The Deathless Devil (1972)

The Deathless Devil (1972) movie poster

director Yılmaz Atadeniz
viewed: 02/22/2017

Legends tell of Turkish trash cinema of the 1970’s. Legends and many a movie blog and other posts on ye olde internet. Yet, to this day, I’ve managed to see very few of them.

So I can’t say how much of an exemplarof Turkish trash cinema The Deathless Devil proves to be, but it’s super-fun garbage nonsense. It’s a pre-mash-up mash-up of genre stuff, notably grooving to the vibe of an old Hollywood serial starring a masked hero with no overt superpowers. Even the villain has something Ming the Merciless about his facial hair. And a cardboard robot straight out of a 1930’s sci-fi schlocker.

The fighting is not quite balletic but it’s a bit more fun than your average fight scene battles. And there is a lot of fighting.

I’ll be perfectly honest and cop to the fact that I watched this is semi-fast forward, which given the silliness, kind of worked to fly through the material and not dawdle over the details. Not sure if I missed out on this front, but it worked for me.

The Woman Eater (1958)

The Woman Eater (1958) movie poster

director Charles Saunders
viewed: 02/20/2017

For movies like 1958’s The Woman Eater, at least we’ll always have the posters.

The UK gets into the low-budget monster horror of the late 1950’s and the production is still a notch up from your average Roger Corman picture of the time. I guess the real case-in-point would be his later The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) because this too is about a killer plant.

A mad scientist (George Coulouris) treks to the Amazon and somehow manages to bring back this tree/plant/god that eats women and spits out a life-extending juice. Back in England he must turn serial abductor to bring fresh young ladies for his crazy experiments. Others have pointed out his live victims-to-healed-dead-resuscitants would make this science rather moot.

While it might be a bit above Corman in production values, it lacks his wit.

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) movie poster

director John Frankenheimer
viewed: 02/20/2017

I’ve been pining to watch the 1996 version of The Island of Dr. Moreau since watching Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014). I’d never seen it, getting a sense of the disaster from the outside back in the day of its release. But hearing the tortured journey of Richard Stanley and the outsized nuttiness of Marlon Brando, ultimately this felt like a movie that had to be seen.

And I’d put it to anyone that seeing it in some partnership with the Lost Soul documentary is a must. Brando’s over-the-top weirdness is even more fun realizing how intentional and broadly comedic it was. As well as his apparent great fondness for Nelson de la Rosa who plays Majai, the mini-Brando mutant.

It’s also interesting to see Val Kilmer at the height of his career playing such an insufferable louse bro turned Brando-imitator nutjob. Kilmer was notorious on the set as a genuine douche. It’s interesting that his career started its slide right after this.

The make-up by Stan Winston elevates aspects of the film, calling to mind again what could have been in Stanley’s lost version of the film. It’s interesting how something inspired in part by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkenss turned into its own devolving metaphorical life experience of descent into jungle madness.

I don’t know if it’s best to watch the documentary first or the film first or maybe to bookend watching the documentary with viewings of this thing.

Without a doubt, Brando steals the show.

Logan’s Run (1976)

Logan's Run (1976) movie poster

director Michael Anderson
viewed: 02/20/2017

Logan’s Run is a great example of what passed for big studio science fiction filmmaking in the 1970’s, before Star Wars.

Now Star Wars, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg may have brought about the “blockbuster” era of Hollywood, sounding the death knell of the great Hollywood director films of the Seventies, but they did up the ante on how cool science fiction could look.

I grew up with Logan’s Run, the movie, the TV show. And while it was part of the scenery, I never loved it. Watching it for the first time in decades, I’m hit by how much I remember the first 30-45 minutes of the film and then the end of the film. And not a ton in between.

For a present day viewing, the miniatures that stand in for special effects don’t even quite live up to a good Toho film. And height of the Seventies fashion design now has a somewhat charming campiness to it. The additional FX, particularly “Box” the robot, were possibly outdone on even the low budgets of the BBC’s Dr. Who of the era (and they were CHEAP!)

On the plus side, there’s Jenny Agutter. Really there was never enough Jenny Agutter. And Farrah Fawcett-Majors, the ubiquity of 1976, a standard bearer for the time. And Peter Ustinov, I actually quite like his lonely cat man.

Wherever else it falls in analysis (and there are many, many perspectives), Star Wars made science fiction “cool” and aesthetically interesting. Something it never really was (save maybe 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)) before. Logan’s Run is my documentary evidence exemplar.

Hangmen Also Die! (1943)

Hangmen Also Die! (1943) movie poster

director Fritz Lang
viewed: 02/19/2017

This year has got me thinking a lot about resistance to Nazis and fascists. So, now I’ve opened a new trope in my movie-watching “Anti-nazi/Anti-fascist movies”, particularly those made during the build-up and duration of WWII.

It’s not that Hollywood itself was ahead of the game on this, because in fact, it largely wasn’t. There was still money to be made in Europe and calling out the fascists didn’t happen a lot until war was actually declared. And by that time, the stuff shaped more in the form of propaganda a lot of the time.

Emigree director Fritz Lang made three films during WWII with explicit depiction of Nazis. He claimed to have been approached by Joseph Goebbels to join the Nazis as a propagandist and took this meeting as signal to get the heck out of Germany. Whether that story is disputable or not, Lang did emigrate and make films like Hangmen Also Die! a film noir resistance thriller based loosely on real events.

Hangmen depicts a fictional version of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi Reich Protector of German-occupied Prague, the highest ranking Nazi assassinated during the war. In Hangmen, the assassin is Brian Donlevy, a doctor involved with the underground Czech resistance. In his flight after the murder, he runs into a young woman (Anna Lee) who inadvertently helps him escape and soon becomes involved in his continued escape during a vicious and random crack-down by the nazis to root out the killer and any possible associates.

The ruthlessness and brutality of the crackdown no doubt have basis in fact, but the rest of the story is total fabrication. But it works and is tense and thrilling. Shining brightest is Tonio Selwart as the chief of the Gestapo, the canny, cruel mustachioed policeman who orders roundups and executions with cheerful disregard for humanity.

Propaganda is propaganda, but Nazis suck.

Out of Print (2014)

Out of Print (2014) movie poster

director Julia Marchese
viewed: 02/19/2017

Not much to say here. It’s nice to have a document about a local business, one that has developed such a world-wide fame as the New Beverly Theater in Los Angeles. Repertory movie theaters were few and far between even in their heyday and quite a rare thing in the contemporary world. The New Beverley sounds like it’s been pretty prime for a long time and it’s nice that this film focuses not only on the celebs who drop by but the workers and the customers who’ve long made it their home.

Out of Print stretches a little further though and focuses on the commitment to showing films on 35mm, one of the New Beverley’s main things. How continued projection of film is of value to cinema, the very medium itself.

It’s nice and there are some charming talking heads, but really the whole thing is padded heavily and gets kind of repetitive. Still, having seen some of San Francisco’s rep theaters go the way of dinosaurs, I can appreciate having captured what is captured here. And I will have to get down there sometime myself.

Long Way North (2015)

Long Way North (2015) movie poster

director Rémi Chayé
viewed: 02/18/2017

The style of this French-Danish animated feature reminded me aesthetically of Tomm Moore’s films The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, and it’s not so surprising. First time head director Rémi Chayé assistant directed the 2009 film.

Sasha is the daughter or a Russian aristocrat who leaves everything behind in a quest to find her grandfather or his missing ice-breaking ship, both of whom disappeared as he searched for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole. He’s a sort of Russian version of a Ernest Shackleton but more shaggy and fun.

It’s a nice film, with a strong female hero. It’s light but also mostly serious, with a lot less humor than your average children’s animated fare. Which isn’t really the problem.

The problem is more in the pacing and drama. Some things fly by, others happen suddenly without much impact. The polar bear scene near the end really lacked something. It’s hard to describe exactly what is off here, but both me and my daughter noticed it.

Still, enjoyable, if by no means a classic.

Sudden Fear (1952)

Sudden Fear (1952) movie poster

director David Miller
viewed: 02/17/2017

When a dictaphone is shown in the home office of a writer with such elaborate demonstration, you know it’s going be a key plot device later in the film. And that’s the thing with Sudden Fear. It’s not so much boilerplate woman-in-distress noir, as it is rather conventional and obvious.

Leave it to star Joan Crawford and an excellent Gloria Grahame and a slithery Jack Palance to give heft to this piece. And old San Francisco gets shown off in some glory as well, maybe not as primely as in a couple other notable SF noirs, but still pretty nice.

I’ve always had some weird issue with Crawford, just the extremity of her visage. Those eyebrows! That mouth! Those eyes, almost always glaring. But she’s very good here as the semi-spinsterish successful playwright who foolishly falls for an actor she fired (Palance).  Grahame on the other hand is pitch perfect as Palance’s floozy girlfriend, pretty and nasty.

I guess that’s why there were movie stars. To elevate mediocre pictures to decent ones.

The Sin of Nora Moran (1933)

The Sin of Nora Moran (1933) movie poster

director  Phil Goldstone
viewed: 02/16/2017

Unfairly obscure, Phil Goldstone’s The Sin of Nora Moran really deserves to be seen by more. The gorgeous Vargas movie poster (considered by many to be one of the most beautiful of all time) doesn’t seem to help it get seen more, at least as yet. The poster is gorgeous.

This Poverty Row proto-noir pre-code flick is perhaps far from perfect, but it has many fascinating elements, most notably its montages and editing, set in prolonged flashbacks. The striking Zita Johann stars as Nora, a girl orphaned twice, who turned to dancing and showbiz before finding herself raped by a lion tamer. And that is just the beginning.

The story unfolds in flashbacks, related by a DA (Alan Dinehart) to his sister, telling the wild tale of a lost girl who wasn’t half as tawdry as suspected. Really, she had a heart of gold (this was the Depression, of course). Her story unfolds at times as delusions she undergoes via morphine doses to calm her nerves as she sits on Death Row for a crime she did not commit but will go down for.

It’s Zita Johann and the crazy quilt montages that really deliver the film from middling mediocrity and rise it to some Hollywood version of Dziga Vertov and pop culture Surrealism. When the montages come, they come fast and furious, vivid and surprising, extremely unusual.

Goldstone was a longtime producer who only directed a dozen films, mostly in the Silent Era. Was this inventiveness his? Or some collaboration with editor Otis Garrett? Or who knows what kind of alchemy made it possible?

Really a remarkable little picture.

The Greasy Strangler (2016)

The Greasy Strangler (2016) movie poster

director Jim Hosking
viewed: 02/15/2017

Horror-comedy The Greasy Strangler has been considered somewhat polarizing in audience response from its initial showing at Sundance in 2016. Letterboxd listed it as the Most Divisive film of 2016 regarding user reviews.

So, it just figures that I find myself on neither far end of the spectrum but smackdab in the middle.

I think of it a bit like Napoleon Dynamite (2004), a film decidedly off-kilter in tone and humor, essentially a movie made to be a “cult” film. The Greasy Strangler is somewhat atonal in its humor, delivery and characterization, intentionally flat and out of step in rhythm. But it’s also intentionally gross.

The gross-out stuff is two-fold. Greasy foods, greased-up bodies, occasional gruesome kills. But also body horror of a kind, with a lot of nudity sort of warts and all of people whose bodies are far from perfect and in some cases even far from normal. Add in prosthetic genitalia both large and small and pubic areas hairier than many wild animals. Michael St. Michaels lets it all hang out and given the context of the characters and their physiques, I don’t think the film is asking us to love and accept them, but rather to be further disgusted.

So, there is that.

But it’s also kind of interesting. I’m not entirely sure what it’s all supposed to be about in the end, but Elizabeth De Razzo who also lets it all hang out is the one likable figure in the strange twisted affair.

I neither loved it nor hated it.