The Return of Ringo (1965)

The Return of Ringo (1965) movie poster

director Duccio Tessari
viewed: 11/04/2017

Duccio Tessari’s 1965 Spaghetti Western, The Return of Ringo, reinterprets The Odyssey in a post-Civil War drama of return and revenge. Spaghetti-western.net features a keen analysis of the film, suggesting Tessari (as others in the genre) would use the setting of the aftermath of the American Civil War as a thinly veiled metaphor for post-WWII Italy, the return and rectification of morality in a shattered and invaded landscape.

Interestingly, when Ringo returns to his home post-war, the bandits have taken over the town and the homestead, hold his wife in their clutches, as well as a little daughter he didn’t know he had. These dudes are Mexicans and are very racist against Americans, won’t allow them to own property or firearms.

Thus: “The Return of (G)ringo”

The Return of Ringo is a notable Spaghetti Western, on many lists of the best of the genre. And it’s solid, though it didn’t really overly impress me. Actually, reading the Spaghetti-western.net article gave me further pause to reconsider. Still, some films grab you, while others just wave “hello.”

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) movie poster

director Yorgos Lanthimos
viewed: 11/04/2017 at the Alamo Drafthouse – New Mission, SF, CA

A slow-burn blackly comic, surrealistic thriller. With the heaviest emphasis on “slow-burn”.

Yorgos Lanthimos’s second feature in English, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is on a continuum of his other awkward worlds, ruled by random logic, in which human connection is ultimately impossible.

Like his breakout film Dogtooth (2009), The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the study of a family and its patriarch. Though Colin Farrell’s heart surgeon here isn’t so much controlling the world of his nuclear clan but rather trying to somehow protect it from an ill that he has brought upon it.

The whole thing uncoils very slowly, impregnating the strangeness of the world and the characters with a sense not just of discomfort but of dread. Something is behind Farrell’s unusual relationship with sleepy-eyed teenager Martin (Barry Keoghan). His illegitimate son? His teenage lover?

Of course, it’s not anything remotely so straight-forward. When Farrell’s son and daughter fall ill with paralysis, lack of appetite, and eventually bleeding eyes, it takes the surgeon a long time to figure out that there isn’t anything medical but what? supernatural? uncontrollable?

Lanthimos continues to be one of the most interesting directors to me. Always a lot to ruminate on afterwards.

 

The Untouchables (1987)

The Untouchables (1987) movie poster

director Brian De Palma
viewed: 11/03/2017

Personally, I think Brian De Palma’s 1987 crime movie The Untouchables holds up pretty well.

There is a lot of cool cinematography and set pieces, the highlights of the film. That opening overhead shot of Robert De Niro getting a shave. The whole sequence of the bar getting blown up. The baseball scene. The interior tracking and everything happening in Sean Connery’s apartment when he gets it.

And the cast is great. Okay, I won’t argue strongly for Kevin Costner. He’s a bland lawman at the head of the thing. But Connery, De Niro, Andy Garcia, and in particular Charles Martin Smith are solid and each gets some choice lines and scenes. Can you imagine it if Mickey Rourke had been Eliot Ness?

Certainly, it’s a man’s man’s man’s world. And it takes some fascism (via David Mamet’s script) to gain control of Al Capone and the mafia.

The one scene that didn’t hold up so well is the balletic slo-mo Odessa Steps homage shootout. I recall thinking it was really cool back in 1987. Now it seems like a lot of build-up to almost comedic action. My son chuckled during it.

The Night the World Exploded (1957)

The Night the World Exploded (1957) movie poster

director Fred F. Sears
viewed: 11/01/2017

One of the first ever natural disaster movies (please check me on this), The Night the World Exploded shows that it’s not nice to trick Mother Nature.

“It’s almost as if the earth were striking back at us for the way we’ve robbed her of her natural resources. Not very scientific, is it?” This line is spoken by “Hutch”, played by Kathryn Grant, not only the sole woman in science, but virtually the sole woman in the movie.

Made by producer Sam Katzman and director Fred F. Sears as second feature with their astoundingly hilarious The Giant Claw (1957), The Night the World Exploded is by contrast a more earnest horror film. Human activity has brought about a new very unstable element higher into the planet’s crust, causing massive earthquakes.

Hopeful science, like cloud-seeding, saves the day. The element is neutralized in water, so busting dams and flooding places, causing rain somehow solves everything. I say it’s hopeful because humans are able to clean up their messes. An unlikely scenario in which we currently reside.

Soylent Green (1973)

Soylent Green (1973) movie poster

director Richard Fleischer
viewed: 10/30/2017

I don’t know how I got to live this long without having ever seen Soylent Green, but of course, I know the punchline.

Soylent Green seems the last of Charlton Heston’s run of science fiction movies that started with Planet of the Apes (1968). He’s 50 years old here but presumably supposed to be younger than that, the classic middle-aged Hollywood action hero.

As speculative futurism, aspects of Soylent Green are resonant, while other aspects are nigh hilarious. It’s 2022 and the “greenhouse effect” has burned down most of what we consider “nature”, trees, food crops, animal life. And the city is overrun with homeless while the super-rich live lives in gilded cages, still enjoying the rare treats that were once daily norms, like celery.

It’s a future deprived of technology, which makes sense if society and environment crashed when it did (probably the early 1970’s). When people riot, they get scooped up in earth-moving equipment and piled into garbage trucks. Yet, there is still a beleaguered police force investigating homicides, though the cops barely make enough to eat.

Oh, and women are furniture. At least they hit futuristic endemic sexism on the head.

And the reveal that isn’t a reveal at the end of the film. I have to really think if everyone is so starved and society so bankrupt, would cannibalism even be remotely outre? I mean if you can’t get your protein anywhere else… What is it they eat instead? What is the social infrastructure that they’re trying to hold together?

Heston is such a brutish ham but Edward G Robinson is great.

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.

The Innocents (1961)

The Innocents (1961) movie poster

director  Jack Clayton
viewed: 10/28/2017

Are two young Victorian children possessed by evil spirits and driven to acts of incest? Or is their governess a pent-up Christian woman so full on repressed that she’s projecting psychosis and death everywhere?

On this particular viewing of Jack Clayton’s classic The Innocents, the latter reading struck home more so than the former. Though always part of the film’s (as well as the Henry James The Turn of the Screw) power is the uncanny variance between the supernatural and the psychological.

Another thing that struck me this time through The Innocents was how the horror imagery earns its eerie value. So many things that are “designed” to be scary (look scary at a glance) are imbued with nothing but surface horror. When the image of the woman standing in the far reaches of the pond recurs in the film, it’s still just a figure in the distance, but it is what has been impressed upon the children and upon us the audience, that gives the figure its essence and evil.

One of the great Gothic ghost story films of all time, The Innocents stands up time and again as truly classic horror. And Freddie Francis’s amazing cinematography – amazing stuff.

If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (1968)

If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (1968) movie poster

director Gianfranco Parolini
viewed: 10/24/2017

I’ve been working through a variety of lists of the “best” Spaghetti Westerns that I haven’t seen, something I’m cobbling together from a variety of sources. And I’m finding how many of these are available on Amazon Prime. Happily many.

If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death launched another named antihero to the genre, starring Gianni (John) Garko as Sartana, the guy you don’t want to meet.

“You look just like a scarecrow.”
“I am your pallbearer.”

Armed with a cool four barreled Derringer, he strides into what I guess is a story about teams of robbers and other teams of robbers and local gentry robbing themselves for insurance money and a coffin full of gold (or rocks.) Apparently it’s not just me, the story is pretty hard to follow.

Luckily Gianfranco Parolini does better with the action than the story. It’s derivative but also employs other genre elements of giallo and horror, giving it some flavor.

Even with a very inept dub and an abbreviated role on his voice Klaus Kinski is by far the best actor in the film.

Night Feeders (2006)

Night Feeders (2006) movie poster

director Jet Eller
viewed: 10/23/2017

Night Feeders is kind of a low budget backwoods Pitch Black (2000) in which a group of photophobic aliens torment a bunch of deer hunters. It’s 2006. In North Carolina. Only one dude has a cellphone.

Really, it’s not an entirely bad enterprise.

Its real failing winds up being the digital FX, on which I am guessing the whole thing was predicated. Those bits and bytes are only a notch or two up from the work in Birdemic (others aptly compare the stuff to Playstation 1.) Frankly, it would have been a lot more charming without the digital FX at all and more limited practical effects.

I say this very specifically for this movie, though Christ, I could say it about virtually all movies made in this century.

“Hey you don’t know. This perfume could have saved my life!”

Still, hats off to regional horror on the cheap in any era.

Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972)

Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972) movie poster

director  Ed Adlum
viewed: 10/21/2017

Invasion of the Blood Farmers is some legitimate trash cinema. Written by director Ed Adlum and co-scribe Ed Kelleher, edited by Michael Findlay (the two Eds also wrote Findlay’s abominably amazing Shriek of the Mutilated (1974), it’s got psychotronic pedigree.

Wonderfully stiff acting right out of Ed Wood. It also begs comparison to other low budget auteurs such as Andy Milligan or Al Adamson, maybe with a little prime H.G. Lewis thrown in.

“The more I scrub this bloodstain the bigger it gets!” – some dude scrubbing a bloodstain from the floor of a bar

The leads could be the prototypes for Brad and Janet in Rocky Horror they are so bland and ludicrous. Says the Brad to his Janet, “You’re just a pushover for pathologists!” This because both this Brad and Janet’s father are medical guys working at home on some strange multiplying blood. Ultimately it turns out that it’s all due to some literal blood farmers who are part of some weird druidic blood cult.

It’s the kind of bad that is so close to intentional comedy that you may wonder if there was intent of seriousness here at all.