Wednesday, February 23, 2011

GIALLO (2009)

GIALLO was written by Jim Agnew and Sean Keller. The screenwriters wrote this script specifically for Dario Argento as an homage to the genre he made famous with movies like THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and DEEP RED. I don't know if these guys ever saw one of the early gialli from the 60s and 70s but this just does not live up to them.

The basic story here is a deformed man abducts beautiful tourists in Rome to torture and kill them. Adrien Brody plays Enzo, the lead detective on the case. When Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner) comes to visit her fashion model sister who is abducted shortly after, she is thrown into the mix of hunting the killer as well. What ensues is little more than your run of the mill thriller. This is to blame mostly on the screenwriters who seem to have no grasp on what a giallo is all about. Any tension that could be built is lost every time the killer is shown because he's just so goddamn ridiculous to the point of being comical. Brody is never given much to do as the lead, and with a man with as much talent as he has that is a real shame. Linda is a cliche in and out who tries her hardest to hit every one she can.

Aside from all that, one of the biggest downsides to the movie movie is that it is really tame. For an homage to movies that were widely known for their graphic bloody violence, GIALLO has very little. You'll get a couple of scenes that are satisfying in that manner but they are few and far between. Also, most gialli were sexy movies, while this is about as unsexy as it gets. I won't hold Dario Argento without any blame, while his direction certainly didn't hurt the movie, it didn't add much to it. For a man that built his legend on wild camera work, intensely beautiful lighting, and maddening soundtracks we get but a small taste of it here in very sporadic spots.

GIALLO had a troubled production process. All the way from casting to its release on DVD. Vincent Gallo was set to play the killer until he pulled out of the project when his ex-fiancee Asia Argento was cast as the female lead. Asia would pull out after becoming pregnant. Ray Liotta was originally cast in the role of Enzo, and would eventually be replaced by Brody. The movie would then hang in distribution purgatory when even Dario Argento himself didn't have a clue what was going on with it. When it was released it had apparently been re-cut by the producers who seemed to have a very large portion of control during the entire process and Argento was not at all happy with what appeared on the screen and has since more or less disowned the project. And to top it off shortly after the movie came out on DVD it was pulled from shelves when Adrien Brody had to sue the producers because he was never paid in full for his role in the film. A couple months later they reached a settlement and the movie was again available on disc in the US. All of this could play a big part in why GIALLO falls flat, but I'll still lay a very large majority of blame on the two screenwriters who failed to deliver anything that anyone, no matter the talent could make great.

I'll be the first to admit that I get excited over Dario Argento. His recent films certainly have had mixed results and just as mixed reaction but when he has a new movie coming out I clamor for the chance to see it. GIALLO isn't his best effort, that much is certain. It fails as an homage to the fantastic horror thrillers of decades past, but it is competent thriller. I'd love to say that this is vintage Argento, but when you add up everything that went on with it, no matter who was at fault, it is what it is.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Grindhouse Experience Chapter 6: The Executioner Part II (1984)

When you think of a movie that is so bad it's good what do you think of? Troll 2? The Room? Pieces? A large portion of Troma's library? Well... Its time to add The Executioner Part 2 to that list.

Director James Bryan (Lady Streetfighter, Don't Go In The Woods) delivers this action/exploitation film about a Vietnam vet who is fed up with the crime in his neighborhood and takes action to fix it. This is a story we saw throughout the reign of the drive-in and gritty grindhouse theater. It is violent, obscene and tries its hardest to be nasty. It just never reaches the level of "nasty". It is an obvious cash in on more than a couple movies of its time. It has a pretty hilarious Rambo monologue scene ripoff and countless scenes of violence that are done far more effectively in hundreds of other movies. The charm of this movie comes in its entire package. You'll recognize almost everything that happens from one place or another. Even if you can't put your finger on where it came from you'll know it.

The Executioner Part II sounds like a sequel, right? Well, there is no part 1. That's right, this movie is titled 'Part 2' for a reason, but not because it is a sequel. Don't ask me why, because I have no idea. It is just one of the reasons it has such an entertaining charm to it. Actors voices change in the middle of sentences, laughably underacted scenes, surprisingly overacted scenes... you name it. Its fun. I'd be willing to bet all of my worldly possessions it wasn't meant to have this charm but it does.

The poster shows what would have made this move and instant cult classic, laser guns, exploding helicopters, an entire city on fire in the background... As it is this is a movie that seems to be (very) slowly building it's place in history as a cult classic for being so bad its good.

Just don't forget the beers.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Jean Rollin double feature

Over the last couple of nights I've watched a couple later Jean Rollin vampire flicks so I figured why not throw together a quick double feature review of them.

The late French auteur Jean Rollin was known for his surreal style of horror films. With a dream like quality they were often filled with plenty of nudity and blood but with an artistic touch that lifted him above his contemporaries such as Jess Franco and Lucio Fulci (this is in no way a knock to either of those fine directors). Short on budget and excessive on "what the fuck?" Rollin made some classics... and some absolute garbage. He passed away this past December of 2010 and it was a blow to the Euro-horror world. His later works certainly had a generous mix of ups and downs.
I started the 2 night double feature with his 1997 Two Orphan Vampires. A story about two blind vampire sisters who can see at night when they hunt around the city for blood. They live in a Catholic orphanage until they are adopted by a renowned eye doctor. This movie was a big question mark for me. I wanted to like it... a lot. I thought the atmosphere was thick and I really did feel like I was watching this happen while dreaming. There were a cast of other monsters such as a werewolf and a demon bat thing, but we are never shown them in beast form, they just inform our orphans of what they are. The story doesn't really go too far... there is a beginning, middle and end but there isn't much to any of it. The movie is restrained by Rollin's standards. Two shots of nudity which are very brief and bloodshed is restricted to being seen around the mouths of the girls after they attack for the most part. Still, the more I think about it the more I can focus on the positives. I wanted to like it more than I did and I really wanted to have a reason to like it more than I did. Not incredible but worth a watch if you want something different.

Last night was Fiancee Of Dracula, another vampire flick like those that made Rollin a name among horror enthusiasts. I sum up this movie by calling it ridiculous. In a good way though. There are bat-shit crazy nuns, vampires appearing out of clocks, a baby eating ogress, a midget jester who is the lover of another vampire, witches, a Van Helsing like hunter and his young trigger happy assistant... it goes on and on. The basic story is simple... sort of. Isabelle is set to become the bride of Dracula and the nuns who are being controlled by Dracula's influence from beyond protect her but want her to hurry up and get it over with so they can go back to being normal or so they say. Just about every other character is out to protect Isabelle and make sure her marriage goes off without a hitch. (Pun!) There are twists and turns and an awful lot of stuff that doesn't make a lick of sense. There is a dream like atmosphere of course and more blood and considerable more nudity than Two Orphan Vampires. It eventually makes enough sense for a story to come together but don't think about it too much. I enjoyed watching it and it does have some classic Jean Rollin touches.

These films certainly could have balanced each other out though. Fiancee could use a more central character like the orphans but TOV could use a more gratuitous everything. There is no hiding that these movies are up to the standards of Rollin's more famous and plain better movies . That is also to say that these are far superior to the utter shit that is Zombie Lake. The man had a style, it better suited some movies than others but the man knew what he was doing and did it. These movies are worth a watch to at least see some craziness and sheer lunacy.

It was a little late, and these certainly won't be remembered as his best films but this will serve as my tribute viewing for Jean Rollin. I look forward to digging deeper into his library in the near future.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Grindhouse Experience Chapter 5: Confessions Of A Police Captain (1971)

"I'm being accused by a man with an insane mother... Then I'll call you a faggot!" While this is one of the more ridiculous (and entertaining) lines I've ever heard in a movie this film is actually far more serious in tone than that line would ever have you believe. Part 5 of the Grindhouse Experience is one of the titles I was least excited about seeing when I scanned the list. Confessions Of A Police Captain just didn't have the so-bad-its-good ring to it that some of the others in the set did. What a pleasant surprise it was to see some familiar names both in front of and behind the camera during the opening credits.

Director Damiano Damiani is perhaps known best for A Bullet For The General, a high quality spaghetti western. He also directed the 2nd film in the Amityville Horror series. Here he lends his talents to Confessions Of A Police Captain, a good cop-bad cop drama. Franco Nero (Django, Die Hard 2) stars as Traini, a District Attorney who is investigating the mafia. The plot gets rolling when a man named D'Ambrosio has an attempt on his life. It is quickly revealed that D'Ambrosio is a higher up within the mafia. Traini and Commissioner Bonavia (Martin Balsam) are our central characters who seem like opposites at first glance but digging a bit deeper could lead you to believe they are more alike than you'd think.

Damiani creates a corrupt and morally questionable political world with more than a couple layers to it. Each character has hero and villain moments and they're believable, which is a credit to the outstanding performances from Balsam and Nero. Riz Ortolani adds his drama building score at the right moments to keep us on the edge of our seat. And by the end we are still left questioning just exactly who's who. Damiani strays from the tendencies most Italian crime movies have, giving us a well paced, straight forward film that even while lacking on the uberviolence still keeps us engaged.

I set out with low expectations for this one, and came away with a solid movie.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

So Sweet, So Dead (1972)

The giallo is a perfect type of film to blend class and trash. The classiness of a well made, well written film, with the trashiness that we've all come to love (or hate) in European horror. That isn't to say that all gialli have class, many don't and just as many of those are all the better for it. However some do have class, and So Sweet, So Dead has some of that class.

Director Roberto Bianchi Montero wasn't afraid to jump on any bandwagons. Whatever the current trend in Italian film was at the time determined what kind of films he would be making. Westerns, sex, Mondo documentaries, he did a little bit of everything it seems. He made good films though and while he may not have brought anything new to the table in his 1972 giallo, he took all the trademarks the giallo is known for and used them beautifully. The sexy women who are naked more often than not, the black gloved killer, the red herrings, all are common to the genre and this film.

There is a killer running around choosing unfaithful women as his victims. He leaves them bloodied and surrounded by pictures showing off their infidelity. It is up to police inspector Capuana (Farley Granger) to put the clues together and discover the killer. And that is where I'll leave the plot at.

So Sweet, So Dead is excellently paced, never leaving you bored and always leaving you thrilled. The direction is strong, with some truly excellent sequences. The one that comes to mind is when we see through a foggy mirror, the killer appear like a ghost behind a woman and the chase that ensues. The acting is fine, led by Granger and the support that while mainly pretty is more than competent. The score from composer Giorgio Gaslini who is well known for his music work for Dario Argento's masterpiece Deep Red, is haunting. Its a very lyrical piece of music that works in direct contrast to what is happening on screen and creates a distinct mood that makes you question how you really feel. It almost makes you want to cope with the killer, more than his victims.

With as many alternate titles as I have fingers this title has been difficult to track down for years and even harder to track down without heavy cuts. German label Camera Obscura has released it in a limited edition and it looks fantastic. It has special features including a commentary track and a supplemental booklet. I suggest you track it down.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cotton Comes To Harlem (1970)

Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson are police detectives the black community can trust. They do right by the people and they do it in their own style. When Reverend Deke O'Malley comes to Harlem with his "Back To Africa" rally they know something is up, and they're going to do something about it.

1970's Cotton Comes To Harlem was directed by veteran stage and screen actor turned first time director Ossie Davis (Do The Right Thing, Bubba Ho-Tep). It stars Godfrey Cambridge (well known for his stand up comedy of the 60s) and Raymond St. Jacques as Gravedigger and Coffin Ed. They are supported by Calvin Lockhart as O'malley, Judy Pace and Redd Foxx (Sanford and Son).

O'Malley holds rallies in the major cities of the country to bring the poor back to Africa on his ocean liner Black Beauty. The down payment for each ticket is $100, and he stashes the cash in a cotton bail. After a shoot out at the rally/BBQ the bail of cotton goes missing, containing $87,000. The rest of the movie follows the swindling crook chasing the cotton, the detectives chasing the crook and a whole bunch of other people chasing them for various reasons.

For Ossie Davis' directorial debut he does a serviceable job. He doesn't do anything he can't handle and has a good sense of how to fit in a useful amount of comedy with the action and drama without it becoming distracting. There is everything from shootouts, to pies in the face and somehow it all fits... or at least we don't care if it doesn't. The acting is spotty, which is nothing new for movies such as this.

The biggest problem with the movie is that it is just too long. Nothing new happens during the entire 97 minute duration after the story is set up. We know what is going on, and anyone with half a brain can figure out what will happen. The writing needed a bit more inspiration it seems. It lacks much of the hip factor and sexiness that better blaxploitation movies are known for. Luckily we get enough entertaining parts to keep us interested enough to finish.