The Ugly Ones (1966)

The Ugly Ones (1966) movie poster

director Eugenio Martín
viewed: 11/24/2017

The Ugly Ones features a lean, deft premise: a bounty hunter is after a popular criminal. Tomas Milian is Jose, the Mexican kid turned storied outlaw, a “Jesse James type”, ensnared by fortune-seeking free agents, not traditionally legitimate lawmen. Richard Wyler is the straight-shooting freelancer, but who is the real villain of this picture?

The Ugly Ones is also known as The Bounty Hunter, which is the name of the Marvin H. Albert novel from which it was adapted. Eugenio Martín’s Spaghetti Western offers a kind of noirish characterization – moral ambivalence, at least initially, on either side. Though, as the film wears on each protagonist starts to show his true colors.

In between the men is Eden, an interesting role for Ella Karin (a.k.a Halina Zalewska). No shrinking violet, she’s reaching for a pistol when we first spot her, hearing an intruder breaking in. She is at the heart of the village’s understanding of Jose, an active participant in the story, and moral barometer as well. Maybe a little too stylish for a Western but an interesting character and good performance.

It’s tight and aesthetically pleasing production. The Ugly Ones makes Quentin Tarantino’s list of top Spaghetti Westerns. As usual, his favorites are worth investigating.

Cut-Throats Nine (1972)

Cut-Throats Nine (1972) movie poster

director Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent
viewed: 11/13/2017

Cut-Throats Nine arrives as advertised, a pessimistic and violent Western, filmed in the snowy beauty of the Pyrenees. Its delicious premise, a lone lawman and his daughter are marching a chain gang across the snowy mountains, is inherently fraught with tension. The simplicity of this scenario is upended when it turns out that the chains that hold the men together are made of the gold that they had mined. And the intentions of even the lawman are thrown into deep doubt.

Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent uses interesting freeze frame preludes to flashbacks, stylizing further the backstories to the rough-hewn characters. Marchent and cinematographer Luis Cuadrado make the most of the gorgeous, icy landscapes.

It’s probably my second favorite Spaghetti Western I’ve newly seen this year, after Cemetery Without Crosses  (1969). Interesting since these two aren’t purely Italian films and feature directors who were French and Spanish. Not that any grouping or genre needs to be completely neat and clean.

Excellent stuff.

 

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Pan's Labyrinth (2006) movie poster

director Guillermo del Toro
viewed: 11/11/2017

It had been a decade since I saw Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth on its initial release in the theater. Like a lot of people, I’ve considered it his best film, certainly a partner to his 2001 The Devil’s Backbone.

I generally enjoy del Toro’s work, though his more commercial stuff seems thin on substance, if aesthetically pleasing and occasionally pretty fun.  I follow him on social media and even got to go see his collection of stuff at the LACMA Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters.

In 2007, my kids were 6 and 3 so I didn’t take them to see Pan’s Labyrinth at the time. I’ve long thought they might enjoy it, but only just now got around to sharing it with them.

I was surprised that my daughter was sort of nonplussed about it. I’d thought she would dig it more. My son, as is his wont, fell asleep early on but wanted to watch it again.

I think it holds up pretty well. The aesthetics and story are nice, the performers solid. It’s a dark fairy tale about childhood, escapism and fantasy. The CGI doesn’t hold up as well, but it never does if you ask me. Maybe it’s not as deep or rich as it could be, but I’d still call it his most complete film.

The Night of the Devils (1972)

The Night of the Devils (1972) movie poster

director  Giorgio Ferroni
viewed: 10/29/2017

The Family of the Vourdalak, a novel by Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy  (the “other Tolstoy”), is the source material for Giorgio Ferroni’s The Night of the Devils. It’s also known for being the source material of the “I Wurdulak” segment of Mario Bava’s fantastic Black Sabbath (1963).

Yeah, I know, everybody knows that or can look that up on Wikipedia.

I actually don’t have a lot to offer here that others have not said already. The Night of the Devils is a different flavor of Italian vampirism, salted with its variant folklore. There is something strange and hard to put one’s finger on about modernizing the story to the then present day 1970’s. It’s sort of dislocated, like having stepped into a dream (or nightmare) of more Gothic times. It also features some very evocative effects on top of it all.

Well worth seeing.

Mondo Cannibale (1980)

Mondo Cannibale (1980) movie poster

director Jesús Franco
viewed: 10/04/2017

Mondo Cannibale is neither the best nor the worst cannibal flick ever, though it’s closer to the latter.

It’s kind of like H. Rider Haggard’s She as a cannibal flick with an origin story. With 17 year old Sabrina Siani as blonde cannibal queen. Her father, played by Al Cliver must return to rescue her.

It features some very ethnically diverse cannibals in hella face paint.

It’s crap for sure but it’s the first film I’ve seen that I’d definitely say that Jesús Franco elevated with his style. Maybe because it was less a pure Franco flick, not working from his own script.

Ah, well. Vive, Franco!

Voodoo Black Exorcist (1974)

Voodoo Black Exorcist (1974) movie poster

director Manuel Caño
viewed: 09/15/2017

“In infinite time, what happens happens.”

Just last week, I watched American Mummy (2014) which was a bit of a misnomer since there was no re-animated mummy in it. And now Voodoo Black Exorcist, which despite its title, is actually a mummy movie! Go figure. Marketing moves in mysterious ways.

Voodoo Black Exorcist is indeed stupefying, as the poster suggests, though terrifying, not so much. It’s a Spanish production that starts out with some seriously chocolaty black-face before we get our Caribbean mummy story. Why is it every mummy story hews to the trope of awakening and looking for a doppelganger or reborn version of a lost love? Don’t mummies have other motivations?

The camerawork is kinda bizarro, in a good way, but this is cheap, bad cinema, which you have to like in order to appreciate. It’s terrible but terribly fun too if you like trash like I do.

Some of the action takes place in some really cool caves.

And the quote that kept resounding: “The best hamburgers in the world.”

Two Undercover Angels (1969)

Two Undercover Angels (1969) movie poster

director Jesús Franco
viewed: 09/05/2017

“Without fantasy one’s life isn’t worth anything. And one doesn’t need it only when drinking.”

I’m guessing Two Undercover Angels and Kiss Me Monster were made in quick succession because it’s hard to imagine the success of the first led to the second.

A.k.a Sadist Erotica, Two Undercover Angels is a slightly more conventional spy spoof sex comedy starring Janine Reynard and Rosanna Yanni in the hands of Jess Franco.

I preferred the sequel because it’s far loopier and nonsensical. Here the Red Lips girls are on the track of abducted models and a killer artist who likes to paint horrendous murder in the act with the help of his hirsute henchman.

There are some wonderfully dead line readings by the voice-over cast.

Kiss Me Monster (1969)

Kiss Me Monster (1969) movie poster

director Jesús Franco
viewed: 09/01/2017

“I just don’t understand what’s going on!”
“You don’t need to know”

————-

I had a terrible dream. I was taken prisoner by a group of queer virgins and was put in a cage. One of them worked me over with a whip. Then they let me out again and they gave me a funny kind of a whistle or something as a farewell present.”

————–

Kiss Me Monster is an apparent sequel to Jesús Franco’s Sadist Erotica/Two Undercover Angels, starring  Janine Reynaud and Rosanna Yanni as the Red Lips, a cabaret/burlesque act/spy buster duo. As noted by others, it’s Franco with a budget and a studio behind him, so the production values are sky high compared to other works.

The continuity and coherence are pure Franco.

The intentional comedy is maybe a little less funny than the unintentional, but you’d be hard pressed to figure out what’s going on either way around. It’s certainly entertaining, with a secret society clad in super-tall black klan hats to the really cool windmills to I don’t really know all what else.

Fun stuff.

In the Folds of the Flesh (1970)

In the Folds of the Flesh (1970) title screen

director  Sergio Bergonzelli
viewed: 08/04/2017

Sergio Bergonzelli quotes Sigmund Freud, suggesting that the title, In the Folds of the Flesh, is straight-up Freud. And if you’re going to name drop Freud, you better be prepared to go full-on-gonzo Freud.

And Bergonzelli does not disappoint.

The film jumps out from the get-go with a decapitated head. It’s the result of incestuous rape and a handy sword hanging on the wall. And when mom helps bury dad and sends his boat off to make it look like a drowning, a local criminal catches on. Years later, blackmail will ensue on the traumatized clan, but of course, they are crazier and far more dangerous than any old criminals.

It’s bizarre and laugh out loud funny in its absurdity (and that could just be describing the outfits). Grown up brother and sister go at it like sex maniacs. Don’t even think about touching the daughter’s wig, or shooting the pet vultures. Or triggering mom’s memory of surviving a Nazi death camp(? – in the film’s most bizarre aside).

It’s lunacy. Sheer lunacy. And when the return of the repressed comes around (in plot twists that are mind-bendingly hard to fathom), well,…the film doesn’t finish as strongly as it starts.

Still, this is bizarre and fun stuff.

Pyro… The Thing Without a Face (1964)

Pyro... The Thing Without a Face (1964) movie poster

director Julio Coll
viewed: 07/08/2017

Pyro… The Thing Without a Face, no matter how it was marketed or what it looks like, is no horror film. In fact, it’s ill-served by the pretense of being one. Expectations will be sorely met. But as a cheap thriller, in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock with no budget or too much talent, it’s actually half-way decent.

Produced by Sidney W. Pink (who deserves more investigation for his interesting and odd filmography), Pyro was set and shot in Spain, and follows Barry Sullivan, an engineer inspired by Ferris wheels, who falls into an affair with Martha Hyer, the real “pyro” in the movie. She was about to commit arson when he met her. Is it little wonder when scorned after the affair ends that she sets fire to Sullivan’s house and kills his wife and child?

The film then turns to revenge and Sullivan does become a “thing without a face”, but not so monstrous as all that. He also takes up with a young Soledad Miranda as the whole thing tips toward gruesome vengeance and tragedy.

Really, not half-bad. But no horror picture.