Deadly Prey (1986)

Deadly Prey (1986) VHS cover

director David A. Prior
viewed: 12/30/2017

Deadly Prey isn’t my Best-Worst movie but it certainly deserves its place in the pantheon.

Ted Prior may not have been born to play Mike Danton, but he certainly built himself up into the monster-bodies hunk to go running around in his near altogether.  His brother, writer/director David A. Prior (RIP), has given him a place in celluloid (and VHS tape) history.

There are many laugh out loud moments.

How many times do people just wander upon Danton when he’s not paying attention?

When he spits in his hand to clean off the worm I’m not sure what I thought was going to happen.

The Beguiled (1971)

The Beguiled (1971) movie poster

director Don Siegel
viewed: 12/30/2017

There’s a reason you don’t let the fox into the henhouse. In Don Siegel’s The Beguiled, Clint Eastwood is the foxy fox in the henhouse is the Miss Martha Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies. These ladies, old and young aren’t worried about getting eaten alive, but rather to fear and desire the Mr. Eastwood.

Eastwood at the time was probably at the top of his acting career, but he was already forty years old.  Still, he’s the exact kind of lure that has all of the ladies aflush and aquiver. Heck, he’s even got the literal hens laying eggs again.

It’s amazing how good this movie is, especially considering Siegel and Eastwood’s prior Western Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), which was nothing by comparison. It’s rich material, I suppose, and like others can see why Sofia Coppola took her swing at it (which I have yet to see but have as a high priority now).

The setting is gorgeous, the Ashland-Belle Helene Plantation near Baton-Rouge and the trees all languorous hung heavy with Spanish moss. And the period of the story, the tail end of the American Civil War, the enemy brought literally inside the gates as the wounded soldier is a Yankee, who, according to Doris, want to “rape all the women”.

Everyone is beguiled, including Eastwood himself. He’s got them all from 12 years of age to the fifty-something Miss Martha herself (a terrific Geraldine Page) all so hot and bothered.

Some consider this one of Eastwood’s best performances, but I though Eastwood was stiff as a board. Everyone else is terrific, including Mae Mercer and Pamelyn Ferdin. But very much so Jo Ann Harris. This is, after all, much more about the ladies, who dominate the picture and narrative. The film and story are ripe for interpretation in a number of ways.

The Alchemist Cookbook (2016)

The Alchemist Cookbook (2016) movie poster

director Joel Potrykus
viewed: 12/29/2017

Interesting and off-beat, The Alchemist Cookbook is not bad. Though there are only a couple of characters, the narrative is intentionally oblique. Which I usually like. But here it feels like something is missing.

I don’t know.

Succubus (1968)

Succubus (1968) movie poster

director Jesús Franco
viewed: 12/29/2017

It’s worth noting that it was LSD that opened Federico Fellini to his embrace of surreal fantasy.

Janine Reynaud, who would go onto star in Jess Franco’s Sadist Erotica and Kiss Me Monster, leads here in Succubus, Franco’s great leap from Spanish cinematic censorship into pop avant-garde. That and tapping deeply into his own obsessions and eccentricities.

S&M theater, the most Jess Franco of Jess Franco scenarios opens this picture which blues into slightly trippy surrealism and free association nonsense. Quite evocative if also kind of tedious, Succubus isn’t so much Franco’s 8 1/2, but might be quite formative in his rapacious cinematic outpouring.

The Void (2016)

The Void (2016) movie poster

directors Steven Kostanski, Jeremy Gillespie
viewed: 12/27/2017

The Void is action-packed but maybe a little too ambitious for its own good. It is the kind of throwback horror that tends to excite fans of various stripes. And it does it well for the most part.

It’s John Carpenter meets Cthulhu at an isolated hospital. And seemingly more practical visuals than computer-generated.

But there’s just a little too much going on, plot-wise, even in its lean runtime. Maybe trimming about half the ideas, backstories, characters, sequences could help.

Overall I liked it. It has a lot going for it.

Night of Terror (1933)

Night of Terror (1933) movie poster

director Benjamin Stoloff
viewed: 12/26/2017

Night of Terror opens with a fairly awesome crystal ball credit sequence. What follows is pure pre-code kookiness with several over-lapping plots including one with a roving maniac.

“Your eyes are like dewdrops…”

I don’t understand all the nuances of camp and kitsch but this movie is full blown something.

Here’s Bela Lugosi slumming it only two years after his breakout Dracula.

I’d say it’s ridiculous fun but the ending just kicks it up an entire full notch. And you’ll just have to watch it to know why I cannot say more.

High Plains Drifter (1973)

High Plains Drifter (1973) movie poster

director Clint Eastwood
viewed: 12/25/2017

High Plains Drifter has a serious problem with women. This struck me years ago when I first saw it and was less familiar with Clint Eastwood’s oeuvre and the Western in general. Having the “hero” blow into town and rape a woman, apparently for her pleasure, was distasteful to me 20 years ago and has not improved with age. She then becomes the butt of a joke when she tries to shoot him, saying she was probably mad he didn’t “come back for more.”

Seriously, the sexual politics of High Plains Drifter are abject, objectionable, and highly problematic, especially as in other ways is perhaps Eastwood’s best directorial picture.

Shot near Mono Lake, it’s Eastwood’s first Western as director, only his second film as director. And whether he’s paying homages to Sergio Leone or Don Siegel, this semi-supernatural revenge film has a pitch-dark heart and ripe visual poetry.

The more that I’ve considered it, I find the misogyny too much to get over.

I did find it interesting that Ernest Tidyman’s inspiration for the story rose from the Kitty Genovese crime.

The Love Witch (2016)

The Love Witch (2016) movie poster

director Anna Biller
viewed: 12/24/2017

A lot of people loved The Love Witch.

Anna Biller’s critique of wiles of femininity is gorgeous for sure, as is star Samantha Robinson. Steeped in style lifted from the late 1960’s / early 1970’s Euro art horror films, every shot is meticulously constructed, every idea intensely intentional.

And funny. A very off-beat funny, setting an awkward tone throughout. Again, intensely intentional.

Robinson is the “love witch” of the title, a super-gorgeous gal who has come to town (Arcata, CA for the win) in search of love. If her looks weren’t enchanting enough, she’s got potions, spells, and other tricks to capture hapless men in her dealings. But she also has a deep well of need that she herself does not understand, and all her natural and unnatural powers can’t give her what she wants.

Biller’s comedy is quite arch in its way, which usually leads to characters who represent particular ideas or concepts. But Biller’s attitude towards the metaphorical magic of female allure is double-edged. The witch as metaphor for feminine power and/or the fear of it is for Biller both true and empowering as well as cliché and a trap of over-simplification.

The film is two hours long and would probably be more effective if trimmed by a quarter. For all the beauty of the thing, and the humor and also the depth of concept throughout, The Love Witch did not entrance me as it did others. I liked it and am certainly curious of Biller’s other work.

Wolf Devil Woman (1982)

 

Wolf Devil Woman (1982)

director Ling Chang
viewed: 12/23/2017

Pearl Chang (Ling Chang)’s meistresspiece, Wolf Devil Woman (a.k.a. Wolfen Ninja) is pure riotous nonsense, a glory to behold.  Maniacally edited, gleefully embodied, it’s Taiwanese wuxia like you never knew you needed. And campy as fuck.

The version of this available on Amazon Prime is right off a VHS copy with occasional glitches intact. That and the Wolfen Ninja version of dubbing, it’s a trip back to the days of video stores and bizarro, wondrous finds.

Pearl Chang led an apparently modestly successful career in Taiwanese television and film before branching out into writing, directing, starring in a handful of movies before disappearing from the known Earth. It may well be that she is a wolf-raised emissary from another dimension who can tear a rabbit in half with her bare hands, or even a zombie ninja.

She is wonderfully fun as the titular heroine, all-in as the lupine-minded superwoman come back to wreak vengeance on the klan-hatted and rubber-masked villains.

Too cool for school.

Blithe Spirit (1945)

Blithe Spirit (1945) movie poster

director David Lean
viewed: 12/22/2017

“In Blushing TECHINICOLOR

I love falling into a world of “blushing Technicolor,” and David Lean’s 1945 adaptation of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit is just the ticket. It’s a very British form of Screwball comedy, with wry and suggestive witticisms for which Coward was so well-known.

Rex Harrison and Constance Cummings are a happily married pair, both on their second marriages via widowhood. Happy, that is, until they toy with the supernatural through the help of Madame Arcati (the sublimely scene-stealing Margaret Rutherford). This brings back Harrison’s first wife, in blushing Technicolor green, the playful Kay Hammond, whose haunting at first only Harrison can see.

Maybe it’s not as perfect as Coward’s original theatrical version, in which both Hammond and Rutherford both appeared as here. But for my money, it’s a dark and coy frolic. Lustrous in color, charming all around.