Archive for George Romero

Joined at the Hip

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2018 by dcairns

SISTERS (1972) was the first film where Brian De Palma, hitherto a maker of provocative comedy, turned Full Hitchcock. It still feels the freshest of his thrillers, even when it’s secondhand — the PSYCHO playbook must have been open at Brian’s bedside while he was dreaming it up. We also see clearly where BDP differs from the Master — split-screen shots never figured in Hitch’s visual vocabulary, though one robbery sequence in MARNIE seems to hint at the possibilities with a divided frame ~

The tone is also much different — BDP’s feints towards Wagnerian grandeur are largely absent, but his “impish” humour (remember, imps are creepy, stunted, discoloured little guys) is more prominent, and still has an element of satire. (Whereas what is the comedy in RAISING CAIN actually about? Purely self-reflexive, I fear.) So the opening game show sequence — Peeping Toms, a kind of Candid Camera affair where the victims are encouraged to cross ethical boundaries — makes for a funny and weird intro. I especially liked the pan across the audience with the weird guy (De Palma’s pal William Finlay) reading a book in the front row. I’d have liked him even better if he’d just been a pure visual non-sequitur. He is in fact a plot point, and by standing out in a crowd he’s mimicking Bruno at the tennis match in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN.

The opening establishes Lisle Wilson’s character as a nice guy, since he resists peeping at Margot Kidder, and the TV show serves as a meet cute. Other De Palma films have not been so rigorous in making us care about the people. Wilson, of course, is being set up for the Janet Leigh role in PSYCHO. The charming couple go on a date at the ridiculous African Rooms (waiters in grass skirts with the top halves of tuxedos, piped-in jungle noises, SATIRE!) and she gets sloshed, which combines attractively with the French-Canadian accent she’s affecting. Kidder is so cute here — before she got painfully thin — I don’t know how we didn’t all notice on SUPERMAN that this woman was in some kind of trouble — maybe because she’s so damn good in it we gave her a Karen Carpenter-style pass.

Lisle Wilson went on to appear in the wretched INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN, whose poster appears on a wall in BLOW OUT (I think it’s a missed opportunity that the Pennsylvanian exploitation filmmaker in that one isn’t played by George Romero — a man who hated going to the dubbing suite). His niceness may be compromised a bit by the fact that he takes the inebriated Kidder back to her place and sleeps with her — is she too drunk? Or just right? They’re followed by the sinister book-reading man.

(At his Edinburgh Film Fest appearance, some oddball in the audience asked BDP what books he’d read lately, phrasing the question as “You’re obviously an intellectual guy…” BDP rambled on, agreeing, and mentioned a TV series he’d been watching on PBS. So, not a big reader, I guess.)

In the morning, Kidder has an argument with her offscreen twin (and we’ve had a big closeup of the unconvincing and overdone lumpy scar on her hip) and runs out of her mysterious medication. De Palma shows the pills accidentally falling down the plug hole in slomo, another trick he likes far more than Hitchcock — see also Sean Penn’s discarded bullets in CARLITO’S WAY. Lisle goes out to get her more pills and also acquires a birthday cake since he’s learned it’s the twins’ birthday.

“Now I know my ABC…”

AND THEN spoiler alert HE GETS MURDERED. Really great creepy physical performance from Kidder here and she turns chalk-white. The movie’s made-up psychosis, which is apparently triggered because she’s half an hour late with her pills, seems to have aspects of epilepsy thrown in. Also, weirdly reminiscent of Peggy Lynch in THE ALPHABET. White person on bed plus splatter. Raspberry-hued blood, the most unconvincing ever. For some reason, all stabbing victims in this film get it in the upper thigh. Femoral artery — genuinely nasty. Also, Brian is teasing our castration anxieties (see also: DRESSED TO KILL and the Gratuitous Penectomy Conversation).

Then he gets stabbed in the MOUTH, which is fucking horrible, even though the tattered latex prosthetics are completely lousy, not even attempting to look like a knife-wound, just doing what the materials want to do, which is shred and flap. But it doesn’t matter because it’s so unpleasant conceptually and so disfiguring. You feel bad for the guy — not only does he die, he dies wearing unconvincing make-up.

Splitscreen as Lisle crawls to the window and scrawls HELP in his own blood — mirroring the icing on the cake he helped prepare (which totally changes from shot to shot, by the way). He’s seen by intrepid and mildly counterculture journalist Jennifer Salt — later she talks about witnessing the entire murder, which is weirdly not what she sees at all.

Oh, and Bernard Herrmann’s score, which is excellent, is FREAKING OUT during the murder. It’s like the most extreme sound he ever made. The savagery of PSYCHO but with the delirium of TAXI DRIVER (still unborn). It’s like the composer himself is being traumatised by the New Hollywood. Or like Benny is saying, “Gee, these kids are really amping things up — I better do likewise.” He’s about the only example of a film composer of his generation doing major work with the movie brat generation, and those films otherwise tend to depend on source music, or sound design, or pop songs, or gentler scoring by low-key minimalists like the aptly-named Michael Small. John(ny) Williams noodled around for years doing modest and quirky stuff before connecting to old-school grandeur and oomph with JAWS.

From here on, there is some depletion of interest. We have not only lost the sympathetic Lisle, we’ve kind of lost Kidder, since she now seems to be conniving to conceal her crazy twin’s murderous act — in fact, we are SO far ahead on this… BDP will spend about an hour investigating and expositing what we guessed as soon as we saw the rubbery hip scar and overheard the “conversation” “between” the “sisters.”

In fact, despite the plot’s tacky nonsense-science, there’s a smidgen of truth. I saw a documentary about conjoined twin separation once, in which only one child survived. She was only about three. “She seems to be having some trouble with her identity,” reported a clinician. She was sometimes referring to herself by her sister’s name. She couldn’t work out where her sister had gone, and it was somewhere between a bereavement and a phantom limb. There was a suggestion that, in operating while the kids were so young, the doctors may NOT have acted for the best, but only time would tell.

So the big reveal here, that the “normal” Kidder twin has SPOILER created a psychic substitute, a split personality which keeps her sister alive (EXACTLY like Mrs. Bates, yes) is perhaps not so dumb. Only the film’s treatment of the idea is crass and silly. But kind of entertaining.

For light relief, we get a comedy-relief annoying mom (Mary Davenport), also straight out of Hitchcock, and Charles Durning as a private eye (likewise), who brings a lot more interest to the role than the writing suggests. There’s a big hypno-flashback that’s kind of tacky but amusing but redundant since we already guessed everything, and then a funny, unlikely ending which kind of ties off the plot in an intractable knot. Salt has a hypnotic suggestion implanted which causes her to deny the murder ever happened — so the once-skeptical cop, who now WANTS to listen to her, can’t learn anything. And the dead body of Lisle is sealed up in a folding sofa-bed, impossibly, and shipped to Canada. During follows, waiting to see who collects the couch. And he waits. And waits… anyone who knows about the couch is dead or in custody or brainwashed…

De Palma, in his next production, should include a shot of a skeleton dangling from a telephone pole in order to pay this one off.

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Thing I Read off the Screen in The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue: In Search of Meaning

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2016 by dcairns

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GEORGE MEANING, CLOSED FOR HOLIDAYS.

When Spanish director Jorge Grau decided, for reasons not known to me, to set a film in England, he chose for a hero a motorcycle-riding gallery owner and, with Martin-Amis-like playful obviousness, named him George. George Meaning.

THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974), or LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE — the Spanish title translates, with equal cheekiness, as DO NOT SPEAK ILL OF THE DEAD, opens with an ecological montage, interrupted by a naked chick streaking (it was the seventies — the British news was all a-jiggle with public displays of nudity), studiously ignored by all the drivers in their cars, captured TRAFIC-style with a documentary long lens — the film’s seriousness and flippancy are set out clearly from the start.

Though we’re in England, the cast are all dubbed. Arthur Kennedy, an unlikely Scotland Yard detective, MAY be doing his own voice with a lively if loose Irish brogue, but he’s still a bit out of sync, Whoever voiced Cristina Galbo has either decided, or been forced by circumstance, to play her in the style of a very poor dubbing artist. But the guy doing George Meaning (Italian-British actor Ray Lovelock), has made the bold choice of adopting a nasal Estuary twang reminiscent of a camp Ken Livingstone, to striking and hilarious effect.

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POLICE

Like DEATHLINE, the movie makes much of the mutual resentment between the middle-aged detective and the hippyish leading man. While the earlier film’s David Ladd — whom I only just realized is the son of Alan Ladd, holds his own ably in sparring with Donald Pleasence’s congested copper Calhoun, he lacks that ineffable quality of INTEREST which makes a star. Ray Lovelock doesn’t really have it either, but in combination with his anonymous voice artist, he attains it. The sexy-Jesus looks and the deglamorizing whine make an electric combo.

(It seems like a case of the voice actor simply taking the piss, as does the MANCHESTER MORGUE moniker — the movie never visits Manchester Morgue, though it hints it might.)

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Lovelock/Meaning is introduced, via a meet-cute with Galbo, as a really obnoxious creep, (“You look like an Edna,” surely merits a slap, except that Edna is her character’s name so maybe she sees it as a compliment?) but he’s at least smart — he figures out the convoluted causes and half-life-cycle of the zombie plague in about ten minutes, whereas Detective Kennedy is still working on the belief that heroin gives you the strength of ten and can cause a woman to run mad and cave in her husband’s torso. I’m pretty sure he’s wrong there.

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AGRICULTURAL DEPT. MIDLAND AREA, EXPERIMENTAL SECTION

Grau builds on the movie science of Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and anticipates DAWN OF THE DEAD’s gory dismemberments. Like the first Romero (and unlike the sequels) the film offers a pseudo-science explanation for the dead rising, but by comparing the mishap to the recent DDT scandal, it connects more with something like SCANNERS, which tied its futuristic premise to recent real-life events (the unexpected side-effects of Thalydomide).

The ecological and anti-authority angles are clear enough, as is a gloomy portrayal of British society in general — the Old Owl Hotel is an uninviting shithole, despite the presence of an actual old owl.

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Tiny writing: CLIMBERS AND MINERS SERVED IN PASSAGE

In other respects, the film’s attitudes are more elusive. Why is Meaning so mean? And why is the movie? A hotel receptionist has her breast torn off, but it seems to be done in the spirit of all’s-fair-in-love-and-zombie-apocalypse, rather than as misogynistic exploitation movie sadism. Here, and in the casual inclusion of a child with Down’s syndrome as bystander to the drama, Grau’s meaning, as well as his Meaning, is tantalizingly ambiguous.

Peepshow Sheepshow

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on November 3, 2013 by dcairns

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CREEPSHOW! My review of the new, rather sumptuous Blu-ray is over at Electric Sheep — such dazzling presentation turned a movie I’d always considered, as Popeye would say, mediocum, into quite an enjoyable experience.