Archive for Mario Bava

Ulysses’ grunt

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2020 by dcairns

I was intrigued about the 1954 Italian ULYSSES by Mario Camerini and boy it’s handsome — Harold Rosson (THE GARDEN OF ALLAH) as cinematographer, Mario Bava operating, production design by Flavio Mogherini (who didn’t do that many period movies, oddly, but had done the Loren AIDA, the movie with the biggest shoe polish budget ever). It has a lovely misty look.

The script is by Homer but with quite a lot of help — six scenarists, in the Italian/DeLaurentiis tradition, including Ben Hecht and Irwin Shaw, ffs. And the main thing that the result doesn’t have is an effective structure, something Homer had managed quite well all on his own. The hero is introduced, voiceless, in silent flashbacks to the Iliad, then loses his memory and regains it in a series of different, subjective flashbacks, and they keep cutting to Penelope because she’s the producer’s wife, even though Penelope’s situation isn’t really developing much. She’s just waiting for Ulysses. They try to fake a sense of progression but you can only do so much.

We watched the Italian dub because the audio on the English version was pathetic, sounding like it was recorded in a tin shack on the Adriatic, missing whole music cues. But losing Douglas’ voice was a considerable detriment. Like a dark tinted window descended between audience and actor. Whoever was doing the voice sounded quite nice and the orotundity of the language was helpful, but it didn’t seem to connect to the face onscreen. I’ve seen dubbed performances which, though flawed, kinda worked, and this one didn’t. I played back the sirens scene in English: MUCH better. (Silvana Mangano doubles as the voice of the sirens, and later trebles as Circe with the aid of a green fill light.)

Lots of bad scenes where people just stand and talk at each other in groups for ages.

But a decent cyclops (unlike Harryhausen’s, this one talks, though his cave is not worthy of Plato: Plato would have kept looking for something in his price range), a lovely ship and the ending is surprisingly drawn-out for a commercial film (because they want more Mangano) so we get a lot of the stuff that might normally get left out. A badly edited fight with the suitors but it still manages to be quite hardcore and intense. Kirk “gives it both knees,” as you’d expect.

We rarely get the impression that we’re watching people, behaving, though when we do it’s because Kirk has done something good. But we frequently get the impression we’re hearing a legend that has been told for hundreds of years, and that is preferable to the other feeling that threatens to prevail, that of watching a daft fantasy epic.

ULYSSES stars Vincent Van Gogh; Tadzio’s Mother; Paul Gauguin; and Helen of Troy.

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.