Friday, 16 November 2012
Thursday, 4 October 2012
Saturday, 29 September 2012
Brutes and Savages
Horror Hotel Massacre
Legend of the Bayou
Murder on the Bayou
Few filmmakers are burdened with the kind of expectation that Tobe Hooper endured when he came to make his second feature film. His first just happened to be The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), a film that to this day has a visceral impact that remains undiminished. I’m happy to go on record in stating that I think it to be the greatest American horror film of the last forty years, and it is the sole entry in Hooper’s filmography that enables me to forgive him the celluloid offal that he has since produced. Hooper’s career has been a lamentable, pitiful, and at times desperate, search to recapture the waking nightmare of his first film. It is in itself a noble aim, but his debut picture was made without consideration of its commercial prospects, and Hooper has since worked largely as a director-for-hire; a position which immediately undermines and weakens a filmmakers attempts to develop his/her thematic passions. Of course many of the projects directors-for-hire work on are tailored to what the producers believe are the strengths of the filmmaker. The Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike for example, has over eighty credits to his name, but not a single one of them originated from his own mind. Yet Miike has been offered films which have enabled him to build a distinctive thematic universe which seems uniquely his. Hooper has been less fortunate, and one need look no further than his second film Eaten Alive (one of numerous titles the film was marketed under) to see how everything went wrong for the man that just a few years before created a horror masterpiece.
Monday, 24 September 2012
...a tutte le auto della polizia
Calling All Police Cars is one of the most notable obscurities to cross my desk in recent months. I say notable because its position within the landscape of popular Italian cinema of the 1970’s is truly undeserved. I have yet to read a negative assessment of this film, but the problem is being able to actually find any critical writing on it at all. The age of DVD has been particularly kind to some films and directors from this era, in some cases richly deserved, in others far from it. Mario Caino appears to be a director that frequently slips through the net, though the few films of his I have seen, easily stand up to many of his contemporaries. Caino is perhaps best known to fans of cult cinema for his 1965 gothic horror picture Nightmare Castle, which featured British actress Barbara Steele in dual roles, beautiful cinematography by Enzo Barboni, and a fitting score by Ennio Morricone. This distinctive contribution to Italian cinema’s gothic horror cycle was not really followed up though, as Caino found a productive niche in the popular and profitable spaghetti western cycle; titles include Ringo; Face of Revenge (1967, featuring Anthony Steffen), Train for Durango (1968) and My Name is Shanghai Joe (1973, featuring Klaus Kinski). Caino further proved his skill at adapting to different genres with Milano Violenta (1976, aka Bloody Payroll) and the Henry Silva starring Weapons of Death (1977), both of which were assured entries in the Euro-Crime cycle. A departure into the vile and sleazy world of Nazisploitation resulted in Caino’s most controversial film Nazi Love Camp 27 (1977), which, despite its subject matter, was still quite effective.
Monday, 17 September 2012
Who's that Knocking at my Door AKA I Call First (1967) - US Poster
Boxcar Bertha (1972) - US Quad Poster
Mean Streets (1973) - US Poster
Sunday, 16 September 2012
From a purely personal perspective, the Tigon production of The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1970) represents the pinnacle of the British horror film. Of course an objectively dispassionate and critical eye is able to discern a myriad of plot deficiencies and narrative weaknesses, and one or two performances diminish the overall effect, but for me this is an insidiously perverse, eerie, and troubling piece of work, which evocatively renders the fears and superstitions of a rural 17th century community. In addition to its censor baiting visuals, and its various concessions to generic cinema, it is also a beautiful film about the English countryside. It is incredibly earthy, overflows with a rich autumnal palette, and possesses such a sense of pastoral isolation that at times the narrative takes on the mythical persona of a folk tale. The gorgeous Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire countryside was strikingly shot by cinematographer Dick Bush, and the natural lighting brings an exquisite rustic charm to its tale of a village’s children succumbing to the influence of Satan. Like the best examples of film art The Blood on Satan’s Claw works on an allegorical level, and its dramatic clash between a group of children realising and celebrating their freedom and sexuality, and the forces of patriarchal adulthood that seek to contain it offers a prescient message for the age of permissiveness.
Saturday, 15 September 2012
Sword of Justice
Sword of Justice is the first film in a trilogy of pictures exploring the controversial character Hanzo the Razor. Hanzo was the brainchild of Kazuo Koike who brought his adventures to life in a series of Manga publications. Koike is perhaps best known however for his Lone Wolf and Cub series, which ran to twenty eight instalments, and over 8 million sales. The success of this series spawned six feature films that showcased the stoic talents of Tomisaburo Wakayama, and found their way to the West via the hotchpotch efforts of Robert Houston and David Weisman under the title Shogun Assassin (1980). The enterprising pair grafted twelve minutes of the first picture Sword of Vengeance (1972) onto the vast majority of the second picture Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972), gave it a contemporary electronic soundtrack by Mark Lindsey, dubbed it into English, and enjoyed a notable success. Koike also created the character of Lady Snowblood, and though not as successful as Lone Wolf and Cub, still ran for fifteen instalments, and led to two feature films starring Meiko Kaji as the titular lady who seeks revenge for the rape of her mother, and the murders of her mother’s husband and son. All of Koike’s most famous Manga creations are marked by grand stylisation and extreme violence, and the film adaptations do not skimp in these areas. But Hanzo possesses a grotesquery that the others do not, and this is largely due to the Policeman’s novel interrogation technique, which sees him target mistresses, whom he then fucks into such a lather of ecstasy with his oversized penis that they are begging to spill the beans in order for the pleasure to continue.
Friday, 14 September 2012
Quelli della calibro 38
Thus far on every occasion that a film directed by Massimo Dallamano has crossed my line of sight and made it to the screen, I’ve generally been impressed by the results. I say generally because his 1969 take on Venus in Furs left me cold, unimpressed, and most damagingly of all; bored! But since that fateful afternoon where I lost ninety minutes of my life to that asinine garbage, the films of his I have screened have had me reaching for the superlatives. The giallo double of What Have They Done to Solange? (1971) and What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974) were remarkably consistent examinations of not only corrupted innocence, but also how a mask of innocence and youth can conceal all manner of perversions. The former totally outgrew the Edgar Wallace pot-boiler which it took tacit inspiration from, and the latter injected some of the high octane action strategies of the Polizio/Euro-crime cycle into its formulaic gialli narrative. It is this fusion of elements which points forward to Dallamano’s inevitable full blown entry into the Polizio/Euro-crime cycle with the fast paced thriller Colt 38 Special Squad. He seems far more confident amongst the chase sequences, shootouts, fistfights, and vengeful violence of this cycle than the muted atmospherics of the passable The Night Child (1975), the rather dry and forgettable horror flick that preceded it. One of the great tragedies of popular Italian cinema was that Colt 38 Special Squad would be Dallamano’s last picture; certainly on the evidence displayed here Dallamano could have made a number of vital contributions to the cycle, and would no doubt have further enriched a variety of generic soil.
Sunday, 9 September 2012
Friday, 7 September 2012
Wednesday, 15 August 2012
I have to open this review by saying that I consider The Amityville Horror (1979) to be a truly abysmal movie. It is a stultifying traipse through the conventions of the haunted house film; a lousy melodrama, one that is anchored in a swamp of po-faced seriousness due to a faux ‘based on true events’ gimmick that hamstrings any attempt for inventiveness or imagination. Nevertheless this feeble garbage became something of a sensation thanks in large part to a clever marketing campaign, and in even larger part to the gullibility of the American movie-going public. The most successful aspect of the film is Lalo Schifrin’s spine chilling music, its scariest moment a brief scene in which Rod Steiger (fly covered and gasping for air) is yelled at to “GET OUT!!” by a disembodied voice. Three years later Italian super producer Dino De Laurentis felt enough time had passed for a sequel, and to the enormous credit of all involved it totally dispenses with the restrictive ‘true story’ trick and fully commits to the supernatural. This is indeed ironic, considering that a major plot event of Amityville II is based on actual recorded events! In fact there is more true-to-life basis in the second film than the first! Amityville II is also technically a prequel, in the days before that term wasn’t synonymous with crap Star Wars movies. But it’s clear from the outset that the filmmakers couldn’t care less about evoking a specific period in time. This is not slipshod on their part; it’s illustrative of creative minds unshackling themselves from the supposed ‘reality’ of the Amityville story, and choosing to follow a trail blazed by The Exorcist (1973) and the more concurrent Poltergeist (1982). It comes to something when the major influence on a sequel isn’t the film that spawned it.
Monday, 13 August 2012
Sunday, 12 August 2012
The rich and fertile landscape of American science-fiction was sown in the 1950’s, and the production companies that ploughed the land most consistently were Universal International Pictures and American International Pictures. The former were able to bring a certain degree of filmmaking sophistication to such efforts as It Came from Outer Space (1953), This Island Earth (1955), and The Monolith Monsters (1957), and they gave director Jack Arnold a platform to investigate his thematic concerns in a series of sci-fi pictures that culminated with his unqualified masterpiece The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). In some quarters Arnold is considered an auteur, and so too is Roger Corman, who was to AIP what Arnold was to UI. By contrast the productions of AIP were marked by ultra low budgets, non-existent production values, and owing to their status as independent producers and distributors a certain amount of political and social radicalism. Like the cycle of monochrome horrors initiated in the 1930’s by Universal every major production company got in on the act, and independent production outfits had a field day with material perfectly suited to the drive-ins and the affluent teenage demographic; for whatever reason Warner Bros. were consistently uninterested in the booming sci-fi/horror cycle of the 1950’s. This mirrored their lack of interest in the horror cycle of the 1930’s, which was paid the slightest lip service with a small handful of films. Their influence in the 1950’s extended mostly to the area of distribution as they put out The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Godzilla Raids Again (1955), X the Unknown (1956), and The Black Scorpion (1957). Their sole foray into the area of production was clearly intended to emulate the success of 20,000 Fathoms, and it did so and more, with a prehistoric dinosaur being replaced by a colony of giant irradiated ants.
Saturday, 11 August 2012
Monday, 23 July 2012
Generally speaking the poliziotesschi/Euro-crime cycle can be divided into four distinct thematic and narrative strands. The first explores the power struggles, relationships, and group dynamics of organised crime mobs, and are best represented by the early formative crime flicks of Fernando Di Leo; most notably Milano Calibro 9 (1972), and The Boss (1973). The second explores the manner in which innocent members of society, frustrated by the inactivity of the police, take the law into their own hands, and seek retribution through violent means; a good example is Street Law (1974), which took as its inspiration Michael Winner’s defining statement on vigilantism Death Wish (1974). The third and most pervasive strand was inspired by the rule breaking rogue cop seen in Dirty Harry (1971), and these films are marked by themes of police brutality, sticky networks of bureaucratic red tape, and detectives frequently breaking the law in order to maintain their own sense of moral equilibrium; almost any Italian crime film of the 1970’s featuring the talents of Maurizio Merli fits this description. These three narrative types are united by high octane energy, stylised shoot outs and fistfights, dangerous chase sequences, and pulse pounding soundtracks.
Wednesday, 18 July 2012
The past two or three weeks have passed in a misty sneeze riddled blur of hay fever; my eyes as bloodshot as Count Dracula on one of his nocturnal hunts for fresh nubile victims. I’ve been suffering and unfortunately so has The Celluloid Highway! The only traffic on it in the last few weeks has been tumbleweed. I’ve even spotted a few weeds poking out of the crumbling asphalt. But help is on hand, and a road crew has been assigned to repair the damage. As a result of this there has been no film review poll for July, but never fear the poll will resume in August. However we still have unfinished business with June’s poll, and I shall do my very best to get the winners written up for publication before the end of the month. The effortless victor on this occasion was John Carpenter’s enjoyable dystopian adventure Escape from New York (1981). The battle for the all important second place was a tight nit affair between the carnivalesque surrealism of Santa Sangre (1989) and the irradiated giant ants of Them! (1954). In the end the latter prevailed and so we have a science-fiction double bill. Many thanks to all those who took the time to vote and it was once again an excellent turn out. Below are the full results for June, the bottom two as ever will be relegated from future consideration.
01 Escape From New York (1981) - 16 votes [50%]
02 Them! (1954) - 10 votes [31%]
03 Santa Sangre (1989) - 7 votes [21%]
04 Cat's Eye (1985) - 5 votes [15%]
05 Death Sentence (2007) - 4 votes [12%]
06 The Intruder (1962) - 4 votes [12%]
07 The Mist (2007) - 4 votes [12%]
08 The Lost Continent (1968) - 3 votes [9%]
Monday, 16 July 2012
Make Them Die Slowly
If the Italian cycle of cannibal movies in the 1970’s and early 1980’s is the illegitimate bastard offspring of the Mondo film, then Umberto Lenzi’s Cannibal Ferox is a stillborn foetus; an abortion that was shit out into the world by people who should have known better. The pride with which the promotional material boasted of its banning in thirty one countries (some DVD releases still assert it is banned in 31 countries!) is a key signifier of the feeble minds behind the project. Lenzi was no stranger to the debased faux-exoticism and casual racism of the cycle. He was there right at the start, helping to put in place a canvas of cruelty and sadism. However his first effort The Man from Deep River (aka Deep River Savages, 1972) was an intriguing, and a not altogether unsuccessful remake of A Man Called Horse (1970), and naturally had a far greater investment in themes of ‘going native’, the limitations of modern civilisation, and the rules and doctrines of a primitive and wild culture. In this example cannibalism is associated with villainy and evil, it is an antagonistic and oppositional force; a position which would be completely reversed by Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Cannibal Ferox. In these two films cannibalism is a reactionary behaviour, a response to external threats. Lenzi’s second cannibal film was Eaten Alive! (1980), despite its hysterical title, it emerges as one of the more placid entries in the sub-genre. The emphasis here is on adventure rather than flesh eating. Although Cannibal Ferox is vile and loathsome it does have a point-of-view, it does (believe it or not!) construct an argument, and (even more unbelievably) follows it through to a cynical and ironic conclusion. For this reason Cannibal Ferox is not the worthless celluloid offal many would have you believe.
Saturday, 14 July 2012
Monday, 25 June 2012
Anthropophagus: The Beast
Anthropophagus: The Grim Reaper
The Grim Reaper
The Savage Island
This excruciatingly dull exercise in cinematic mediocrity achieved an unlikely prominence in the United Kingdom when it found itself a part of the ‘Video Nasty’ hysteria. An uncut video of this film was released in 1980 by VFP in the days before certification, and this grubby item can now fetch very large sums amongst idiots who have too much money and too much time on their hands. It should be remembered that thirty-nine videos were successfully prosecuted by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and Anthropophagus was one of them, so this is definitely one of the big boys that rubs shoulders with the likes of Cannibal Holocaust (1980), I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and Faces of Death (1978). The vast majority of the titles on this final list of thirty-nine have been released in the UK uncut (some of them on blu-ray!), but Anthropophagus has remained a persistently troubling title for the BBFC. This is almost entirely due to a ridiculous scene towards the end of the film when George Eastman’s cannibalistic psychopath removes a foetus from a heavily pregnant woman and proceeds to eat it. It would seem that the BBFC do not have a healthy appetite for this type of material, even armed with the knowledge that the foetus is merely a skinned rabbit. The upshot of this controversy of course is that when small distributors put films like this forward for certification they take the decision to pre-cut the film and Anthropophagus exists in this form (shorn of two minutes) and is available on DVD under the title The Grim Reaper.
Monday, 18 June 2012
Although Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964) became the pin up poster boy of the spaghetti western cycle, it is arguably Sergio Corbucci’s Django which wielded the greatest influence on European westerns. The central character went on to feature in well over fifty spin offs, the vast majority of which, were unofficial. The success of the film in West Germany led too Italian actor Franco Nero forever being associated with the role, and almost every western he appeared in thereafter was promoted in West Germany as a Django picture. The reason its vast influence remains largely unrecognised, is that unlike Leone’s ‘Dollars’ trilogy, Django was not a commercial success in the United States. The influence of A Fistful of Dollars was not immediate; indeed most of the Euro-westerns released in the wake of Leone’s film were actually quite traditional. It is conceivable that this might have remained the case were it not for Sergio Corbucci who had clearly paid attention to the exaggerated style, cynicism, revisionism, and mythical anti-heroism that formed the basis of Leone’s westerns. Corbucci’s major innovation was to take these elements (minus the exaggerated stylisations) and push them to the extreme. If A Fistful of Dollars was pessimistic then Django had to be nihilistic. If the landscape seen in A Fistful of Dollars was dusty, dry, and sun baked then the landscape in Django had to be wet, muddy, and grey. The influence of A Fistful of Dollars can be felt in Django, yet at the same time Django is everything that A Fistful of Dollars is not.
Wednesday, 13 June 2012
The semi-obscure 1968 British horror film Corruption belongs to a small, but strangely pervasive, cycle of horror movies that explore the subject of plastic surgery. The film that kick started this trend was Georges Franju’s beautifully composed art/horror hybrid Eyes Without a Face (1960). Franju’s excellent and troubling production was marked by a formal precision that mirrored the cut of Dr. Génnesier’s scalpel; but even so Franju’s film was still marketed as an exploitation picture in the US where it was released under the unforgivable title of The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus. The influence of the film however was quite notable; the prolific Spaniard Jess Franco quickly recycled the themes in his surprisingly tight and atmospheric The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962), returned to them in several sequels, and capped of his interest in cosmetic surgery with the indifferent Faceless (1988). The Italian horror/science-fiction picture Atom Age Vampire (1963) was equally unexceptional, though it did give Mario Bava an opportunity to hone his skills as a producer. Other interesting examples such as Circus of Horrors (1960) and The Blood Rose (1969) took the device of plastic surgery down intriguing avenues; the former for example saw Anton Diffring play a typically cold and implacable surgical genius, who uses his gifts to extort, blackmail and control people under the canopy of the big top. More recently another Spaniard Pedro Almodóvar returned to the topic and bridged the art house gap with Eyes Without a Face with his considerably more tedious entry The Skin I Live In (2011).
Sunday, 10 June 2012
Sella d'argento AKA Silver Saddle (1978) - Italian Poster
Zombi 2 AKA Zombie AKA Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) - Italian Poster