Shock (1946)

Shock (1946) movie poster

director Alfred L. Werker
viewed: 4/20/2017

Shock is a film noir starring Vincent Price and Lynn Bari, set supposedly in San Francisco and the Bay Area, though not a frame of the film looks to have been shot on location.

The “Shock” of the title befalls a young woman (Anabel Shaw) who has come to the city to meet her husband returning from WWII. Her husband, though, is running late, and in a distressed state of mind, she witnesses a murder (by candlestick) in a neighboring room and is later found catatonic. Conveniently enough, the murderer is also a crack psychiatrist and is also Vincent Price, who takes her to his sanatorium for treatment. Only his conniving nurse/lover (Bari), a true femme fatale, thinks they should brainwash or kill her or just call her crazy.

On the edgier side of the style and genre is an early dream sequence of Shaw’s that involves some surreal imagery and is kind of interesting. Outside of that, it’s neither the richest or the poorest noir you’ll ever see, though it remains consistently interesting throughout its concise 70 minutes.

Films in the public domain aren’t always in the best shape, but Shock is certainly worthwhile. And the poster is pretty sweet.

The House of Seven Corpses (1974)

The House of Seven Corpses (1974) movie poster

director Paul Harrison
viewed: 04/19/2017

The best thing going for the “zombie” flick, The House of Seven Corpses, is the house itself. The Utah Governor’s mansion is quite an interesting-looking place. Sadly, what goes down there isn’t all that notable.

A crew is at the house to make a horror picture. Only when they start to read from the Tibetan Book of the Dead for added realism, it manages to bring back to life the corpses buried nearby. You’ve seen this plot or its facsimiles in other, better movies.

For its lameness, it’s not a cheaply produced sort of film. John Carradine is still moderately spry for the 1970’s.

Toward the end, when the action (so to speak) ensues, the film shows flashes of switching into outright comedy. But that is a head-fake. It’s just a movie without a lot to offer or recommend.

Gimme Danger (2016)

Gimme Danger (2016) movie poster

director Jim Jarmusch
viewed: 04/17/2017

When one of your favorite directors makes a documentary about one of your favorite bands, that is pretty much a cinematic slam dunk, right?

Unfortunately, Jim Jarmusch’s Stooges documentary Gimme Danger isn’t the great construct that it might have been. On the plus side, you’ve got Iggy Pop reminiscing widely on the birth, life, and death of the Stooges, as well as some input from other members, managers, and family. Certainly worthwhile for a fan.

But the style of the documentary isn’t great, hardly signature Jarmusch, not that he’s known for documentaries. It’s nice that it covers the period of reunion for the band, especially since the deaths of the Asheton brothers since. In fact, it might have been interesting to spend more time on the brothers’ lives between the break-up and reunion. It certainly seems like stories are there.

I have this thing I think about writing about something you love versus something that you have more critical distance from: it’s harder. Not that this is a love poem, but it feels like the story might have been more interestingly crafted with some critical distance.

As a document, it’s cool enough. It surely demonstrates that when you are too far ahead of your time for commercial success in your day, hopefully you’ll live long enough to have your cool recognized by the masses.

The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus (1962)

The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus (1962) French movie poster

director Jesús Franco
viewed: 04/16/2017

If you produce films by the hundreds, perhaps it’s not unusual that style and content may diverge from one film to another. Having only seen a fraction of Jesús Franco’s output, I’m a little loath to draw any broad sweeping conclusions, but based on The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962) and now The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus, it seems that his earlier films were made with greater production values, with more full studio production, and gorgeous black-and-white aesthetics.

By the late Sixties he was much more his own man, producing his own films and weaving his weird world of Eurotrash cinema. But these early 1960’s films would look good next to works by Georges Franju or Mario Bava. They are good-looking movies, bristling with a not yet fully unleashed perversity.

The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus is a sort of horror film and has been cited as a pre-giallo, which is most apt. As good-looking as it is, it’s also a bit slow-going, especially at first. Girls are being murdered in a countryside haunted by tales of a long-dead murderous Baron Von Klaus, and a reporter is dispatched and the police are on the scene, while things develop.

It’s not until the end when the torture scene cuts loose that Franco’s passion for perversity flashes to the fore. For 1962, this sexual sadomasochism seems rather pronounced. It’s vivid and surprising, especially given the rest of the film.

The ending, too, is beautifully-shot. It’s amazing what Franco could achieve with the right production staff. One might be tempted to suggest that these aesthetic qualities came more from the crew than from Franco himself since he abandoned lush aesthetics pretty quickly.

I need to read up more on him so I won’t be as speculative. These early films are visually pleasing, but it seems Franco preferred freedom to quality.

The Zodiac Killer (1971)

The Zodiac Killer (1971) movie poster

director Tom Hanson
viewed: 04/15/2017

The Zodiac Killer is an interesting artifact. It’s an Exploitation picture made by Tom Hanson on the quick and cheap primarily as a stunt to try and trap the actual Zodiac Killer himself in the theater, coming to see a movie about his doings. Hanson premiered the film in San Francisco, self-promoting, and set up an elaborate, highly flawed scheme involving questionnaire cards and a motorcycle raffle, and a guy in a freezer to try to catch the killer (Temple of Schlock has a interesting interview with Hanson on the details).

What’s left for viewers in 2017 is a freshened-up print of the film from AGFA and Something Weird, where it plays out as a sleazy little thriller made on the serious cheap. Based on some facts of the case and some wildly speculative additions, it oozes misogyny, grit, and grime.

It opens with a bit of a head-fake, suggesting that the killer might be a middle aged scumbag truck driver but quickly shifts to a younger, disaffected rabbit-loving devil worshiping mailman (played by Hal Read).

Considering its low budget and swift production as a means to an end, it’s unsurprisingly inconsistent but alternatively effective.

 

The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964) movie poster

director Michael Carreras
viewed: 04/14/2017

I really had to challenge myself to figure out that I have indeed seen The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb before. It’s the opening moment, when an archaeologist is killed and his hand cut off that most rang a bell. Also, a more innocuous scene not long after when his body is dropped in front of his daughter seemed familiar, as did the ignoble end of the mummy in this picture when a sewer system falls on top of him (which is seems like he initiated).

Oh,…spoiler alert.

Actually, my favorite thing in the movie was Fred Clark as Alexander King, a kind of low-lever Carl Denham (of King Kong) or general American huckster who wants to tour the mummy as a show, unveiling and unveiling for audiences hungry for thrills. His loud-mouthed American both clearly obnoxious and also kind of charming.

But really, the mummy in this movie doesn’t get moving until pretty late in the show. It kind of picks up in the last act, but it’s still pretty weak stuff. You too will be forgiven for forgetting if you’d seen this one before.

Revenge of the Virgins (1959)

Revenge of the Virgins (1959) movie poster

director  Peter Perry Jr.
viewed: 04/10/2017

The Nudist film genre isn’t perhaps the most fecund of genres in cinema, but the weirder they get, the more interesting.

Revenge of the Virgins is low-budget nudie cutie Western about a group of would-be profiteers heading into dangerous Indian territory in search of gold. Only the Indians in this case are a small tribe of topless women (all the men are dead), led by a sole blonde, who was raised by the tribe since birth. All of the buxom beauties are clearly Caucasian, and they’re also might good with a bow and arrow.

Topless Indians is one thing, but this film goes one step weirder and lives up to its title. At less than an hour’s running time, I hope you won’t mind the spoiler, but the native girls do get their revenge and murder all of the white people who came to take the gold. In fact, the “Virgins” toss the gold back in the river at the end.

This unintentionally semi-revisionist ending comes from writer Ed Wood, Jr. who scripted this thing. Oddly enough, the production values are higher than anything Wood directed himself, and vaguely more coherent, though also painfully derivative Western slang and terms abound.

It’s terrible and pretty darn slow, but I kind of liked it.

In My Skin (2002)

In My Skin (2002) movie poster

director  Marina de Van
viewed: 04/09/2017

I had queued up Marina de Van’s In My Skin back when I started revisiting the “New French Extremism” of the early Aughts. It’s through randomization that it came to me recently.

Marina de Van stars as Esther, an up and coming something or other in an office, who randomly injures her leg and quickly becomes obsessed with her wound and wounding herself more and more. It seems apt that it’s Marina de Van herself doing all this self-mortification, because from that perspective, it’s a pretty gnarly thing. The FX are convincing and gruesome and her body is her canvass.

But there is also something missing here, and I want to say it’s the psychology of the character. The descent into madness is made as easily as stepping in dog poo on the street. It doesn’t feel coherent exactly.

But carve away as she does, the viscera is visceral, and even without the psychological logic or connection, her knifework is keen. While it doesn’t fully achieve its goals, it has some things for which to recommend it as well.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)

The Handmaid's Tale (1990) movie poster

director  Volker Schlöndorff
viewed: 04/08/2017

Q: Which ‘topia?
A: Dystopia

Margaret Atwood’s 1985 speculative fiction novel The Handmaid’s Tale is very of the moment in 2017 United States, as are a number of works depicting dystopias and bleak futures under fascism. And of course there is the new show about to start, re-adapting the novel. Which is good, because Volker Schlöndorff’s 1990 film didn’t really manage to capture it all that well.

Schlöndorff almost literally adapts the book, and the cast is good, featuring Natasha Richardson (RIP), Faye Dunaway, Elizabeth McGovern and Robert Duvall as reasonable facsimilies of the characters of the book.

But outside of a couple of scenes of masses of people being shoved around, the film doesn’t succeed very well. Many, including Richardson herself, felt that the film needed a voiceover narrative as the book comes from the interior of Offred (Richardson). But who knows? Hopefully the new show will hit it right.

I would like to single out Elizabeth McGovern, though. Her Moira was one of the best things in the film, despite her relatively limited screen time.

Hopefully we can turn the tide here and not let America devolve into Gilead. It’s going to take a lot of work.

Your Name (2016)

Your Name (2016) movie poster

director Makoto Shinkai
viewed: 04/08/2017 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

I often take my kids to movies on the weekends, and while we do hit some of the blockbusters and such, we also try to see more unusual or offbeat stuff.

So this weekend, I looked and there was not a lot calling my name. I was vaguely interested in Kong: Skull Island and the documentary about James Baldwin, I am Not Your Negro, but kind of uninspired. Then I saw that a new anime feature was playing, one I hadn’t really read much about. I thought, “Cool, maybe the kids would dig that.” And they were into it.

The weird thing was this Japanese animated feature Your Name was playing EVERYWHERE, including our local neighborhood cinema. And it was playing on the largest screen in the theater, squeezing Beauty and the Beast and Ghost in the Shell into the smaller ones. I guess it was massively popular elsewhere but this is pretty unprecedented, even in San Francisco.

Well, you know what? It’s pretty fucking lame.

It’s beautifully animated, but it’s a sort of teenager The Lake House with a boy and a girl occasionally swapping bodies because of a comet and some temporal shifts. I found it unengaging and kinda dull.

My son liked it okay. I couldn’t get my daughter out of bed.

So much for the most interesting thing I could find.