Archive for Lydia Bailey

Abby Normal (A Woman Under the Influence)

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2012 by dcairns

ABBY should of course have been called THE BLAXORCIST, but the difference between this and William “King Dick” Marshall’s other horror franchise is that BLACULA derives from a 19th century novel, safely out of copyright (with only the cape borrowed from Bela Lugosi) whereas ABBY derives from a major Warners release. Warners sued and ABBY was taken out of cinemas — though DVDs now circulate, they’re derived from a badly “pinked” 16mm print — nobody knows where the original negative and release prints may be…

William Girdler, writer-director, also made the ridiculous but fun THE MANITOU, memorable for Tony Curtis’s voluminous man-boobs pressing through his see-through shirt. ABBY offers no comparably disturbing images, but does share the fascination with tribal religions. Blatty’s EXORCIST cheekily suggests that Mesopotamian deity Pazuzu is moonlighting as a biblical demon, implying that perhaps ALL the gods and prophets of mankind’s faiths are really just demons in a Catholic universe (Buddha’s not laughing with you, he’s laughing AT you), ABBY centres on Eshu, a god from the Yoruba religion who is allowed his own phenomenological reality. And although the mischievous (to put it mildly) Eshu is ultimately vanquished by a priest, he’s not exorcised by the Catholic ceremony designed for that purpose, but by methods appropriate to the Yoruba religion. So in that sense, ABBY is less conservative than the bigger film.

Girdler tends to exaggerate the effects of the Friedkin film, though, so he has more “subliminal” flashes of weird faces (Dick Smith make-up tests in the original film, exaggerated versions of Carol Speed’s make-up in this one), while paring away ambiguities — the “Why Iraq?” stuff in the first film is replaced by more or less clearly motivated Nigerian scenes in this one. He also makes his victim of possession an adult, which removes some problems (could you legally make Friedkin’s film today?) and creates others.

Subliminal image alert!

On the one hand, having a preacher’s wife possessed by a sex demon could open avenues for grotesque satire (Milo Manara’s porno comic Click! filmed by Jean-Louis Richard [who married Jeanne Moreau, who also married… William Friedkin] gestures vaguely in that direction, with its free hand), but the film is very respectful towards religion, so sex has to be viewed as a horror. Eruptions of untamed libido must be stopped. Admittedly, Speed’s aggressive lust when she’s under Eshu’s influence, she’s pretty unladylike. But the conservatism that’s so unexpectedly prominent in the supernatural blaxploitation genre comes to the fore here.

But so does something else. Friedkin’s cleverest move was perhaps his casting of Mercedes McCambridge as the Voice — years of cigarettes and whisky and being Mercedes McCambridge had given her a throaty, rasping, gargly sound with only a trace of the female. Girdler simply gets a man to do it, and so Abby becomes a hairy-browed sexual predator with a man’s voice. Why do all William Marshall movies end up in a homoerotic Hades of pushmepullyou conflicted response?

ABBY has very committed performances from its ensemble, though Juanita Moore (not only of IMITATION OF LIFE, but Marshall’s co-star in LYDIA BAILEY) doesn’t get enough to do. Her one big moment is an outraged frenzy that anybody should suggest that her vicious nymphomaniac daughter might benefit from the attentions of a psychiatrist. Apparently she’s “good” and “God-fearing” and so she couldn’t possibly be mentally ill. That’s a pretty interesting (ie wrongheaded and dangerous) line of thought, though the movie is perhaps using it simply to avoid a bunch of boring analyst scenes. Instead we get colossal steel slabs of Chrysler maneuvering around Louisville at night.

Marshall is somewhat constrained by playing a man of the cloth, but his wry humour does come out, especially during the climax when he taunts Eshu, using some of his old Blacula condescension — I wasn’t sure whether he’s saying the demon is NOT Eshu in order to annoy it, or because he’s genuinely figured that out. But apparently this is stuff that Marshall added to the script himself, and it’s the best writing in the movie.

The whole climax takes place, in a departure from the source material, in a ghastly orange nightclub, made even more oppressive by the pinkness of the print. This is what the seventies WAS, people. We had brown and orange and that was it. The rest of the spectrum was embargoed until Prince came along. This colourless, windowless, airless, low-ceilinged lounge space is unquestionably the most frightening element of ABBY, and it’s worth watching to get there. Interestingly, since THE HUNGER, vampires have been associated with nightclubs — usually crap movie ones that are years out of date. They’re never frightening, even though a night club is my real-life idea of Hell. But ABBY’s tangerine leisure spaceship is genuinely a horrible, horrible place, where you can feel your soles sticking to the carpet from all the spilled drinks. Don’t watch alone.

Taller, Darker, Stranger

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2012 by dcairns

SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM surpasses the surprisingly appealing BLACULA by virtue of being a bit better made, and because original writers Joan Torres and Raymond Koenig are building on what they achieved last time (a fun, silly, unusual supernatural-blaxploitation farrago) and getting more ambitious. This one has actual emotion and more of a character arc for Mr B.

It also allows His Sexual Majesty William “King Dick” Marshall to get even more Shakespearian (critic Harold Hobson called him the finest Othello he’d seen), and surrounds him, as before, with a high calibre of supporting player, all of whom are better when they have Marshall’s example to play off. Marshall just makes acting better, even other people’s.

Since the previous movie ended with Prince Mamualdi (who never calls himself ‘Blacula’ in that film — it’s like a slave name given to him by the original Drac) meeting his death by sunlight more or less voluntarily, the question of how to bring him back must have been a vexed one. Torres and Koenig devise a voodoo sect riven by internal rivalries, itself a good enough concept to base a decent movie on. Ousted by the membership (who understandably favour Pam Grier), Richard Lawson (EXTREMELY funny in this) discovers a ceremony which can bring forth Blacula from his bleaching bones. Thus reluctantly resurrected, Mamuladi promptly sinks his fangs into Lawson, thus making him his bitch vampiric acolyte.

The two then set up house together, an uncomfortable menage to say the least. Hilarious scene where Lawson complains he can’t admire his pimp duds in the mirror as he’s lost his reflection. As with the first film, the movie is funny AND serious at more or less the same time, and doesn’t care whether you respect it for being witty or despise it for being silly. There’s nothing quite as suggestive as Marshall biting the two gay stereotype interior designers in the first film, but he clearly digs guys just as much as the ladies.

Watching Marshall dominate the whiny Lawson is sadistically amusing. “I will slit open your body and tear out your worthless life,” intones Mamualdi. “I’m having an orgasm,” complained Fiona. Listening to William Marshall speak is a pelvic floor exercise unto itself.

It’s perhaps not surprising that the film captures dysfunctional relationships so well, as co-scenarist Torres appears to be the same person who co-authored Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them.

Then there’s this AMAZING scene —

Marshall’s disgust here is fascinatingly undercut by the fact that he’s building up a stable of slaves himself, whom he lords it over rather  like a violent pimp. His moral beliefs are totally alien to the behaviour induced by his vampire curse (which can stand for a metaphor for anything you like: perhaps man’s violent or sexual instincts, or the anger that comes from oppression), and the conflict between the two intensifies until he finally takes the name of Blacula and surrenders to evil.

Pam Grier, meanwhile, is unusually muted and fully-clad, but again comes to life in Marshall’s presence for a show of truly convincing terror. Acting honours, however, go to Janee Michelle. Her role might seem like nothing on paper, but she gets two great scenes, or rather, she makes them great. When Marshall bites her, she plays not just terror but revulsion, making it seem like a rape. This causes us to lose sympathy for Blacula in a big way, something the film shrugs off as he goes back to being cool and badass and dignified right away, but it’s sewing the seeds for the film’s climax, when the good and bad sides of the character come into stark relief. It also revivifies a very familiar horror movie scene by adding an element of recognizable emotional reality. It makes the whole thing uncomfortable, which it should be. (A film called BLACULA should be nothing BUT uncomfortable.)

Michelle’s second showstopper has her sitting up in her coffin and trying to seduce Pam Grier. There’s no way such a scene could ever NOT be good, one would think, but I was unprepared for how strong it could be — the vampire make-up isn’t great, but it does make her look ILL, and her performance capitalizes on this, giving the lesbian overtones and sickly, necrophile edge.

There’s also Don Mitchell as the smart-guy hero, who’s just about clever enough to work out that the bloodless corpses with bat hairs on them might be the work of a vampire, and that the guy with the cloak is a likely suspect. As ever, the modern vampire movie has the problem of how to deal with the fact that Dracula, in our reality, is a well-known media character — Torres & Koenig elect to just go with this — Dracula is a famous fictional character, but he was also real.

Mamualdi realizes that the voodoo which raised him from death can also cure him of his curse, and so engages Pam in an orgiastic ceremony to purge his soul — much sweating, panting, and clutching of a posable Blacula voodoo doll (Little William, as I call him). If this doll still exists somewhere, I want it. I’m perfectly serious. I’m willing to pay. I’m just not ABLE to pay.

It’s a grand climax. Fiona wanted Blac to win, which is what you’re supposed to want, but had he been cured, a sequel would have been impossible. Bob Kelljan, this movie’s helmer (who’s quite a bit slicker than predecessor William Crain), had already made two COUNT YORGA movies, and a team-up was envisaged. I would be TOTALLY on board for that. Robert Quarry is cool. But alas, United International’s money troubles put paid to the idea, the same way it scuppered PHIBES TRIUMPHANT I guess.

The blaxploitation-horror movie would evolve in a different direction…

Dick the First and His Eight Wives

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on July 17, 2012 by dcairns

LYDIA BAILEY — they needed to give it a dull title otherwise it would have been TOO EXCITING. The plot concerns the battle for independence in Haiti, into which Napoleon’s armies got mixed. The title character is the lovely Anne Francis, the nominal hero is Dale SON OF SINBAD Robertson who comes to get her to sign some papers to help sort out her father’s will (he’s left his fortune to the still-fragile United States), but Robertson’s mission is soon forgotten about (we never see the papers signed and I imagine he lost them around the time he jumped into the waterfall) as is Robertson, even when he’s onscreen. The star of the show is William BLACKULA Marshall in his first movie, as revolutionary warrior King Dick.

King Dick talks softly and carries a VERY big stick, and has eight wives, each a specialist in her own field — cooking, sewing, love-making, voodoo, and so on. He’s always singing the praises of polygamy — “One woman is too much, two are just about bearable, eight is ideal!” The movie, directed by Jean Negulesco in vivid colour, knows full well who the star is, and ends on a shot of King Dick rampant against a burning city.

At times it looks like the movie is going to forget about its new star and focus on beefcake breezeblock Dale Robertson, and only the delights of Anne Francis stave off ennui, but then King Dick springs up again and everything is hunky dory. He should really have had his own movie series: solving crimes; espionage; hitting things with his stick. The possibilities limited only by King Dick’s immenseness, which is to say that they are UNlimited.

Throughout all the luridness and camp excess, Negulesco keeps his camerawork relatively muted — and he was a director who certainly knew how to lunge into hysteria if required. I presume he deduced that in this case he could let the Technicolor, the unruly passions, and the general air of madness do all of that for him. He serves up the fervid antics with the nearest thing to understatement the film has to offer, apart from Marshall’s delivery, which is frequently drily drôle.

The film seems progressive not just because it has a major black character, but it also has different factions of Haitians, rather than treating them as a single unified mass. There’s the political leader, described as the nation’s George Washington, and there’s Juanita Moore, too, in a substantial yet uncredited role. 20th Century Fox’s crediting policy was obviously not as up-to-date as their storylines: Robert Evans gets a prominent cred for playing a nameless soldier, but black actors with major named characters get zip.

Maybe a decade or so later Robertson could have been left out of the movie altogether and we could have allowed chemistry between Anne Francis and Marshall (the movie tries hard to stop them ever appearing at once), which would be REALLY interesting. They’re both pretty potent.

The voodoo dance is directed by Jack Cole, who also appears, quite convincingly, in blackface (because there just aren’t any good black dancers, apparently). And the plot, less believably, has several characters smearing mud on themselves to pass as mulattos — I was waiting for Dale and Anne to dry out in the sun and start cracking and flaking.