Archive for Tragic Ceremony

Yellow Candles

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

I like the way Italian horror movies have multiple titles. BLOOD AND BLACK LACE is also SIX WOMEN FOR THE MURDERER, an original title less elegant than its replacement, although I do like how the final “R” is missing on my VHS. It works nicely if you say it with a strong scouse accent.

Riccardo Freda’s MURDER OBSESSION (1981) is also known as MURDER SYNDROME, THE WAILING and FOLLIA OMOCIDA and HOMICIDAL FOLLIES OF 1981, although I should admit that the it’s only known by the last title in my immediate household. This movie was Freda’s final completed job, and reprises a lot of the giallo oddness of TRAGIC CEREMONY (AKA, and I’m not kidding this time, ESTRATTO DAGLI ARCHIVO SEGRETI DELLA POLIZIA DI UNA CAPITALE EUROPA), combining incestuous oedipal desires, black magic, and heads been split in two in unconvincing but undeniably enthusiastic closeup. Lacking a Mario Bava for opticals or a Carlo Rambaldi for physical effects, Freda has to make-do with pretty shabby SFX, but make-do is what Freda does best. And to his credit, he uses the gore effects as abrupt punctuations of his languid, trippy mood, rather than lingering sadistically on them until you can literally see the joins, as would be the case in most Lucio Fulci movies.

Godard was right — it really isn’t blood, and it really is red.

After one of those already hackneyed openings when a lurid murder turns out to be a scene from a lurid murder movie, we plunge into lunacy as leading man Michael (Fiona: “He’s such a spoon!”) takes his girlfriend to meet mother (“I’ll say you’re my secretary,” he says, cheerily and not at all strangely) at her spooky, electrically-challenged mansion. Although he hasn’t visited mom for years, later he’ll be joined there for a meeting by his director, AD and co-star (exotic porn queen Laura Gemser, rejoicing in the character name “Beryl”) — as if this were a normal or even sane way to do business.

The plot trundles wonkily along, lurching from murder to murder, made appealing only by the sheer preponderance of WTF moments — if I had a clicker to count them, like David Bordwell, I would probably have notched up around one a minute. While the acting is mostly boringly competent (Gemser is neither better nor worse than anyone else), the dialogue is feverishly stupifying, helped by the fact that it occasionally switches randomly to Italian, since the original release was a cut version and the missing, undubbed scenes have now been added back in.

“You were declared not responsible and shut up in an institution far away from here. Then you became a famous actor.”

As with THE HORRIBLE SECRET OF DR HICHCOCK (sic), there’s much running around musty corridors with candelabra full of yellow candles, some characters turn up with monstrously deformed faces for no discernible reason, and change back to normal in an equally unexplained way, there’s surprisingly frank taboo sexual perversion (necrophilia in HICHCOCK, incest here) and a miasma of Catholic angst overhangs everything.

The plot is derailed utterly by a lengthy dream sequence narrated by the heroine to her spoon boyfriend, which he then has no opinion about, and which turns out not to be a dream after all… or was it? And then we get a series of alternate explanations of who’s behind the killings and why, one of which is recounted by a corpse (via a recording made earlier), which makes the whole thing seem like a giallo RASHOMON — or SLASHOMON, if you will.

Freda produces some startling and beautiful images, and succeeded in convincing me by the end that none of this would have been improved by better characterisation, dialogue, or a plot that made sense. His best effects often happen right at the point you expect the film to fall apart, and as in TRAGIC CEREMONY he goes handheld for the Satanic rituals in a way that vividly suggests complete loss of control

“Do you think a lot of filmmakers have issues with women?” ~ MST3K

Paroxysm

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2010 by dcairns

“Freda’s THE TERROR OF DR HICHCOCK has an extraordinary funeral sequence. Black-clad mourners in black umbrellas walk under a silvery glitter of sunlit rain; they pass bright flowers; the grain of the coffin is warmly visible in the sun. The living wood… As the procession passes a row of silhouetted, green-tinged cypresses, a shaft of sunlight pours down on them and for a split second is broken up by the camera lens into all the colours of the rainbow. ‘Artificial’ as it is — the human eye wouldn’t see it — the effect ‘fits’, because it lifts to the level of paroxysm the tragic irony of sunlight at a young woman’s funeral.”

~ Raymond Durgnat.

Ashamed of how long it’s taken me to appreciate just how splendid his writing is. I corresponded with the Great Man late in his life, but I was mainly concerned with buying some rare movies from him (Michael Powell’s BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE), and I thought his prices a bit steep. Then he misattributed some garbled nonsense to me in his PSYCHO book, a work which I think betrays slightly his ill-health at the time of writing.

Now that I’m seriously reading The Crazy Mirror and Jean Renoir, I’m overcome with admiration for Durgant’s zestful and gripping way with both ideas and language, and also the bracing manner in which he shifts from high to low cinema without giving a hoot about class distinctions.

Riccardo Freda, on the other hand, is someone I already appreciated somewhat, having picked up a VHS of LA DOPPIA FACCIA in Berlin. David Wingrove encouraged me to see more, and TRAGIC CEREMONY was a mindblower. Freda isn’t as consistently gorgeous visually as Bava, but hits memorable highs and maybe takes a more intellectual approach. Although this manifests itself very oddly. HICHCOCK never even tries to make sense, and despite borrowings from both SUSPICION (nasty milk) and PSYCHO (doubled identities and schizoid delusions) it markedly refuses to wrap itself up with a cosy epilogue, despite a hero who’s studied under Freud and seems custom-written to perform such a function.

(Since the next draft of the script Fiona and I have been working on has to incorporate changes that don’t seem to make rational sense, which is worrying to my pedantic side, I should probably immerse myself in Italian horror, which follows what Dario Argento calls a “non-Cartesian” dramatic logic, and appeals to what Keats called negative capability — one’s ability to appreciate something without wholly understanding it; in fact, one’s ability to appreciate an object for its mystery.)

Freda’s career stretches from big Mussolini-era costume flicks, to the fantastical works he’s best known for, to his sidekick act opposite Bertrand Tavernier (an odd couple indeed). Tavernier managed to put together D’ARTAGNAN’S DAUGHTER for Freda to helm, aged 83, but Sophie Marceau seems to have had him fired, forcing Tavernier to complete the film. Boo! I read an interview with Marceau where she said she was dissatisfied with the resulting film because it should have been more about her. Marceau probably ought to make like her more talented namesake and keep her damn mouth shut.

Enjoying HICHCOCK so much has put me in the mood to re-see it’s quasi/pseudo/non-sequel, THE GHOST, which transports Dr. H (who conclusively died in the previous film) to sunny Scotland…

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