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)?

Daughter of Dracula (1972)

Daughter of Dracula (1972) movie poster

director Jesús Franco
viewed: 05/02/2018

Daughter of Dracula is a little confusebslls but what good Jesús Franco flick isn’t? It does, however, feature a more substantial acting role for Jess than in a lot of other films of his.

What is it about Jesús Franco that makes him compelling? Not simply that he cranked out movies prodigiously more than competently. Per IMDb, Daughter of Dracula is one of nine films he directed in 1972 alone. He displays sometimes amateurish skills, heightened by passion and aesthetics, often incoherent but sometimes cohesive yet still inconsistent. 

A lot of people seem to see Daughter of Dracula as more giallo than horror. True, it’s got a detective working a series of killings. It’s also got a girl turned vampire upon her mother’s deathbed confession relating a family history and then, yes, Dracula (Franco stalwart Howard Vernon). And lesbian sex scenes.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Franco. I just can’t articulate why exactly.

Devil Story (1985)

Devil Story (1985) movie poster

director Bernard Launois
viewed: 03/04/2018

For those who traffic in the weird and odd, obscure and awful, bizarre and sublime of dreck cinema, Devil Story is a dream come true. Or at least a dream somehow assembled into movie form.

It is indeed as if a Jean Rollin movie crash landed and all the mangled elements that survived somehow reconstituted itself in the least coherent manner.

I say this lovingly.

It can be described. As it has by many and well so. But it must be experienced to be comprehended, if comprehension is even possible.

It’s the most disorienting movie I’ve ever seen. Which way did that horse go? Bang! And bang again.

Highly recommended to weird lovers everywhere.

Gandahar (1988)

Gandahar (1988) movie poster

director  René Laloux
viewed: 01/13/2017

Nowhere as fantastic as Fantastic Planet (1973), René Laloux’s 1988 film Gandahar is still something above and outside the norm of animation, fantasy, or science fiction. The English language version was produced by the Weinsteins and features a rather unusual crew of voice talent including Glenn Close, Jennifer Grey, Penn Jillette, Bridget Fonda, David Johansen,  and Christopher Plummer. Apparently, this version, which was adapted by Isaac Asimov, is not quite up to snuff of the French original.

Laloux adapted the story from Jean-Pierre Andrevon’s novel Les Hommes-machines contre Gandahar, and the style of design was led by French artist Caza. It’s still some pretty far-out stuff.

The animation style, though, is more conventional cel animation, so it’s more through the design aesthetics and muted tone through which the strangeness emanates. Actually, there’s a nice Kraftwerk video set to the imagery that fits groovily together.

The peaceful blue peeps of Gandahar are attacked by robot men. This leads their mostly bare-breasted women leaders to send out Sylvain to find out how to defeat them (all this peace has led them to forget to make weapons anymore). Sylvain discovers the mutated brethren of he Gandaharians and eventually this Metamorphis, giant brain thing also developed by Gandaharian technology that seeks to wipe them all out to achieve immortality.

Oh yeah, and the door of time.

If off-beat, trippy science fiction is a groove you can dig, you’ll enjoy Gandahar. Nowhere as radical or satisfying as Fantastic Planet, but well worth the time.

Oasis of the Zombies (1982)

Oasis of the Zombies (1982) movie poster

director  Jesús Franco
viewed: 11/27/2017

I sincerely prefer the living dead Nazis of cinema to actual living Nazis in the world today. But enough about me.

Oasis of the Zombies has a lot of actors, big props, and explosions in the battle sequence.  Jesús Franco must have had a decent budget on this.

Franco never seems too invested in FX or make-up design so it’s not surprising his zombie movies tend to phone that shit in.

Though slow and not a little dull, Oasis of the Zombies does get sporadically atmospheric once finally rolling.

And yes, it is probably four or five times better than Jean Rollin’s Zombie Lake (1981).

Le Frisson des Vampires (1971)

Le Frisson des Vampires (1971) movie poster

director Jean Rollin
viewed: 10/16/2017

The Shiver of the Vampires is perhaps the most completely realized vision of Jean Rollin. In my opinion, that is.

Of his early films, Le viol du vampire (1968), La vampire nue (1970),  Requiem pour un vampire (1971) (all vampires, all the time), it’s as lush a production as he ever seemed to land, and also features another gorgeous Art Deco throwback movie poster, even nicer than La vampire nue.

On the surface, what’s really new? Naked vampires with sapphic leanings, elegant ruins inhabited, death and deathlessness, longing and desire. But at the same time it does differ. The soundtrack by Groupe Acanthus is certainly a-typical and kind of groovy. But that’s not it.

Rollin employs Bava-esque colored lighting , evoking a cheap but effective surrealism. The appearances of Isolde (Dominique), the vampire queen, first from a clock, then exploding from wall hangings, and (less effectively) dropping into a fireplace call to mind Jean Cocteau and the gorgeous simple effects in La Belle et la Bête (1946).

The story is the subversion of the heterosexual , or traditional married relationship. A freshly married man and wife arrive at the wife’s cousin’s castle only to find them dead. Well, dead and undead. Two mysterious nubile servants quietly run the show. But the wife is seduced away from her virginity as well as her husband’s grasp.

Rollin’s depictions of lesbian relationships is less purely exploitative and scopophilic. The women of his films escape their patriarchal worlds and find freedom and beauty in love between themselves. He’s nowhere as clear in his attitude toward male homosexuality, but maybe he’s frowns on all masculinity.

Ultimately, the heroes of the story are “the Renfields”, the unnamed lesbian servants, who overthrow not only the patriarchy at the end but overthrow the entire bourgeoisie.

I’ve watched Rollin’s vampire quartet over a four year span, in no particular order, so I would like to re-watch as a group sometime to better have a collective impression of the ideas and attitudes.

I do think this the best of the four, though I like them all.

 

Cemetery Without Crosses (1969)

Cemetery Without Crosses (1969) movie poster

director Robert Hossein
viewed: 07/29/2017

Spaghetti Westerns are often cynical and sometimes bleak. Some through social criticism and political commentary, some in their reenactments of history. Some just in the brutal worlds the depict.

The taciturn, often nameless, gunslinger anti-hero is typically unknowable, a cipher to the outside world, whose actions though brutal often carry the weight of justice or morality, whichever level of those exist in each film.

Robert Hossein stars in his own take on the genre, Cemetery Without Crosses, an intentional homage to the great Sergio Leone. But Hossein’s gunslinger is cut from a different cloth. His face isn’t the least bit inscrutable, but rather pained and melancholic. He is brought into action not for money or justice or morals, but for the old love of a woman seeking revenge. His actions and their results are decidedly amoral, settling a feud with deceit, cruelty and more and more bullets.

Cemetery Without Crosses is an amazing film, possibly my favorite Spaghetti Western I’ve seen. It’s brutal and perhaps in many ways quite French for an Italian Western. It’s the fatalism of Hossein’s Manuel, acting not out of rightness or justice, but an old alliance to love, knowing the wrongness. It’s spelled out on his face.

The film has a great visual aesthetic. The ghost town in which Manuel lives is perfect and metaphorical. The shots that directly call out Leone are sweet. And the soundtrack, composed by Hossein’s father is classic, as is the theme song crooned by Scott Walker.

One of the best films I’ve seen this year.

Lips of Blood (1975)

Lips of Blood (1975) movie poster

director Jean Rollin
viewed: 07/14/2017

Lips of Blood is one of the most dreamlike of Jean Rollin’s surrealistic horror films. It also seems like one of the better-funded of productions, though from what I’ve read, it suffered from some production shortcomings that kept it from being a fully-realized vision.

Rollin’s films all have that feel to me; compromises everywhere, but dreams realized and visions captured nonetheless. The locations are gorgeous, including the “aquarium at the Trocadero, the ruins at Chateau Gaillard, and that seemingly ever-present beach at Dieppe with its rotting pilings, an image of longing and loss. Lips of Blood feels somehow more personal as well, and apparently Rollin based the character of Frédéric (Jean-Loup Philippe) on himself.

Frédéric is triggered by a photo of a ruined castle and a memory, much like a dream, invades his mind: as a child, going there and falling in love with a beautiful, short-haired girl (Annie Belle, last seen by me in Rollin’s Bacchanales Sexuelles (1974). The rest of his existence begins to fall away as he hunts for the castle and the girl, and meanwhile frees some other sexy, near-nekkid vampires.

Rollin was indeed a romantic.