Archive for Mario Bava

The Dada Book

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 29, 2014 by dcairns

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Jennifer Kent’s THE BABADOOK is getting lots of favorable attention, and the low-budget Australian horror deserves it, though we weren’t wholly captivated. But the minus side — too much generic running around, recycling of tropes from Mario Bava’s SHOCK and THE SHINING*, neglecting the unique possibilities of its original ideas, like the scary pop-up book — is pretty well balanced by some strong pluses.

I’m going to play the game of not spoiling the storyline, but you might pick up hints from the following, and if you want to see the film with a virginal mind, see it first before reading the rest.

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The title is really delightful — Fiona was convinced she’d heard this word before, which is testament to the word-sound’s grip on the collective unconscious. It’s like onomatopoeia for something that doesn’t exist.

The performances, particularly the two leads, are just extraordinary. Little Daniel Henshall Noah Wiseman has one of those wildly expressive, photogenic faces, eyes like fishbowls, porcelain skin, and disconcerting FANGS (like he hasn’t quite grown into his teeth, or like they just grew into him) — he transfixes the camera. Essie Davis as his mum is just perfect too, maintaining sympathy as long as possible as things start to get really, really bad.

The movie is playing an elaborate game with the genres of psychological and supernatural horror, so expect some slide between believing the Babadook is a real monster and thinking it’s all in the mind. Some of this journey is rocky, with promising avenues closed off too soon, and the part of the film where it comes down strongly on one side gets kind of dull and uninvolving — we feel we’ve lost sympathy, and for all the running around, this can only end really badly, which is depressing. But then the movie pulls off an eleventh-hour recovery and goes somewhere quite unexpected and possibly unique in the genre.

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Fiona: “Magicians are scary. Child magicians are very scary.”

Basically, the Babadook — a crow-like caped man with dagger-like fangs, somewhat Tim Burton-like — also a mysterious hand-crafted children’s book with some highly inappropriate content — comes to have a very clear metaphorical significance. He’s the embodiment of a repressed emotion, and ultimately the way of dealing with him seems quite apt and may even have helpful real-world applications for the viewer. Grief isn’t dealt with by violence, and it can’t be effectually shut away and forgotten, and it is a dark, all-consuming monster… I can say no more.

The movie has a jittery, juddery, propulsive editing style which keeps you nervous most of the time. Mom walks towards the front door — the sound of the door opening breaks in before she gets there — we cut to her midway through opening the door, now shot from outside — which smooths over the jumps just enough to feel like smooth continuity, but has an undercurrent of nervous anticipation. This is kept up, which means the film doesn’t get to creep us out much with slow, building suspense, but it’s also a world away from the traditional, conventional 1-2-3-BOO! approach of teen horror. It has its limitations but it’s at least a fresh approach.

*Anyone who has seen LET US PREY, co-written by Fiona & I, will be able to point triumphantly to a lot of SHINING-influenced business in that one, but we already have our answer worked out, which is to deny all responsibility for anything you don’t like, okay? As long as we can take credit for anything you DO like. The ultimate powerlessness of the screenwriter has to confer SOME advantages…

Venus Envy

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on December 14, 2013 by dcairns

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LA VENERE D’ILLE is an awkward movie to consider for this blogathon — for one thing, it’s not so much a movie as an episode of an anthology show called I Giochi del Diavolo. For another, is it late Mario Bava (his last directorial credit) or early Lamberto? I’ve been inclined to refer to Lamberto as “the idiot son” on occasion but this is unfair — his uncredited co-direction of SHOCK resulted in some of that film’s most memorable moments. I’m just not sure, from the samples I’ve seen, if he’s ever managed a solo effort that could compare to his fathers’.

Since Bava Snr crept into film directing rather reluctantly, forced to pick up the slack when Riccardo Freda started taking longer and longer siestas (in an effort to compel his talented but reticent collaborator into the director’s chair), his first movies were really collaborations, so it’s fitting that his last ones should be too. SHOCK is a twisty, knotty, surreal affair which only suffers from a cheesy synth score and a rather dull suburban home location — Bava worked better with more baroque accompaniment, and I prefer what he did in the studio to his location-set thrillers (though the robustly unconvincing ways he combines the two are among the particular pleasures of his oeuvre).

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The curtains Daria Nicolodi is filmed through seem to prefigure the flames licking around Venus in the image up top.

The most intriguing part of LA VENERE, which deals with an ancient bronze statue of Venus, possibly possessing supernatural powers, which is unearthed on a Portuguese country estate, is that it’s barely a horror movie at all. It’s bucolic fantastique, and it takes a certain effort from the Bavas — shambling nocturnal handheld shots inserted more or less at random — to try and amp up the suspense to suggest a horrific denouement may be en route from somewhere or other. Stretched out to the length of its slot, the show suffers a bit from a passive protagonist and not enough plot going on to occupy our attention, but the finale is very satisfying — it might have played even better without the directorial hints of sinister goings-on, as a purely left-field plunge into terror.

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Visually, the film does feel like piecework, alternating from handheld to tripod-n-tracks from moment to moment. This isn’t necessarily the result of two directors sharing the workload, however — it might merely be the result of shortages of time forcing a more fast-and-loose shooting method in some scenes. Impossible to say without doing the research. I should buy the e-book version of Tim Lucas’s All the Colors of the Dark, which no doubt provides chapter and verse. Maybe for Christmas!

A minor work compared to the v. interesting SHOCK and the savage RABID DOGS, let alone LISA AND THE DEVIL which really serves as a madcap summary of all Bava’s film-making concerns.
Mario Bava : All the Colors of the Dark or better yet.

Bloody Red Baron

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on May 11, 2013 by dcairns

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BARON BLOOD, reviewed by me, over at Electric Sheep.

Arrow’s outstanding Blu-Ray does the right thing by this comparatively minor Mario Bava Gothic tale, offering two versions of the movie, a Tim Lucas commentary, and supporting essays.

This was one of the first Bava movies I saw, on a VHS from Redemption Video (not pictured). All the maestro’s movies improve massively when seen in good quality transfers (or original prints), and this one is no exception — the films really are demonstrations of the art of cinematography.

Don’t forget that you can order Bava’s seminal BLACK SABBATH, featuring liner notes by your friend and humble narrator, also released by Arrow and with equally lavish treatment.

Black Sabbath [Blu-ray]

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