The New York Ripper (1982)

The New York Ripper (1982) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 06/26/2017

Lucio Fulci takes giallo to New York and finds it a city full of perversity. Sex is on sale on every corner, live sex acts are applauded like great theater, open marriage is a license for the licentious, and even the cops shack up with prostitutes. If you think you aren’t full of smut, you’re probably repressing something.

It’s in this landscape, the still very gritty New York City of the very early 1980’s, that a serial killer who talks like Donald Duck takes to great extremes of sexual violence, like the unleashed Id of a sick society.

It’s a filthy, gritty giallo with primo gore effects to make even the least squeamish to grimace or cringe. It’s also Fulci at the top of his game, delving into the depths of sleaze to come up with a gruesome classic.

It also seems to take a cue from perhaps Paul Schrader’s Hardcore (1979) or even William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980), delving in the darkness of the city and the openness of lurid sexuality. God knows this is our lost New York.

The New York Ripper lives up to its reputation.

Danny Says (2015)

Danny Says (2015) movie poster

director Brendan Toller
viewed: 06/25/2017

Of the many music documentaries of late, I enjoyed Danny Says the most. Production-wise, it’s not dissimilar to Gimme Danger (2016), using interviews, old photos, old video, and even animation, but something about it, and maybe it’s Danny Fields himself (who does appear in the Stooges documentary, as Iggy Pop appears here).  The stories are almost entirely Danny’s, coming from his own recollections, of one of the most incredible life/career in late 20th century music.

To tell his story would sound like braggadocio if it weren’t all true. Starting out by publishing the interview that started the end for the Beatles to signing the Doors, the Stooges, the MC5, and the Ramones, and so so so so SO much more.

The rebellious nature of gay culture absolutely gave a place for punk to arise and thrive. It can’t be better stated than by John Cameron Mitchell, who says that Danny Fields was “Handmaiden to the gods, midwife to some of the most important people in music.” Fields’s taste in music wound up redefining music, without playing a note himself.

Port of Shadows (1938)

Port of Shadows (1938) movie poster

director Marcel Carné
viewed: 06/24/2017

Port of Shadows may be the Frenchest French film ever made. Though I suppose that depends on your perception of France and the French. Luc Sante wrote that it “possesses nearly all the qualities that were once synonymous with the idea of French cinema,” and that it is an exemplar of “poetic realism“.

Jean Gabin stumbles into La Havre, which is drenched in fog, from one near fist fight to another, smoking and brooding about life. And then Michèle Morgan, just a kid really at 17, and yet more a woman than many twice her age. Morgan, like Gabin, like most any frame of Port of Shadows is a luminous cinematic image, eternal.

This also falls into the “proto-noir” categorization, noir before noir.

Like a transmission in a dream.

The Bad Batch (2016)

The Bad Batch (2016) movie poster

director Ana Lily Amirpour
viewed: 06/24/2017 at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema – New Mission, SF, CA

I’ve been eagerly awaiting Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch since I watched her A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014).

And…I’m not sure how successful it is, or isn’t.

It’s a cool-looking movie, set in some desert outside of Texas where the unredeemable of society are dumped. As Amirpour grew up in Bakersfield, it’s a landscape not too far away from reality or today, perhaps especially as embodied around the Salton Sea.

But this is a thing of fiction and the future as well. These outlands are inhabited by iron-pumping cannibals and blissed-out trash hipsters. And star Suki Waterhouse finds out the hard way, losing an arm and a leg to the first while trying to figure out her place with the latter.

But it’s a film with a confused message, one of revenge…and then not. And I think that is maybe one of the issues: it seems like it’s heading in a fairly narrative-driven way, and then sort of doesn’t. And it’s hard to say if this play with narrative is intentional or misguided, or maybe even something that might make sense eventually.

On one end of the spectrum is Jason Momoa, the biggest pile of beef in the wasteland. Gosh knows he and his crew probably need all that human protein to stay so ripped and huge. On the other end, is Keanu Reeves, a.k.a. “The Dream”, who leads a town of “Comfort” as a small town on the playa. It would be like Burning Man, but he’s also got a drug enterprise and an armada of armed pregnant women who he’s apparently inseminated. He proselytizes a new age-y pseudo religion that is clearly creepy, but also…

In the end, I really don’t know. I was brought to mind of the line from Moby Dick “Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian” and maybe that has something to do with the ending, but also maybe not.

I really liked a lot of the movie and I can’t wait for Amirpour to make more movies.

Pitfall (1962)

Pitfall (1962) movie poster

director Hiroshi Teshigahara
viewed: 06/23/2017

Wow. And I mean, wow.

Pitfall is indeed an amazing film, a complex interweaving of realism, social criticism, fantasy, and the surreal. Profound and weird, and deeply unsettling, stark and vivid and so, so much.

Pitfall was the first cinematic collaboration between director Hiroshi Teshigahara, writer Kōbō Abe, and composer Toru Takemitsu. But it’s the third of Techigahara’s films that I watched after The Face of Another (1966) and Woman of the Dunes (1964), and of the three, the most immediately striking, already having me recontemplating the others in retrospect.

The film starts out semi-mysteriously, with two men and a young boy, stealing away from a town, sneaking to someplace, hiding from something. And it only get more and more strange and mysterious. While we come to know these men are hiding from some authority, while trying to earn a living as miners. As the story comes into clarity, it shifts into the otherworldly, with the dead observing the living, an abandoned mining camp, littered with ghosts.

There is some significant grotesqueries from the rape of a woman to the skinning of a live frog, harsh imagery, loaded and haunting.

There are films that sit with me long after viewing. This film, for me, is just beginning.

Beast of Blood (1970)

Beast of Blood (1970) movie poster

director  Eddie Romero
viewed: 06/22/2017

If I could live in a world of wall-to-wall Filipino horror trash cinema, I would. And in that world, Beast of Blood would be one of the lesser regions, not as fully appreciated as Brides of Blood or its actual predecessor, Mad Doctor of Blood Island.

Following on the heels of Mad Doctor, it’s the further adventures of said doctor and his chlorophyll blood beast, though the monster spends most of the film with his head on one table and his body on another, not able to do a lot of damage while all the action takes place.

The one real added perk here is (I think) Liza Belmonte as Laida, who first appears on screen shoving a camera out of her face and confronting the blonde lead for taking photos without permission. She also is quite deft with a knife and gets quite a good amount of ass-kicking. A little proto-feminism never hurts.

Still, not enough to elevate Beast of Blood to its other Filipino horror trash brethren.

In a Lonely Place (1950)

In a Lonely Place (1950) movie poster

director Nicholas Ray
viewed: 06/21/2017

The pessimism of film noir, the dark soul of post-war America already fully formed in 1950. Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place is a noir of the soul, as well as a noir of Hollywood. It’s certainly placed within the world of the machine of movie-making dreams, the dark side, behind the scenes, the drunken, the embittered, the misanthropic.

The film’s very anti-Hollywood ending, maybe the surprise that was unexpected, that love does not conquer all, vindication for a criminal charge doesn’t solve the problems, that the darkness of men’s souls may still overtake it all. Hardly riding off into the sunset after a prolonged kiss.

I’d seen In a Lonely Place before, decades ago, and was duly impressed, as I am with most of Ray’s movies. But more recently, I read the novel In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes, which is absolutely among the best crime novels I’ve read. What’s amazing is how far departed the film and the book are, so far departed that they are truly absolutely distinct entities, whose qualities are as different as the works themselves.

Hughes’s novel is about a serial killer, a lost man, back from the War, haunting the greater Los Angeles as he kills and kills again. It’s a haunting, frightening portrait, not at all the psychological violence that underscores this film. In Ray’s picture, the violence is under the skin, in the heart and mind, and mostly off-screen, utterly in the soul.

It’s also remarkably funny and snappy as well. Some really great dialogue.

A classic film from a classic book (that more people should read) though barely the twain really meet.

Killer Party (1986)

Killer Party (1986) movie poster

director William Fruet
viewed: 06/21/2017

Killer Party is a mess, a meta-horror-comedy not committed enough to one direction to succeed fully in any, and yet, I found it kind of fun.

It’s not so much the sum of its parts, nor mostly any one part in particular, save one. And that one, for me, anyways, is Sherry Willis-Burch as Vivia. Willis-Burch has only one other screen credit, a 1981 slasher, Final Exam, but she brings a level of wit to Vivia, carrying off some of the better lines. She’s a bit like a far less polished Kate McKinnon, in looks and character.

The plot, a prank-filled hazing April Fool’s party in a haunted derelict mansion, is almost besides the point. While it’s easy to see why others shrug this film off, I found it amusing.

Rancho Notorious (1952)

Rancho Notorious (1952) movie poster

director Fritz Lang
viewed: 06/19/2017

Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious starts out with a rape and murder of a pretty shop owner by a vicious outlaw. For 1952, this suggestion is hardly detailed and yet more explicit than implicit. This is the event that spurs Vern (Arthur Kennedy) on a long, lonesome road to revenge, tracking through Indian territory on the trail of an outlaw, and finding himself at a secretive ranch run by a former showgirl Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich), who now harbors criminals for 10% of their loot.

The bandits that meet up there range broadly in the crimes and characters, and Vern comes to hide among them but also to identify with some of them, most significantly Frenchy Fairmont (Mel Ferrer), Keane’s long-time semi-beau. This is familiar territory for Lang, a criminal underworld, but one with its own ethics, honesty, and sense of fair play.

Really, it’s Vern who is the deceiver, playing a wanted outlaw to get close to the criminals who killed his girl. Though he joins them on a bank robbery, tying himself to the criminals, it’s his betrayal of Keane’s rules that allow him to eke out his revenge.

This is late Lang, a period somewhat disdained by his fans and critics. Produced and re-named by Howard Hughes, this is a cheapie by Hollywood standards. But Rancho Notorious was a film that Lang developed more fully than most, from conception to completion, and it bears the qualities of the work of one of the true auteurs in Hollywood.

It’s also got Dietrich, right at the top, a meta-legend in the story, and an aging movie star still relatively youthful at her age of 51.

I always seem to find Lang’s films sit with me, develop more and more in retrospect, and I sense that Rancho Notorious will as well.

From Hell It Came (1957)

From Hell It Came (1957) movie poster

director Dan Milner
viewed: 06/18/2017

If they made Moana in 1957, it might have come out as From Hell It Came. It’s a time when depicting stories from the South Seas had nothing to do with broadening inclusiveness. Rather these islands were exotica and the primitive all rolled into one, and the depictions herein are as mangled and weird as any rendering Polynesia on film.

But goddam! The “Tobanga”, tree zombie, resurrected for revenge. Made by Paul Blaisdell, he might not exactly get around all that easily, but he can carry a swooning beauty with any monster from the 1950’s. Add that together with the pretty awesome poster and the title, From Hell It Came, and you’ve got a pretty compelling potash no matter what actually happens in the movie.

Me, I love this kind of stuff. So much so, I don’t really know exactly how to rate it.

It features a slew of really funny lines, whose intentionality ranges broadly. The monster tree has a heartbeat (apparently exterior) that looks quite like a swollen sphincter as much like a knurl. Wonderful crackpot pseudoscience too.

Sublime junk.