Friday, September 23, 2011
To make matters worse, a notorious maniac escapes from the nearby mental institution and hitches a ride to the theatre from the actresses who’d stopped by for attention to a twisted ankle in a very implausible plot twist. Soon theatre folk start dropping like melodramatic flies and Peter the director, smelling a publicity windfall, starts rewriting the script to parallel the killer on the loose!
Argento protégé Michael Soavi directs this stylish giallo like a backstage soap opera with killings. Giallos were one of the sources for the slasher films of the 80s and they usually play like slasher films with prog rock and adults instead of dumb teens buying the farm. Soavi handles the set pieces with a decent level of panache and the theatrical angle is a cool twist- before long, the real killer is showing up on stage and stabbing an actress to death in full view of the cast and crew! The gore effects are clever and plentiful; in one great bit, an actress is pulled down through a rotten wooden floor and retrieved in half.
The film uses some of the usual dumb slasher tropes- does every social group have at least one prankster who can actually be assumed to be pulling pranks when there’s a killer on the loose? Couldn’t the police have assigned more than two fat and lazy cops to guard a theatre where it’s known a psychopathic killer is prowling? Why do these killers become suddenly much less effective at stalking and killing when they get to the last woman alive? But it also has a fair level of atmosphere and some good tense scenes and enough good gore effects to make up for the usual plot holes.
Monday, September 12, 2011
A couple and their son moves into a house that they probably should have avoided altogether. The wife Dora, played by Argento regular Daria Nicolodi, is understandably uneasy about moving back into the house, where her first husband, a junkie, killed himself, but her new husband Bruno, played by John Steiner also from all sorts of Italian flicks, insists on it- quite the sensitive husband there. (To round out the feeling that we're with the Italian exploitation repertory company, Ivan Rassimov shows up as a doctor.) Making matters worse for Dora, their son Marco is one of those little kids in movies who are easily amused by paranormal happenings in old houses, and he's at that difficult age where they're so susceptible to being possessed by their dead fathers.
What's fairly effective about the movie is that Bava keeps it unclear whether the kid is possessed, the father's ghost is haunting the joint, or they've just got a brat for a son. Marco resents his mother's relationship with Bruno and makes all sorts of difficulty, at one point telling his mother that he has to kill her. He may or may not have sent her flowers, allegedly from her dead husband. At one point, Marco pretends to hump her. Before long, things start moving around the house on their own and Dora is hallucinating rotting hands grabbing her. She starts slipping in her domestic duties, leading Bruno to remind her, "There's nothing worse for a marriage than sending a husband off without his coffee". Nothing? One would think being haunted by a vengeful junkie ghost would cause more problems.
The strength of these haunted house films is their atmosphere. Bava does a good job here with the sound design and striking visuals, such as a scene in which Nicolodi's hair goes every which way as she lies in bed and another in which Marco suddenly becomes the dead husband. Admittedly, as with most of these movies, there's only so many scenes you can take of people wandering around hallways and basements alone. Also, even after the plot reveals its dark secrets and explains why Bruno and Dora moved back into the house it doesn't really make sense. But, there are some good moments of fear and Bava and Nicolodi knew what they were doing by this point, so it all works out.
Friday, September 2, 2011
Blair plays Christine Carlson, a nice American girl in East Germany to visit her Army boyfriend Mike at the same time that a lady scientist is trying to escape to the West with commie state secrets. Stumbling into the cliched wrong place at the wrong time, Christine gets hauled in with the turncoat scientist and taken to an East German prison where she's forced to confess to crimes she never committed and sentenced to thirty years. For the first half hour of the film, it really does play like a serious cold war drama. At least until Christine wanders into a four girl fuck fest on her first night in the clink.
The head lesbian tough girl, Sofia, is played by Sylvia Kristel, who certainly looks a bit rougher around the edges here compared to her breakout role in the original Emmanuelle. Naturally, Sofia's got a relationship with the super butch prison guard. Indeed, all of the cliches are accounted for: the beaten down old timers who have given up hope, the kindly older woman who befriends our new fish heroine, the bullying dykes, and the girl who is abused so long she gives up hope and kills herself to get away from the bullying dykes. One wonders how more PC viewers respond these days to the fact that the lesbians in these movies are nearly always the malicious villains, or if it gets in the way of their enjoyment of all the tits and pussy eating. One weird thing- everyone in Germany speaks English in this movie.
Then there's all the tortures and beatings. This one gets particularly ugly early on with a nasty violation scene. Admittedly, if you're watching a women-in-prison flick, you sort of have to expect that, at some point, something will be shoved up a vagina by someone. Sofia is a pretty decent bad girl; in an interesting twist, Kristel's character is openly dominating the head guard. Also interesting is the totalitarian East aspect of the story. In one particularly interesting scene, the women are made to watch a propaganda film about how Communism has liberated the working class.