Archive for Mario Bava

Ghostlight

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 16, 2019 by dcairns

Theatrical lighting change from THE DEMON OF MOUNT OE (1960).

One thing Fiona and I don’t have time to get into in our forthcoming video essay on KWAIDAN (1964) is the extent to which some of the film’s stylised effects were somewhat longstanding tropes in the kaidan genre. Here, director Tozuko Tanaka is fading up a light to change the aspect of a character and show that something spooky is afoot and to present a transformation.

While I have no trouble believing Masaki Kobayashi had seen this movie or ones like it before embarking on his own ghost story compendium, what I haven’t figured out is whether Mario Bava was aware of this school of filmmaking when he started doing similarly theatrical colour changes in BLACK SABBATH and THE WHIP AND THE BODY. Easy to imagine the Italian maestro catching a look at KWAIDAN and loving what he saw, but his effects were staged before Kobayashi’s… but after Tanaka’s. But it doesn’t seem very likely that DEMON OF MT. OE was screened much anywhere in the west.

Is there a missing link in this chain?

Bava had emulated Mamoulian and Karl Struss’s lighting changes in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931) when he created a transformation scene in Riccardo Freda’s I VAMPIRI (1957). But that’s slightly different: you’re not aware of the lighting change, since it’s a change only of colour in a b&w movie: what it does is reveals coloured makeup on an actor, resulting in a transformation before your very eyes in a single shot. That could very well have given Bava the idea of doing something in colour where the shifting gel effects are undisguised, which would make it one of those weird cases of parallel development you get sometimes…

Mishigothic

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2019 by dcairns

First up! Veteran Shadowplayer and Late Shower Brandon Bentley contributes a rip-roaring entry to Project Fear — the quasi-blogathon that’s now more of an empty grave — or death ditch, if you will — for Boris Johnson’s desired yet doomed hard and early Brexit. The subject is Juraj Herz’s blood-drinking car movie FERAT VAMPIRE. Here!

As if that weren’t enough, I have a cheesy Italian Gothic for you, “presented” by Richard Gordon, British producer (TOWER OF TERROR, HORROR HOSPITAL, FIEND WITHOUT A FACE and other alliterative masterworks) who also gave us Monday’s dubbed fangfest.

“I wonder if the key to the mystery of Countess Irene’s death is… oh never mind.”

Actual dialogue from TOMB OF TORTURE, a 1963 Italian horror directed by Antonio Boccaci, who didn’t want to sound foreign so he used the pseudonym Anthony Kristye. Nice work, there.

There’s a clue to the low budget in the title: why build a castle with both a crypt and a dungeon, when you can save money and space by combining the two in a TOMB OF TORTURE? Mwuahahaa?

Damnit, I would have loved this as a kid. The scary dream sequences are full of monsters, skeletons and deformed ghouls, some of which spill out into the “real” sequences. I would have been frustrated by it not seeming to make much sense, but now I love that, so I do.

A couple of sixties chicks go exploring in a castle where Countess Irene disappeared twenty years ago. They get attacked by a deformed ghoul, find themselves in the TOMB OF TERROR, and are then, in turn, found dead in the woods by some characters in a period movie. Did their corpses travel back in time? Or did the costume department just fail to set the historical setting properly? Fiona tells me the costumes are aiming to evoke the 1910s, but I just see Carnaby Street.

Oh good, a guy in a turban and incredibly poor brownface makeup that doesn’t reach the back of his neck. Turns out this is Mr. Boccaci/Kristye, under the additional stage name of William Gray. The other best Anglo pseudonyms in this one are Thony Maky (?) and Elizabeth Queen. A perfectly reasonable name, but somehow sounds funny.

And now the locals carry the bodies off slung in a blanket, perhaps looking for a burning building so the cadavers can be bounced through an upper story window. Marvelous stuff, and I note that it’s “presented” by the same chap who did CAVE OF THE LIVING DEAD, I reckon he dubbed it and foist it upon the English-speaking world. I reckon his business card didn’t say “distributor,” but “foister.”

Inappropriate music seems to be a big thing in Euro-horror. The opening of Jesus Franco’s SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY, in which shots of bottled foetuses are overlaid with upbeat, psychedelic party tunes, will never be bettered, but the same principle can be detected in the use of sexy/romantic music for gialli, and the children’s rhyme tune in KILL, BABY… KILL! — an ingenious idea that launched a major genre cliche. It’s clear what Bava and the great Carlo Rustichelli were up to there, less clear with Franco and Hubler & Schwab were about, other than throwing things together without too much consideration or scruple, but this one is something else again. There’s some effecting Twilight Zone-style loose twanging — a sort of depressed surf guitar thing — and electric organ. But other bits are just ludicrous, like the laughing trombone that obtrudes on moments of psychological disorientation. And then there’s a love theme played as the heroine strips for a swim… OK, I understand what you’re going for. But then the disfigured henchman looms from the undergrowth… and the music continues, without changing tone at all. Hilarious. Armando Sciascia is the man we have to thank. No wonder Franco sought him out for THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN. He’s just the right kind of idiot to do it and do it good.

before…
….after

The deformed manservant turns out to be a butler cudgeled with a sword by the villainess, who for some reason has taken to wandering about nights in a suit of armour. On the minus side, he looks like he’s had a bad accident with some papier mache, but on the plus side, it’s apparently served as a great hair restorer. I may try this myself, if Fiona will don the requisite plate mail.

They have quite a severe hamster problem in their TOMB OF TORTURE, I regret to say.

THIS GUY is never explained. I guess probably he’s just another member of the domestic staff who got hit with a sword VERY BADLY. In the TOMB OF TORTURE.

Oh never mind.

Blood from the Dummy’s Tomb

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on October 20, 2018 by dcairns

DEAD SILENCE (2007) is the film that helped steer director James Wan away from the softcore torture porn of SAW and into the supernatural realms he’s mainly been exploring since. But at this early stage, he hasn’t mastered the genre. His later ghost stories have both effective suspense and shock sequences, even if they’re light on brains. They take their time, the better to scare you. DS goes all out, and after the first, moderately effective sequence where most of the sound cuts out, so we have a very visible but eerily inaudible thunderstorm and the victim-in-waiting’s breath is the loudest sound, it degenerates into fast-cut noisiness, not helped by a seriously overcooked score that seems to be trying to play THE EXORCIST’s Tubular Bells, THE OMEN, Danny Elfman and a half-dozen other undigested musical clichés all at the same time.

But we do get the eerie Judith Roberts from ERASERHEAD (“beautiful woman next door”), two (two!) icky human puppets, and an effective set-piece in a sort of ventriloquism museum with assorted dummies behind glass, and a couple other OK bits. But as with SAW, Leigh Whannell’s script offers almost no believable human interaction, and you strongly sense that you’re in the hands of filmmakers with extremely limited life experience. It’s rare to see a professional movie with a certain slickness but a vision of characterisation so close to that of a fifties drive-in movie.

And the WORST attempt at a scary rhyme I ever heard. “Beware the stare of Mary Shaw. She had no children only dolls. And if you see her in your dreams; be sure to never ever scream.” Doesn’t scan! Anyone reciting that junk deserves to be possessed by the spirit of an undead puppeteer.

Lots of Mario Bava references, I’ll give them that. More BLACK SABBATH than KILL, BABY, KILL! And we appreciated the retro Universal logo at the start.