Viy (1967)

Viy (1967) movie poster

directors Konstantin Yershov, Georgi Kropachyov
viewed: 03/01/2017

Whether it’s considered horror or just dark fantasy, the 1967 Soviet picture Viy is pretty awesome. Since being turned on to Russian fantastika cinema, I’ve become a still very wet behind the ears devotee.

But up until this point, I’d only seen the films of Aleksandr Rou. One of the other key names that comes up is Aleksandr Ptushko. Ptushko worked on the effects of Viy and the neither of the film’s two directors Konstantin Yershov nor Georgi Kropachyov have many other credits to their names. I’m not attributing anything, just saying what little I can here. Viy is adapted from Ukrainian the folk tales that Nikolai Gogol wrote, for one more key name.

Compared to Rou’s films, it’s quite a bit much more dark, though still very much steeped in the fantasy worlds of Russian storytelling. Other viewers have compared it to Sam Raimi, noting the somewhat comic aspects of the story of a young wastrel of a would-be priest sitting up three nights with the body of a witch that he killed. But oddly I was reminded of aspects of Japanese horror films about the work, a flavor of that, perhaps.

Viy is not nonstop insanity, but it eventually gets there. The visual effects and designs are surprising and strange, building up to a total phantasmagoria at the end, as good as anything I’ve seen. It’s not the kind of horror that will scare you, but Viy is visually wonderful.

I watched this on YouTube, which isn’t something I do often. So worth it, though.

The Earth Dies Screaming (1964)

The Earth Dies Screaming (1964) movie poster

director Terence Fisher
viewed: 03/01/2017

Interestingly, when The Earth Dies Screaming, it does it somewhat silently. It takes 6-8 minutes before a word is spoken.

Actually, the opening sequence of the film is by far its most impressive. With no real explanation, planes and trains and cars crash, people topple over, and no reasoning is given. It’s a very evocative and chilling opening to what becomes a concise and though-provoking end of the world science fiction flick from director Terence Fisher.

As survivors begin to meet up in a little English village, the best they can figure is that some gas attack has come but they know not from where or by whom. In fact, even as the end of the film arrives, it’s never fully explained who is behind this killing.

There are some kind of interesting if slow-moving robots and even some white-eyed revived dead, suggesting perhaps an alien intelligence behind it, but as this comes as well from the height of the Cold War, more terrestrial agents could have been at it too.

The film can’t live up to its opening, but it’s still quite a good little thriller.

Doctor Butcher, M.D. (1980)

Doctor Butcher, M.D. (1980) movie poster

director Marino Girolami
viewed: 02/27/2017

Cannibals and zombies and mad doctors, oh my!

This Zombie Holocaust came to me by way of Doctor Bucther, M.D., both good movie names in my book. Apparently nonsequiturs occur more in the original version, but the film’s madcap pace keeps you from really pondering how all this stuff fits together.

What starts out in a New York hospital as weird cannibalism apparently by immigrants from the Molucca islands (which throughout the film I heard as “Mulatto Islands”) then heads to said islands to investigate. Somehow an anthropology expert who grew up in the Molucca islands (Alexandra Delli Colli) never heard of such things and alongside head doctor (Ian McCulloch) find themselves investigating this biz instead of say, the cops.

This is where the cannibals and zombies and mad doctor are. The zombies turn out to not exactly be zombies but lobotomized people who’ve endured major surgical shenanigans by the local mad doctor of the title.

It’s gory and silly and racist and peppy. And hard to not enjoy.

Frightmare (1974)

Frightmare (1974) movie poster

director Pete Walker
viewed: 02/26/2017

I hadn’t seen any Pete Walker movies but I had a bunch in my queue at Fandor. So I finally got around to watching Frightmare, and I quite liked it. Only to find that most of his films have disappeared from Fandor. Actually, I’ve noticed that a lot of films have quietly been disappearing from Fandor. I am beginning to wonder if Fandor is going extinct.

Surprising and weird and fairly gory, Frightmare is a pretty interesting odd bird of a film. The oddest of birds is Sheila Keith as Dorothy Yates, serial killer extraordinaire alongside loving and helpful Edmund (Rupert Davies). Daughter Debbie (Kim Butcher) is apparently a bird of a feather, an apple fallen not far from the mother’s crazy tree despite apparently having no knowledge of the existence of the mad couple (who were just released from prison/psych ward).

I’ll definitely have to get around to other Pete Walker films. I hope that Fandor can rise again.

Blood Is the Color of Night (1964)

Blood Is the Color of Night (1964) movie poster

director Gerardo de Leon
viewed: 02/25/2017

Blood Is the Color of Night and that color is transcendent. Be it blue, or red, or green.

Gerardo de Leon’s Blood Is the Color of Night a.k.a. The Blood Drinkers is another ridiculously entertaining horror flick from the 1960’s. It’s a vampire movie made originally for the Philippines market, re-dubbed for amusement and enlightenment elsewhere. And certainly that regionalism is part of its charm, not playing to the world but to a local audience.

More than anything, though, is that mother of invention, necessity, which led de Leon to the film’s most notable quality. With an apparent limit of full color film, much of the movie is filmed in tinted black and white in hues of red and blue and green. This technique was not uncommon in the Silent Era, but is intensely surprising and evocative here, heightening aesthetic values far above where they would have been in mere “color”.

I totally dug it.

Prey (1977)

Prey (1977) screen title

director  Norman J. Warren
viewed: 02/25/2017

Unfamiliar with Prey going in, I find it odd that it was sold or marketed or considered an exploitation film of any kind. It would be easy to see how disappointing it would be on that front, from a sex or gore or outrageousness angle.

A humanoid alien (Barry Stokes) with super-cheap feline facets lands in the English countryside and quickly assumes the form of one of his victims. He meets up with a couple of young women who are vegetarians, living alone in an estate, going through a messy time of a relationship between themselves. The older and more dominant of the two, Josephine (Sally Faulkner) sees this alien interloper as a threat to her relationship with Jessica-Ann (Glory Annen) and the alien finds eating anything except meat to be a problem.

What most struck me about the film is how akin it is to Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (2013), with an obvious gender reversal in the alien. It’s an alien come to earth to predate on humans but also to live amongst them, try to understand them, and even explore their sexuality.

The sexual exploration in the film seems to have garnered a fair amount of analysis and critique. I don’t know that I have anything fresh to add, but it’s intriguing.

While it may be a wash as a more shocking or exploitative thing, it winds up a curious character piece. Albeit with some awful alien prosthetics.

Paterson (2016)

Paterson (2016) movie poster

director Jim Jarmusch
viewed: 02/25/2017 at Opera Plaza Cinema, SF, CA

Paterson was an interesting contrast to Addicted to Fresno (2015), the movie the kids and I had watched just the night before. Both movies foreground an American city, placing it in the title of the film and in a sense, making it the subject of their film as well. In Fresno, Fresno was given mere lip service as a location, a stand-in for anywhere that sucks.

Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is much different. Paterson, NJ is on fine display in Jarmusch’s film, from the beautiful old factory buildings to the lovely waterfall that is the favorite spot of protagonist, Paterson (Adam Driver). The more mundane downtown shows itself, bustling, in various states of repair and disrepair. We see it go by as Paterson the man drives his city bus around. And the nice neighborhood in which he lives with his girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and his English bulldog, Marvin.

Paterson is both man and city, a point made into a joke at one point, but key to discerning the film and what it’s after. Because Paterson as well is as much about the people that Jarmusch populates the film and city, a genial working class world significantly diverse, kind, and open-hearted, if occasionally, intentionally off-beat.

Paterson the man is also a poet, with a creative, encouraging woman at home. He scribbles his words into a notebook, repeating them onscreen as he writes and re-writes them. The film, like the poet, observes small things in everyday life, appreciate little moments and interactions. And really, I think that is a large part of the point of the film, which itself is a quiet, gentle observation of people and place.

My kids were a bit nonplussed by the film. I, myself, liked it. Not as much as Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), but pretty well.

I was brought to mind of another film with a New Jersey location that also played out a paean to the city of its heart. That film is Be Kind Rewind (2008) and that city was Passaic, NJ, and though it made a lot of the town, it didn’t enter it into its title, nor is it for which the film is most known.

Addicted to Fresno (2015)

Addicted to Fresno (2015) movie poster

director Jamie Babbit
viewed: 02/24/2017

There is not enough Fresno in Addicted to Fresno. I can’t believe that I’ve made the statement about there being not enough Fresno in anything. But you know, when you put a place in the name of your movie, you really should have a modicum of commitment to it.

Apparently, this movie idea was dreampt up by screenwriter Karey Dornetto and director Jamie Babbit as set in Cleveland (there was a short film that they made called “Fucking Cleveland”) but the film was moved to Fresno, CA for budgetary reasons and as to quote ye olde Wikipedia “a location they chose because it seemed like it was a city people wanted to get away from.”

And that is just it. Part of the reason I wanted to see Addicted to Fresno is because of Fresno (my sister lives there and my family resides around that part of the state). Instead it’s pretty super generic even though it was apparently filmed there.

What’s left is a somewhat raunchy comedy about a recovering sex addict (Judy Greer) who is staying with her sister (Natasha Lyonne) and working at a nondescript motel as cleaning ladies. Aubrey Plaza shows up as a Lyonne’s love interest.

The film is populated by a number of recognizable and good comic character actors and more than anything, it’s the cast that really elevates the film to reasonable levels of entertainment.

Tarkan Versus the Vikings (1971)

Tarkan Versus the Vikings (1971) movie poster

director Mehmet Arslan
viewed: 02/22/2017

I’m not sure what the A-side or B-side was but I watched Tarkan Versus the Vikings after speeding through The Deathless Devil (1972), twice the Turkish junk fun from that decade of decades, the 1970’s.

For my money, Tarkan was more fun. You start with the stabbing of babies by those ruthless Vikings. You kill Tarkan’s dog, Kurt. You’ve got gobs and gobs of quite entertaining fight staging. A giant rubber octopus. And lots of ladies wanting to get butt nekkid with Tarkan like he’s a tartar James Bond.

To be honest, I speeded through a lot of this movie too. But I stand by it. It kind of works, upping the action and zipping through the lower moments. I doubt I missed anything significant.

Apparently, Kartal Tibet made a number of Tarkan movies, so I won’t try to speculate too much on how representative this one is. There is some interesting nationalism at play as well as some kind of interesting racial depictions, particularly of the Chinese vamp Lotus (Seher Seniz). But I suppose to ruminate on this I should have at least watched it at normal speed.