Archive for Jack Hill

Axe and ye shall receive

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2022 by dcairns

Having taken care of my curiosity about DEMENTIA/DAUGHTER OF HORROR, I thought I might as well tick off DEMENTIA 13 as well — I’d failed to watch it on VHS when I rented it from Alphabet Video back in those days, put off by the pan-and-scan and muddy sound and so on. Now you can see it properly, or nearer properly.

Written and directed by Francis Coppola before he added the Ford, subtracted it again, and then re-added it, DEMENTIA 13 can be regarded as the first film in his informal Irish Trilogy. He followed it with FINIAN’S RAINBOW, you may recall. The third film in the trilogy, CUCHULAIN VERSUS VICTOR MCLAGLAN, has yet to occur to him.

Bits of DEMENTIA 13 are the work of Jack Hill, I believe, brought in to rescue the results of Coppola’s very short shoot, done on the back of Corman’s TOMB OF LIGEIA. I recall being told, though it may not be true, that Roger snapped a pencil when he saw Coppola’s edit, the strongest emotion anyone could recall him ever displaying.

Despite this, if it’s true, the film is rather accomplished. The acting inclines to the “over” variety — and I’m not even particularly talking about Patrick Magee. In scene one the scheming blonde femme fatale has to monologue about her problems and objectives, and that tendency to spell things out for the viewer creeps into most of the actors’ work, whether it’s by arching an eyebrow here or stressing a syllable there. Rather than being simple and truthful, they’re trying to tell the story. A lesson Coppola quickly learned.

The only performance that reaches the heights of entertaining badness is that of Karl Schanzer, cast as “Old Simon”, an aged poacher. Apparently no suitable actor could be found in Ireland so a 31-year-old schmoe from Connecticut is equipped with a bogus cookie-duster and turned loose with a stage brogue calculated to make Orson Welles in LADY FROM SHANGHAI seem like Brendan Gleeson. It’s not his fault, though. (Thinking about it, all Old Simon’s scenes may have been shot back in the States as pick-ups to add a bit more mayhem, which would account for the odd casting.)

I’m not usually sharp-eyed about continuity errors (but I spot mismatched angles) but when the scheming female dives into a pond in her underwear (to plant some dollies on a string — useless to ponder why) I did notice that her panties changed from white to dark grey (who knows what colour they really were?). And then, as I had guessed, we were into the fairly effective murder sequence Coppola filched and played on a psychedelic nightclub wall in YOU’RE A BIG BOY NOW. So that was kind of a spoiler.

It’s a shame to lose Luana Anders, though, she’s the most interesting character — even though she’s a bitch, she has clear goals and is an active schemer. We’re supposed to empathize with the nice girl, Mary Mitchel, but she’s not given any particular needs or wants for us to get interested in.

Now that I can see and hear the film clearly, it’s striking how generally elegant and tasteful Coppola’s filming is. This is not the work of a kid drunk with the possibilities of film, floundering in all directions — he knows what he wants and why he wants it.

One problem: I’m two-thirds of the way through and there are two main suspects. I feel like I won’t be at all surprised whichever of them it is. And I won’t be surprised if it’s somebody else, though I might feel cheated as we’ve had a good look at the killer in silhouette and he’s obviously male, not old, not Patrick Magee. So let’s see if the movie, patterned largely on PSYCHO but with traces of the gothic and LES DIABOLIQUES, can pull off a legit twist.

(We might not expect it to, since Coppola sold the idea to Corman with an improvised set-piece scene, and then concocted a story to go around it, like that weird collar Kermit the frog wears.)

OK, fifteen minutes from the end there’s a big reveal, in which suspicion is lifted from one of the main characters. At this point I decided it was definitely him, on the basis that his being guilty would have the strongest impact on the heroine. (I reached the same conclusion with JAGGED EDGE, the first version of Joe Erzterhaas’ only story.) And I count this as a victory because five seconds later the movie revealed that it was indeed him.

(But there might still be another twist in store.)

Yay! Another twist! Not exactly clear how the first twist is invalidated, it just is. Forget you saw the incriminating clue. But the ending has some strong moments even if it’s wildly unsurprising in plot terms — Patrick Magee turns out to be THE HERO of the film — mud and blood are photographically identical in b&w and so the film is able to deliver some powerful images of abjection without bringing down the censor’s blade — it’s quite a nice tale, on a par with Hammer’s DIABOLIQUES knock-offs, though those sometimes had actual surprise endings.

DEMENTIA 13 stars Koloth; Ellen Sands; Hank (uncredited); Script Supervisor (uncredited); The Chevalier du Balibari; Eileen O’Leary; and Schlocker.

A break from the norm

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2016 by dcairns


I felt kind of guilty that I hadn’t hurried to catch up with Francis Ford Coppola’s YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH and TETRO when they were new. I kind of bailed on him after Francis Ford Coppola’s BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, and saw no reason to bother with JACK or THE RAINMAKER. Uncle Francis was going to get paid whether I saw them or not, so they’d served their purpose. But I intended to give him another chance when he came back with more personal films, I just… never got around to it.

But now I’ve seen TWIXT and am right puzzled. Written by FFC himself, and proudly bearing the American Zoetrope logo, it seems like a personal project. And indeed it incorporates a tragic incident from Coppola’s life, the death of his son in a boating accident (here rendered as the death of a daughter because, as Poe says here, that makes it more poetical). But what it is, is a hoaky, creaky, incoherent gothic fantasy that plays like cut scenes from a video game and feels like it was written by an eight-year-old. Now, that may sound like a knock. In fact, even as it suffers from all these problems, it has some of the dopey charm of cut scenes and children’s writing: naivety can be attractive.


The thing starts with considerable assurance: a spooky Tom Waits voice-over will kick anything off nicely. And the images of the small town are very atmospheric without, for the most part, pushing it: visually, the film is often splendid, with digitally manipulated night scenes that evoke Bava and Freda. As the movie goes on, the stuff set in “reality” becomes more and more laughably unconvincing, but the fantastical stuff has a bit of Lynchian weirdness and, although nothing in the movie makes proper sense, there are bits that seem to link up in an irrational, dreamlike way.

It feels harsh to criticise Coppola for using a personal tragedy in his story — after all, it’s his personal tragedy. He should be free to use it if he wants to. But it felt unresolved, unconnected, and curiously unfelt — maybe because we first see a photo of the dead child right after Kilmer’s done a Brando impersonation in a (quite funny) improv writer’s block bit.


The acting is all over the shop. Val Kilmer works hard to anchor it. It’s lovely to see his ex-wife, Joanne Whalley, here playing his current wife — but she doesn’t convince in her bitchier moments. She’s just too nice. Then there’s Bruce Dern as Sheriff Bob LaGrange, who Coppola clearly believes can do no wrong. I saw Dern in Telluride talk to Leonard Maltin about his work in NEBRASKA, and giving a pared-down performance without any of his trademark “Dernsies.” Well, I think all the Dernsies ended up in this film. It’s a performance made entirely of Dernsies. Waste not, want not. I love Bruce Dern, he is an international treasure. But when he gives his name as “BOB LaGrrrraaaange!!!” he probably could have benefited from some direction. Who gets that excited about their own name? I think you can see similar stuff going on with Anthony Hopkins in DRAC, he keeps getting more ridiculous, waiting for the moment when his director will say, “Okay, maybe that was a little too much…” but the moment never comes.


Oh, we also get Alden Ehrenreich, a Coppola discovery. He plays a ridiculous, Baudelaire-quoting vampire goth biker called Flamingo, and is as good as anyone could be under such circs. Ben Chaplin plays Edgar Allen Poe with an English accent, an odd/lazy choice. But he looks the part. Handsome yet still strongly Poe-like. And I always feel a burst of enthusiasm from somewhere or other when this guy shows up, a bit like with Rufus Sewell, you know? A Rufus Sewell kind of a feeling.


I’m told, and it may not be true, that when Coppola screened DEMENTIA 13, his first attempt at the Gothic, for his producer, Roger Corman, a man not given to loud displays of emotion, Corman snapped a pencil. Which would be like a bomb going off, from Corman. So he got Jack Hill to rescue it. My own pencil-snapping moment came right at the end of this one, when it became clear that nothing was going to wrap up satisfactorily, that Coppola didn’t have a clue how to end the story, that he’d been making it up as he went along and filmed a first draft. And let’s be clear — it’s OK to end a movie with text on the screen saying what happened to the characters IF THEY’RE REAL. Or if you’re being funny. Coppola is clearly being funny some of the time here, but he doesn’t seem to have made a clear decision about when.



Posted in FILM with tags , , , on April 19, 2014 by dcairns


Jack Hill’s corruscating PIT STOP reviewed by moi over at Electric Sheep. Confession: I have never seen Hill’s vaunted blaxploitation films. What’s the best?