come to a conclusion. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a real thriller. I love it.

You can really see Dario starting to shine here. I mean, this is his first directing spot and he's already knocking it out of the park. The following year, he'll go on to make both The Cat o' Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet - both of which are fantastic films in their own right. He tries to escape the genre pictures by making Le cinque giornate , but it seems that people are not ready to have their Argento do historical fiction. So, he dives back into the horror world in 1975 with DEEP RED (Profondo rosso ) and kicks much arse until 1987, really. A fantastic run of films.


But, what I find to be fascinating is that it's all in The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. The plot twists, camera angles, style, and characterization were all strong and alive in Bird and just got better from there. It's a start akin to the start of people like M. Night Shyamalan or Orson Wells - coming out of the gate red hot and ready to make films the best they can make them.

Track down The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. You won't regret it. It gets better every time I watch it.








Monday, October 16, 2017

Crimes of the Black Cat








CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT from 1972 is an example of what happens when giallo tropes run a film RIGHT off the rails! hehehehe  Now, don't get me wrong - I actually liked the film and watched the whole of it, but it's just not a great film. It's goofy in many, many ways.


Our hero is blind pianist Peter Oliver played by Anthony Steffen of "Play Motel" and "The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave"'. He gets caught up in a series of murders and plays amateur detective with the help of his ex-girlfriend and personal assistant to try to solve the crimes. We get a lot of hand holding help from the ex while the personal assistant describes crime scenes and evidence to Peter. Genius Peter puts the pieces together - the shawls found at the crime scenes, the odd smell coming from the mysterious hooded figure that keeps passing him, and various other details that allow him to solve the crime. But....is there more to it all?

Damn right there is. heheheheh

The film is bonkers. The blind pianist angle is classic giallo - person out of their small pond into the ocean of crime. The way he sorts things out is hilarious. He happens to be around the hooded figure at random times. Massive leaps in logic everywhere. The police letting him enter crime scenes with his two helpers and pawing evidence.

And, I am going to spoil something here - be warned.

The main murder weapon? Remember those shawls I mentioned? Well, turns out they have been sprayed with a chemical that makes cats FREAK OUT! And, those cats? They have claws dipped in poison so that when they scratch you...you die. BAWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!  Elaborate.

It all makes for several "Wait.....WHAT?!" moments that I loved.

When the killer is found out and takes our hero out to kill him, he doesn't just shoot him, shove him into traffic, stab him, or push him into a huge hole that happens to be in the floor of the building he takes Peter to. Nope! He tries to hit him with a friggin' huge construction shovel that moves at the pace of a two legged dog.  Do they shove him into the hole after that? Noooooope. More Austin Powers style slow death trappings.



There's a fun little wrap up that makes the whole of it worthwhile, but this is definitely the B Team of gialli in my humble opinion. But, a B Team effort that's still a fun watch!









Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Blair Witch




Ok...I was one of the ones that was really bummed that THE WOODS from Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett - a team I love - wasn't really The Woods, but was The Blair Witch. Wingard and Barrett are grand. They have great ideas and are a cool team. But, I just saw this as a studio film that was going to be a disappointment in one way or another. Based on the 47% Metacritic score, it seems like they did miss the mark a bit. I was in no rush to see it at the time, but I finally circled back around and checked it out today. And, it didn't suck. :)

Nutshell - dude's going to look for his sister Heather from the first film. It's only been 18 years - she's probably fine. :::grin:::  He gets a lead from some shifty townies and gets his friends, a bunch of camera's, a drone, and the like and tromps off into the forest. Madness and heartache follow. :::spoiler:::

Now, the film itself passed my "AWWW! FUCK YOU, FOUND FOOTAGE! YOU BORING SHITE!" test. Things keep rolling and the story hums along nicely. But, it did have me chortling and growling out, "Jump scare bullshit," a few times. People keep creeping up on others in the group, then they make this loud noise of some type.

"HEY!!!!! W have to get out of here!"

"HEY!!!!! Did you hear that?"

"WHERE'S Paul?!"

"I'M BACK! Everything ok?"





I thought this was utter crap and it pissed me off. However, the film rallies and really comes back pretty strong in the third act. And, it had some fun and shocking moments that even had me giggling and saying, "Well...I didn't see THAT coming!" out loud.

The film had some set pieces that were friggin' upsetting and some cool woods scenes and "magical world" gags that I enjoyed. The addition of ear-cams took a bit of the "why are they still filming?" out of the mix, which was cool. 

So...the long and the short - I think this is a fun offering and a solid addition the the BLAIR WITCH franchise. But...I still wonder what Wingard and Barrett's THE WOODS would have been like.






Friday, October 13, 2017

Grave Encounters

Yup, Grave Encounters is found footage. Yup - night vision scenes. Yup - people loose it and yell at each other. Cameras shake. Ghost mouths open super wide with computer graphics. But, it's all highly entertaining.

Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz (as The Vicious Brothers) really know how to keep a film buzzing along. The concept is ultra conventional and simple - a paranormal investigator show's footage is found after they all go missing or are dead. Standard. However, I just watched another found footage film that I won't name here ("If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all.") and that thing was a total and complete hipster bore! To echo R. Ebert, it was a 12 minute short crammed into 101 minutes. However, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS keeps shaking things up and adding little nuggets to keep things interesting and new.

We have the usual setup where they are going to be locked in until someone lets them out. They did the same in 21 Days in 2014. They look around and don't really find anything. Things start to get a little slow, then we - the audience - starts to see things on the cameras they have set up. When that gets old, the crew starts to experience things themselves. Then, things continue to fly off the rails for them in horrid ways.

It's a fun watch and it has a lot of cool little set pieces. It was made in 2011 and I believe it was at the forefront of the computer graphics HUGE OPEN MOUTH gimmick that numerous movies drove into the ground. I want to say that these folks did it first.

It's odd. I thought THE VICIOUS BROTHERS had more under their belts. I'm only seeing GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 1 and 2,  EXTRATERRESTRIAL, and IT STAINS THE SANDS RED (2017)  in their credits.  I definitely want to check out SANDS - I've heard some good buzz about it. 

At any rate, if you want some fun, amusement park haunted house-like scares for a dark night, this will provide many a good BOO! for your amusement.