Archive for Michael Reeves

Supernatural Voodoo Woman

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2012 by dcairns

“Why are there so few films about voodoo?” asked Fiona. My theory, which I didn’t hatch until a couple of hours after the question, is that, like Satanism, voodoo is actually a bit scary. You don’t want to mess with it. When the Manson massacre occurred, a lot of people were sure it must have had something to do with Polanski having directed ROSEMARY’S BABY. In fact, apart from the first victim being a dog named Dr Saperstein after Ralph Bellamy’s character in RB, there was no connection whatever.

Voodoo is creepy as hell. But SUGAR HILL, one of only two seventies blaxploitation films so far as I know to exploit it (the other being SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM) is pretty winning. It has zestful performances from Marki (THE LANDLORD) Bey, Robert (COUNT YORGA) Quarry and Don Pedro (THX 1138) Colley, and a simple, episodic plot which, like AIP’s PHIBES movies, basically breaks down into a series of inventive murders.

When Diana “Sugar” Hill’s lover Langston is killed by the mob, she seeks revenge by visiting a centenarian voodoo priestess and raising “very greedy god” Baron Samedi (Colley), who in turn raises an army of zombie hitmen — yellow fever victims of the slave trade buried in a swamp. These marble-eyed, inexplicably cobwebbed undead help her massacre gangster Robert Quarry’s  crew, even the ones who had nothing to do with the original murder. They use machetes, voodoo dolls, hungry pigs (“I hope they like white trash!”) and an animate chicken claw. Yes, an animate chicken claw.

The National Association for the Slow, Shambling Advancement of Colored People.

(The actual raising of the god and the zombies is filmed in broad daylight, with added smoke machine and lightning effects, a questionable approach logically, but one which actually yields rather striking results. Otherwise, director Paul Maslansky, who started by producing Michael Reeves’ SHE BEAST and finished up with the POLICE ACADEMY series, does a proficient job with the wide angle lens and the short tripod legs.)

There’s the matter of payment for the greedy Baron — Sugar offers her soul, but he makes it clear that he’s not interested in that. Which paves the way for a sick pay-off, and Sugar’s ultimate triumph over her last enemy, Quarry’s bigoted girlfriend. “Is this in any way acceptable?” I asked Fiona. Micro-pause, then “Yeeeeah.”

As a burlesque on racial themes, the film is probably more nuanced that Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED is likely to be. Baron Samedi at one point disguises himself as a yellow cab driver to lure one bad guy to his doo, and toms it up shamelessly in the role, even humming “De Camptown Ladies.” I dunno if that can be called witty, but it’s kind of funny and unexpected in an exploitation movie, as are the glimpses of labor corruption.

Marki Bey should have been a star — she acts reasonably well, but she RADIATES exceptionally, and seems to be having a ball. Fiona particularly appreciated the fact that she has a special Vengeance Suit.

For all their undoubted vices (which is what they’re MADE OF), Blaxploitation movies gave opportunities to actors who we might otherwise never have seen on the screen. Don Pedro Colley is still acting, but since the era of afros and jive, he hasn’t had a role as substantial or outlandish as this one. I mean, nobody’s cast him as a GOD…

Sound and Fury

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2010 by dcairns

The landscapes of BLACK DEATH are the highlight — photographed by Sebastian Edschmid, they drizzle and waft with just the right blend of impressionism and tactile grit. As for the rest, what Dario Poloni’s script and Christopher (CREEP) Smith’s direction offer is the narrative shape of APOCALYPSE NOW transplanted to a medieval world influenced by Bergman and Verhoeven. But it critically lacks any sense of a climax, and gets dragged down by a prolonged postscript. Characters are, for the most part, regulation thugs, and although Eddie Redmaybe as the novice monk is clearly differentiated from the crew of bullies surrounding him, neither he nor they have any convincing relationships. It’s a film where you don’t believe anybody gives a crap about anybody else, or anything. Sean Bean is forceful as the fanatical knight leading the expedition to investigate a village suspiciously free of pestilence, and Carice Van Houten (BLACK BOOK) is good and mysterious, with her unplaceable non-accent, as the cult leader they find. All the cast are good, in fact, but none make much impression.

Basically, when the film isn’t wowing you with scenery or waaah!ing you with bloodshed, it’s a bit of a flatline. Unlike Michael Reeves’ WITCHFINDER GENERAL, which seems like another obvious influence, the film seems fatally uncertain of its overall point. Reeves’ exploration of the destructive, infectious nature of cruelty and violence was very much from the heart — it’s questionable whether the director of SEVERANCE has such deep feelings on the subject. The movie is utterly devoid of humour, but doesn’t seem deep-down serious either.

Needless to say, it makes me worry about what my own horror movie scripts might be doing wrong…

Pardon the Intrusion

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2008 by dcairns

WORLD EXCLUSIVE from Shadowplay. This is INTRUSION, the first film by ’60s UK horror-film enfant terrible Michael Reeves.

Unfortunately, in the years since its production, the soundtrack has gone astray. Also unfortunately, since Reeves made the mistake of making his film exactly 34 seconds too long for YouTube, I’ve had to omit the opening title that reads, “This film is dedicated to Jean-Luc Godard.” It’s a dedication that makes me smile. Godard dedicated A BOUT DE SOUFFLE to Monogram Films, makers of low-grade quickies. Reeves dedicates his low grade quickie to Godard, without a trace of detectable irony.

dedicated to the one I love

The film isn’t exactly good or anything, but it’s historically very important and it’s been unavailable for years because the people who have their hands on the only print charge a fortune for video copies. Even Reeves’ biographer, Benjamin Halligan, got stung.

So now here it is for free, so you can all enjoy the first film performance of future Reeves star Ian Ogilvy as the Obsequious Butler (?) the fact that the bad guy wears Jean-Luc Godard shades, the novelty of a would-be hard-edged thriller being performed by public schoolboys in the leafy English countryside, and the complete lack of irony or plot twists.

Neon Ogilvy

It’s an early work, owing more to Reeves’ hero and mentor Don Siegel than to Godard, and probably of interest only to Reeves completists. We get the sex (sort of) and violence (sort of) and the rural and distinctly English setting, which connects it to other Reeves movies, even if it is basically a home movie by precocious teenagers. We’re certainly not talking TWO MEN AND A WARDROBE here. The rest of you should check out psychedelic psycho-thriller THE SORCERERS and vicious allegory WITCHFINDER GENERAL to see Reeves at his height, and mourn the loss to British cinema — Reeves died of an accidental overdose at age 25.

(I love the fact that for some reason INTRUSION is “A Leith Production,” since that’s where I live in Edinburgh. The name has fulfilled itself.)

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