You would think that a blog dedicated to showing exploitation films some love would have covered this title sooner, sorry to disappoint y'all. So at long last, I am going to talk a little bit about Juan Piquer Simón's giallo/slasher Pieces.
Starring: Christopher George, Lynda Day George, Paul Smith, Frank Braña and Edmund Purdom
Pieces is a difficult film to pigeonhole into either one of the giallo or slasher sub-genres, as it lifts themes from both the Italian and American sides of 'stalk and slash' cinema.
The usual gialli tropes are evident; mysterious villain, complete with a black fedora, black gloves and you guessed it; a black raincoat. As are the usual slasher staples: shots from the killer's POV, complete with heavy, throaty breathing. His motivation for killing linking back to a deep-rooted, childhood-related psychosis and of course; the main plot is very slasher-centric: college girls being slaughtered in and around the campus.
Luckily these borrowings don't serve as a detraction and it all comes together in a unique way to form a very stylish, not to mention very gory, exploitation flick.
IF there had to be a detraction, I would be pushed to say the only major downfall of this movie is the silly dialogue. Now, whether that is due to poor dubbing or it is literally down to the script, I can't be sure, but it gets to the point where it becomes laughable, even farcical. There's also a handful of admissible goofs along the way, but like I previously mentioned they don't really subtract any quality away from the movie. I suppose, in an odd way it make all the more acceptable.
Also the gratuitous ending kind of lets it down, but I won't spoil it; if you've not seen it for yourself...all I'll say is that it reminded me very much of Lamberto Bava's Macabre (1980).
The moment the film opens, you can tell it's Euro-horror, it just has that aesthetic. You know what I'm talking about, that lovable look. You can see it in the film grain, in the colours and in the camera work. I know that I'm beginning to spiral into down into the dark pit of a 'spouting fanboy', but when it comes to these Spanish, Italian and French films, I just can't help myself.
The plot is such a simple set-up, that it can be explained in one sentence. A spate of grisly murders are being committed on a college campus. That's it, that's all you need to know. Sure, it has a bunch of twists and turns along the way; but essentially that is it. I shouldn't forget to mention Paul Smith's role as the titular Willard either; who's probably the biggest and most obvious red herring character in the history of cinema.
What I've always liked about Pieces is how it essentially takes the well established giallo villain and replaces his knife with a chainsaw. Now, I know what you're thinking; a chainsaw isn't easy to conceal, but somehow the killer in Pieces manages to do it. It's silly, yes I can't deny it and the scene in the elevator is a prime example of this. But let's face it, it's all about how that scene is shot. How it looks and for all the gorehounds amongst us, it's all about the girl getting her arm lopped off.
On the topic of beautiful murder sequences, J.P. Simón must have ripped a page straight from Argento's book for a scene involving a stabbing on a water bed. The set up, his use of camera angles; close-ups of a glinting, bloodied knife and slow-motion is perfect. Words honestly don't do the scene justice and it's these moments that make Pieces really standout.
This would make a great double bill with Ramano Scavolini's Nightmare/Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (1981). It's also one of those movies that I wish that I could have experienced upon it's initial release, I would love to have sat down and had my mind blown by this without any prior knowledge of it. Honestly, if you've not checked it out for yourself, or have heard of it and have been putting it off, do yourself a favour and watch it the next chance you get.
Posted by James Wilkes
Once again, fellow freaks, fiends, monsters and mutants I'm still attempting to return to the blogosphere. My life has taken a lot of twists and turns in the past 18 months. I feel it needless for any further explanation or procrastination, since I generally like to try and keep my personal life out of my blog. I feel that because I made this talk about movies I love, hate or love to hate I shouldn't use it to talk about personal problems, or life in general.
With that BS out of the way, I'm going to be talking about Marvin Kren's second feature Blood Glacier. Also known as, Blutgletscher and The Station.
Starring: Gerhard Liebmann, Edita Malovcic, Brigitte Kren, Hille Beseler and Peter Knaack.
Now, I'm going to assume most of you reading this are somewhat familiar with Kren and his first outing, the zombie film Rammbock (2010). I watched Rammbock some years ago and can actually recall very little of it. I do however remember it as having quite an intense and brooding atmosphere and being one of the 'stand out' zombie films of more recent times. In the UK it's known as Siege of the Dead, undoubtably a cash-in attempt on the many 'of the dead' films currently circulating. Yet, in the States it's known as Berlin Undead - I prefer this title, as I think it's much simpler and entirely more effective. Let me explain why (yes a rant is steadily approaching)...
I feel that in much recent years the zombie film has become stagnant, parodied and raped. Now, don't get me wrong, I love zombie films...I would say that at least 80% of the reason I'm even interested in horror is because of the Romero trilogy and later the more obscure and metaphoric, Fulci epics. But, the sheer multitude of zombie films that have been released in the last 10 years is astounding and out of them, only a few are actually worth any attention. Maybe (a big maybe) I have become jaded, but truthfully I just feel sorely disappointed. If we take a step back and look at all the zombie films of generations past, they all have some merit, some worth, a reason to watch them.
Now, I step into my local HMV to browse the horror section and I immediately see dozens upon dozens of budget horror films...granted there are always the godawful possession / ghost movies, that require little or no special effects, but what else do I see? the beloved zombie film. Why? I don't know, I don't have a specific answer. I just feel as though a lot of these poor quality flicks demean horror. Enough to suggest that horror can't be intelligent, classy or have a sense of finesse and that's really quite sad.
By the way, I have already had the assumption that I could be alone in thinking this.
With that out of the way, perhaps I can begin to talk in droves about the topic at hand. Marvin Kren's Blood Glacier. Before viewing this I did read a little bit about it online and what I had gleaned was that it's very much in the vein of John Carpenter's The Thing (1982), which of course, only served to excite me further.
The plot has a fairly straight forward set up. A team of environmental scientists working in the Austrian alps discover a glacier leaking a red liquid that, unbeknownst to them, is affecting the local wildlife.
As I previously mentioned, yes it is very much like The Thing, but I'm sure any creature feature set in a snowy environment will always be compared to such. But, on other levels it is very akin to Carpenter's work. The one thing that struck me instantly was the music, there are a few string notes and melodies that sound as if they have been directly lifted from the 1982 Morricone/Carpenter score. Not to say that's a bad thing, by any means, for me it really set the tone.
Tonally the film is dark and oppressive. One of the films most memorable sequences involves Janek (Liebmann), struggling to find a way to deal with his ailing dog. The dog stands for more than just a pet, it's seemingly all he has left from a failed relationship with Tanja (Malovcic). For those who have ever been in a situation with a dying pet can surely understand the grief and moral confusion that goes hand-in-hand when dealing with it. Given this psychological aspect too, it is also quite comparable to The Thing. In as much as, the character's pent-up anger and resentment towards one another only serves to exacerbate the situation. Combined with the impending isolation and immediate threat.
In direct contrast to those touching and harrowing sequences, there are some genuine and (I believe) intentionally funny scenes present in Blood Glacier. One of which sees Janek attempting to convince the local wildlife Minister not to visit because of the recent 'outbreak', claiming there is a rabid fox on the loose.
On the whole, Blood Glacier is really enjoyable flick with great looking monsters. Taking the more traditional approach to effects, rather than utilising CGI. Fans of sci-fi horror, will definitely get a kick out of this for sure. For me, the only downside is that besides the clunky pacing, I just wish Kren had spent a little more time exploring the whole genetic workings of the organism and it's origins. We get a rough idea how it lives and forms 'new' creatures through a host body. But, I'm just left with a feeling of wanting more.
If memory serves correct, Rammbock also ended in a similar fashion. Perhaps Kren has a taste for ambiguity or he hasn't yet refined how to wrap up a story.
Posted by James Wilkes
"Send...more...paramedics" Greetings fiends, at last I have returned to the horror blogosphere. Choosing an aptly titled film to discuss, Dan O'Bannon's classic The Return of the Living Dead. I'm hoping there are people who occasionally check my little corner of the net and are still interested in reading my reviews.
Starring: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Thom Mathews, Jewel Shepard and Linnea Quigley.
Zombies, everybody loves them. The Return of the Living Dead along with Night of the Creeps (1986) and Night of the Comet (1984) is perhaps one of the most fun-filled zombie flicks knocking around.
At the time of writing this review I discovered that although penned and directed by Dan O'Bannon, Return of the Living Dead was originally a book, written in 1977 by John Russo - the co-writer of Romero's seminal undead film Night of the Living Dead (1968). I haven't read the book but according to what I've looked at online, Russo's story wasn't followed and the film is a separate entity.
The plot outline is pretty straight-forward; two bumbling medical supply warehouse workers accidentally crack open a military canister containing a 'frozen' zombie and a chemical known as Trioxin. Located just across from the warehouse is a cemetery, needless to say the chemical makes it into the atmosphere and is rained down onto the nearby graves. The dead begin to rise and an unfortunate group of punk kids find themselves caught up in the ensuing madness.
In all honesty, it's unsurprising that this film gained such a cult following over the years. There are so many unforgettable scenes, hilarious characters and a killer punk-rock soundtrack to boot. I still remember watching this for the very first time when I was much younger and I never quite liked it as much as the Romero set of 'dead' films. However, after a repeated viewing it steadily grew on me and has become a favourite. Though it easily could have been Quigley's notorious graveyard strip scene that eventually swayed me.
I do think my initial dislike was down to the 'speed' of the zombies, petty, I know. It was probably my first exposure to 'fast' zombies and in retrospect, I think my younger self overlooked or simply misunderstood the 'splatstick' humour and just took ROTLD for a 'cheesy old movie'. Not realising how self-aware and tongue-in-cheek it actually is. Unlike the Romero canon, you cannot take this seriously and in all fairness to O'Bannon, he obviously wanted to distance himself from the former's work.
The level of comedic detail maintains the film's overall light-tone; ranging from obvious puns, such as the names given to both the medical supply warehouse 'Uneeda' and local cemetery 'Resurrection Cemetery', to the more subtle in-jokes hidden in the background. One of which can be seen while Frank and Freddy are in the warehouse office, if you look closely in the background there is a sight-test poster which reads "Burt is a slave driver and a cheap son of a bitch who is going bald too haha".
In contrast to this lighthearted tone, there are a handful dark and spooky scenes. One that has remained embedded in my memory is just after the paramedics have evaluated Frank and Freddy's condition, one of the medics climbs into the front of their ambulance, switches on the headlights and illuminates a horde of the living dead. The camera then sharply cuts to a side-view of the cab and before the paramedic has time to think, the passenger door is wrenched open and a zombie leaps in. This scene always manages to get under my skin. I'm not sure why, but it just gives me chills the moment the door is yanked open.
Another scene I picked up on after re-watching is when Ernie (Calfa) and Freddy's girlfriend Tina (Beverly Randolph) are hiding in the crawlspace above the mortuary from *SPOILERS SPOILERS* a now zombified Freddy. Calfa's character pulls out his gun and slowly aims it towards her head. His facial expression speaks volumes of fear, dread and disgust at what he is considering. Ultimately, the ending is considerably bleak too and not to mention a bit of an anticlimax.
I always quite liked the explanation Frank gives to Freddy about the origin of the canisters, notably the reference to NOTLD. As unlike films of today, which can make irritating references to other horror films simply for the sake of name dropping, à la Dead Snow/Død snø (2009), ROTLD manages to get away with linking itself to the Romero classic, without following any of it's traits - i.e. To kill the undead should be removing the head or destroying the brain, however that doesn't work here as the zombies in O'Bannon's picture are virtually unstoppable.
The Return of the Living Dead is a blast, with fantastic and memorable performances from each and every member of the cast. I think if I had to take my pick at who is my favourite character, it would be the short lived character of Suicide (Mark Venturini). His line to Trash (Quigley), "You think this is a fuckin' costume? This is a way of life." cracks me up every single time. His exaggerated line of "What the fuck?", upon discovering the zombie 'tarman' trying to break into a storage closet is an instant classic too and I'm quite surprised it hasn't been turned into an internet meme.
It would make a fantastic Halloween double-bill with Fred Dekker's Night of the Creeps or even something like the Stephen King / Romero collaboration Creepshow (1982).
Posted by James Wilkes
Hi guys, quick update regarding a new blog to hit the internet recently, run by long time friend and frequent collaborator, Nigel (Italian Film Review). His new blog is called Pickled Cinema, since exhausting the best of Italian cinema has to offer, Nigel is now writing about films from all over the planet, including Euro-cult, Asian and American horror/exploitation.
Posted by James Wilkes
Revisiting the comfort of 70s Euro horror, I've chosen to talk a little bit about Jean Rollin's The Grapes of Death/Les Raisins de la Mort.
Starring: Marie-Georges Pascal, Félix Marten, Serge Marquand, Mirella Rancelot and Brigitte Lahaie.
The Grapes of Death sits somewhere in between Romero's The Crazies (1973) and Jorge Grau's Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974), in as much as...The 'zombies' in Rollin's picture are more akin to the infected citizens of The Crazies, when compared to other shuffling-undead movies.
Grapes also shares a similar social commentary based narrative, found in both of the aforementioned films, although given the pesticide contagion, is a tad closer to Grau's work.
The dreary autumnal landscape and scenery is also reminiscent to that found in Dawn of the Dead (1978) or Fulci's The House by the Cemetery (1981). Personally, I quite like the change in seasons being used to reflect death in horror cinema, visually conveying a greater sense of sadness or depression and acting as a cold reminder that death, is quite literally surrounding the surviving group of protagonists.
The story is centred around Elisabeth (Pascal), a young lady who is traveling by train to see her fiancé. However, on her way there, her friend is murdered by a madman, who's face is covered with pus-spewing abscesses. In a blind panic, Elisabeth flees the train for the countryside, to try and find her way home, unfortunately for her, she discovers that the countryside has become overrun with people baring facial sores and homicidal tendencies.
Grapes' narrative possesses a dreamlike quality, a trait prominently found in 70s Euro horror, mainly due to the the randomness in which the events unfold. From the moment Elisabeth is first attacked on the train and escapes into the sprawling French countryside, the events that follow are unravelled in such a fashion that it borders on sheer insanity.
Rollin effectively creates an intense and oppressive atmosphere throughout The Grapes of Death, as Elisabeth and her 2 male cohorts are relentlessly and mercilessly pursued by hordes of the infected and to be honest, there is a lot to love about this film. What it lacks in the dialogue department is vastly made up in the visuals, it is a beautifully shot film that is home to many memorable and fiendishly twisted scenes. Including the cruel fate of poor blind Lucie (Rancelot) at the hands of her once loving carer.
In my opinion this is what Euro-horror is all about.
Posted by James Wilkes
As I find myself growing tired of the wintery climate, I'm taking a short trip to the tropics with Joe D'Amato's Papaya: Love Goddess of the Cannibals/Papaya dei Caraibi.
Starring: Sirpa Lane, Melissa Chimenti, Maurice Poli and Dakar.
By now, anyone reading this blog should already know I have a penchant for the films of Joe D'Amato. Whether they be good, bad or downright obscure, I'm bound to find some perverse enjoyment in his work and perhaps dear reader, you do too.
But, if you came here expecting a gore drenched shocker along the lines of Ruggero Deodato's Last Cannibal World/Ultimo mondo cannibale (1977), prepare yourself for a little disappointment. As Papaya is more akin to the steamy softcore romps found in D'Amato's Emanuelle film series.
The narrative of Papaya is somewhat more environmentally conscious when compared to other cannibal-related films, similar to Bruno Mattei's Zombie Creeping Flesh/Virus (1980), it deals with the exploitation of the Third World. Though, this plot device becomes largely forgotten about in true D'Amato style by the unnecessary scenes of nudity and/or accompanying violence. Although, in this instance the latter is severely lacking, save for the gratuitous pig gutting and Voodoo sacrifice sequences. I would assume that this film got marketed as a cannibal film purely to piggy back on the success of the then-recently emerging 'cannibal-boom', since the it only has roughly 2 scenes of actual cannibalism.
The film hauls itself along at a snail's pace, further padded out by unnecessary dialogue between Lane and Poli. In fairness to D'Amato, his background work as a cinematographer shines throughout, scenes are perfectly framed and the camera work is crisp.
He succeeds in creating a moody atmosphere, specifically in a scene wherein Lane and Poli stumble upon a seemingly deserted shantytown, as the couple investigate further, a horse-drawn carriage passes them by, missing its human occupant. A scene which might actually hold weight in a straight laced horror film, is in this instance, simply overlooked.
Perhaps the only saving grave is Melissa Chimenti's portrayal of Papaya, the seductive Island beauty. As she appears to be the only character in the entire film who has...character. Sirpa Lane, most well known for her scandalous performance in Walerian Borowocyzk's The Beast/La bête (1975), holds a persistently perplexed expression in almost every scene and Maurice Poli remains smug and nonchalant throughout, even during the film's sex scenes.
I think most genre fans yet to see this will be let down by it, but if you like me, are willing to endure a D'Amato picture, I would assume you already know what you're in for.
Posted by James Wilkes
Seasons greetings, time to get festive with a yuletide slasher. My choice for this year is Lewis Jackson's Christmas Evil, also known as You Better Watch Out, which I personally believe to be a better fitting title.
Starring: Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull, Andy Fenwick, Brian Neville and Joe Jamrog.
The idea of a 'killer Santa' verges on sheer ridiculousness, Christmas Evil, however remains somewhat serious, except for a few campy lines of dialogue, the bulk of the picture is quite a chilling tale of psychopathy and helplessness.
The story is essentially about a lonely chap named Harry Stadling (Maggart), who's completely obsessed with Christmas and the concept of Santa Claus.
As in almost all instances of slasher films, the antagonist generally suffers from one form or another of childhood trauma and Christmas Evil is certainly no exception.
In the opening minutes of the film Harry's backstory is unveiled, as we see a mother and her two sons watching Santa deliver presents to their home, unknown to the children it is really their father pretending. After they have both gone to bed, one of the two children, Harry, goes back downstairs and sees his father, still dressed up as Mr. Claus, engaging in some PG-13 romance with his mother. But, the scene is so tastefully shot that's conveyed more romantically than smutty or mentally damaging. Though, after what he has seen the young Harry retreats to his room, smashes a snow globe and deliberately cuts himself with a shard of the broken glass. Now, without being a qualified psychologist I find it questionable as to why anyone would be traumatized by such a thing.
The narrative then skips forward to a 'present day' Harry, unmarried and living alone in a small house. Incidentally, he works at Jolly Dream toy factory, where he is mocked and belittled by his colleagues, even though he holds a higher position than them. Director Lewis Jackson is wastes no time establishing Harry's mental condition, when he's shown to be scrutinizing the children of his neighborhood, before writing down the names of who's been naughty and who's been nice in specifically marked books.
As Christmas draws nearer Harry's mental state steadily declines, at first it begins quite innocently as he glues a fake white beard to his face and dons a full Santa suit. However, things become more deranged when he begins breaking into people's houses...
Christmas Evil is a bit of an oddity, it's nowhere near as strong as Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), but certainly holds a distinct charm. I believe that said charm is predicated wholly on the complexity of Harry's character. He's not a clean, glorified killer. Instead he appears to be an already disturbed individual, who's been pushed around too many times and has just 'lost it'. He makes mistakes, including one humorous scene of him attempting to fit down a chimney. I'd go as far as comparing his character somewhat to the character of William Foster, portrayed by Michael Douglas in Falling Down (1994).
Yet, towards the end of the film I found Harry garnering quite an amount of sympathy from myself, I couldn't help but root for him to get revenge against his co-worker who took advantage of him. A lot really has to be said for Brandon Maggart, as he carries most of the film on his own acting abilities. But, I feel that because of the film's slow pace and sparse killings and lack of gore, it may not appeal to newer/younger audiences.