La residencia (1970)

La residencia (1970) movie poster

director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
viewed: 08/12/2018

A shade of giallo and Hitchcock’s Psycho tint La Residencia, so inaptly re-named in English The House That Screamed. Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s elegant and sophisticated boarding school horror film could almost be a “Women In Prison” movie, “Young Girls In Reform School,” if you will.

Señora Fourneau (Lilli Palmer) runs her school for wayward girls with an iron fist, dishing out rigorous structure and necessary punishment with a flair of S&M.

“This is a boarding school, not a prison.”
“If it isn’t one, we’ll make it one!”

The repression and desire of the girls brought to mind Don Siegel’s The Beguiled , though the only roosters in this hen house is Señora Fourneau’s also repressed son, Luis (John Moulder-Brown), a gristly handyman, and the occasional visits by the hunky woodsman.

“None of these girls is any good. You need a girl like me.”

Mama Fourneau forces the Oedipal on Luis and let’s just say that the results are … “interesting.”

Another solid horror film from the director who also gave us Who Can Kill a Child?

Women’s Prison Massacre (1983)

Women's Prison Massacre (1983) movie poster

director  Bruno Mattei
viewed: 08/07/2018

A weird avant-grade theater sequence belies the otherwise straightforward sleaze of Women’s Prison Massacre. And quality sleaze it certainly is.

Laura Gemser stars in what is likely the first Laura Gemser flick I’ve ever seen in which she didn’t get naked even once. The rest of the cast makes up for that in an abundance of flesh.

Albina the faux albino (Ursula Flores) is Gemser’s primary foil in the first half of the film, which is a sort of by the numbers “women in prison” flick. The formula takes a major twist when a quartet of vile male criminals are set to be temporarily housed in this women’s prison. They break out, take over, and sex and violence rule the roost.

It’s quality from a sleaze point of view if not from others.

Most amusing tidbit: “The sole bit of unintentional humor comes from the proliferation of expensive hosiery worn by the female cast, which was courtesy of the film’s main producer, a French undergarments company.” – Paul Gaita, AllMovie.

A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973)

A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973) movie poster

director Jesús Franco
viewed: 08/05/2018

I think I may be forgiven for mistaking A Virgin Among the Living Dead as one of Jesús Franco’s lesser works. In reality, it’s one of his best.

The late 1960s through early 1970s, when gratuitous nudity was de rigueur, Jess Franco found himself as director. Franco burned brightly during this time and in this period made his finest films. True, along with some much less fine films, but when you’re releasing upwards to a dozen films a year, they’re not all going to be wonderful.

Here, Jess appears as a babbling idiot, a gofer for a family of arch weirdness, kooky sexuality, and supernatural possibility. Christina (Christina von Blanc) comes to visit, having never met any of her family before, and discovers her heritage isn’t what you’d call “run of the mill”.

For me, this is one of Franco’s most aesthetically pleasing films. The dreamy nightmare is beautiful and the plot isn’t challenged by unnecessary logic.

It’s been a decade since I saw Vampyros Lesbos and Venus in Furs, two other high point Francos. A Virgin Among the Living Dead may be in the running for my favorite.

The Tenant (1976)

The Tenant (1976) movie poster

director  Roman Polanski
viewed: 07/29/2018

Fear thy neighbor.

“The previous tenant threw herself out of the window. Ha!” (I love Shelley Winters more every day.)

The Tenant takes personal alienation from society to new precipitous heights and then throws them out the window. Not once, but at least twice.

Roman Polanski’s 1976 movie was first recommended to me by a colleague from grad school who had a penchant for disturbing movies. And I had to agree, it out-paranoided Rosemary’s Baby in its portrayal of dissociation from one’s neighbors, right in one’s very building, right on one’s very floor.

The reason for the tenant’s fears, real or imagined, or real and imagined, brought on by alcoholism or the supernatural, this is societal dysphoria, pan-dysphoria.

“What right has my head to call itself me?”

Was Sven Nykvist’s claustrophobic cinematography an influence on the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink (1991)?

Death Sentence (1968)

Death Sentence (1968) movie poster

director Mario Lanfranchi
viewed: 07/25/2018

Death Sentence is an interesting if not essential Spaghetti Western. Notable for it’s four act structure, a quartet of revenge plays set Cash/Django (Robin Clarke) on the trails of his brother’s four killers.

Many agree that the first sequence, starring Richard Conte is the film’s strongest segment as Clarke hounds him in the desert as Conte’s Diaz has a gun but no water and Cash has water but no pistol.

Tomas Milian really chews scenery as the albino O’Hara, or at least tries to. 

Clarke has the rugged looks of late Sixties manliness, but doesn’t exactly exude charisma. When he digs a bullet out of his thigh to get his revenge – that’s pretty rad.

Terrible theme song.

The Blood Spattered Bride (1972)

The Blood Spattered Bride (1972) movie poster

director Vicente Aranda
viewed: 07/24/2018

The Blood Spattered Bride offers lots of Freudian/Jungian imagery relating to brutal masculinity and sexuality.

Director Vicente Aranda deals not so much in pulp but in the artsier vein, ultimately channeling Sheridan Le Fanu’s oft-channeled Carmilla into some lesbian vampire biz. With a proto-feminist heft.

“Destroy his masculinity!”

The best scene is the most surreal, when the husband finds the naked blonde buried in wet sand at the beach, having survived through her snorkel. Digging her out and feeling her up in one act.

Certainly interesting.

Phenomena (1985)

Phenomena (1985) movie poster

director Dario Argento
viewed: 07/18/2018

I first encountered Dario Argento’s Phenomena as Creepers back in 1985 in the theater. Lucky me! I don’t recall my exact impression, though years later when I realized I’d viewed a compromised and hacked-up version, I wasn’t terribly surprised.

As a lot of folks have noted, Phenomena reuses several scenarios from Suspiria, which isn’t such a bad thing, but makes for a little confusion. And though I would agree with most that Phenomena doesn’t stand up quite as well as its predecessor, it’s still vivid, surreal, and in the final moments, a whole lot of bananas!

Actually, that ending that just won’t quit. I sensed a serious borrowing from the ending of Friday the 13th. You’ve got the girl on the raft on the lake, the mutant child attack, the finale with the mother on the shore and a beheading that comes out of nowhere.

I was a little more enchanted by the firefly scene than I was back in the day. I think even then I was cognizant of the slowed motion of the images tracking the animated light. This time through I found that quite nice.

Maybe the borrowed elements from Suspiria work against Phenomena only really in comparison. It’s an entertaining brew of its own, though probably not a masterpiece.

Ghostwatch (1992)

Ghostwatch (1992) movie poster

director  Stephen Volk
viewed: 07/17/2018

Arguably a descendant of Orson Welles 1938 radio play of War of the Worlds, Ghostwatch aired on BBC in 1992 and freaked out much of the viewing public.

I’m rather late to the game on this one, but it’s rock solid in its facsimile of a live BBC show investigating a poltergeist on Halloween night. Also in featuring recognizable contemporary program presenters in the narrative.

Extraordinarily well done.

Oddly it also reminded me of the bizarre “docufiction”, Mermaids: The Body Found (2011), though this recent fake documentary was more a ballsy lie on the Discovery Channel, which doesn’t typically traffic in fiction.

Hat tip to my Letterboxd community for helping me discover Ghostwatch.

Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo (1970)

Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo (1970) movie poster

director Toshiya Fujita
viewed: 07/16/2018

More like “Wild Jumble”, am I right?

Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo was released only three months after Alleycat Rock: Female Boss, the first of what would turn out to be a five movie series pumped out in a little over a year. Wild Jumbo bounces from a few different vibes before winding up in a nihilistic kaboom.

Unlike other films of the series that I’ve seen, Meiko Kaji doesn’t have as central a role here, playing a smaller part in the narrative.

She’s part of a sort of gang, running around in some weird jeep, harassing and being harassed, running around, before eventually hooking up with a wealthy young woman who fancies one of the guys. A trip to the beach turns into a lark but also a training exercise (albeit also a quite frolicsome one) to prepare for a heist of a wealthy religious sect.

It’s all kind of weird, though entertaining enough. But the bizarrely pessimistic ending comes as so completely a dead stop to the lightness of the rest, rather than jarring, it almost makes it more interesting?

It’s a jumble. A wild one, in ways.

Bandidos (1967)

 Bandidos (1967) movie poster

director  Massimo Dallamano
viewed: 07/15/2018

A cool title sequence opens Bandidos, a very solid, though lesser-known and seen Spaghetti Western.  

This was Massimo Dallamano’s first film as director, having served as cinematographer for at least 15 years prior. He was fresh off of shooting A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965) for Sergio Leone. According to spaghetti-western.net, Dallamano was disappointed with not being brought back for the finale of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966), and infused Bandidos with themes of betrayal, apparently pointed at Leone.

“Hurry up and die, will you?”

Bandidos is packed with lots of action, nearly brimming with it, and the cinematographer turned director shoots the whole thing teaming with style and panache. It all starts with a train robbery, the brutal killing of all of the passengers, save one, a sharpshooter who has his hands maimed. Revenge percolates, a young man comes into play, student to the damaged gunslinger, but it doesn’t turn out quite the way one might think.

Good stuff.