Archive for Mario Bava

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.

Rubber Biscuit

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2018 by dcairns

Was discussing something with Anne Billson on Twitter. Those shots where either a character moves on a dolly independently of the camera —

Examples:

Belle in Cocteau’s LA BELLE ET LA BETE, gliding eerily down a corridor of wafting curtains.

This ghost in William Castle’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL — Cocteau maybe invented the trope and Castle maybe introduced it to Hollywood.

The implacable revenant in Bava’s BLACK SABBATH, who never makes the mistake of moving like a normal living person. She teleports from room to room like Droopy (“I do this to him all through the picture.”), sits up in bed without the use of arms, rising like a drawbridge, then finally wheels forward through a rainbow of artfully gelled lighting, arms already in position for a spot of strangling…

Kathleen Freeman as the Penguin in THE BLUES BROTHERS. Landis’s parodic use of the supernatural glide is striking because the trope was scarcely in common use at the time. It wasn’t like the trombone shot/exponential zoom in his THRILLER video, where the gimmick was maybe on its way to becoming overexposed and thus ripe for parody. The nun on wheels (at the very end of the long clip above) feels like it could have been played absolutely straight in a real horror movie.

(I like to think they intended to hire Kathleen Byron as a scary nun but asked Freeman by mistake. But I know this is not true.)

Also, those shots where the camera moves WITH the actor, as if the actor were on wheels or the camera were attached, or both. There are two variations on this (well, two main ones) ~

At the opening of SECONDS, John Frankenheimer and James Wong Howe mount their camera on an actor via some kind of rigid harness, getting a whole range of eerie effects whereby the world lurches about, a drunken handheld nightmare, while the foreground shoulder or slice of face remains rock steady.

Another example of the same thing: Scorsese fastens on to Harvey Keitel for (appropriately) a drunk scene in MEAN STREETS, to the tune of Rubber Biscuit. Scorsese has also attached his lens to a boxer’s forearm to deliver a fist’s-eye view of a punch in RAGING BULL (blink and you’ll miss it) and to Willem Dafoe’s crucifix as it’s raised in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. Interestingly, mounting the camera on a car is normal film language (although this still feels unusual) but latching on to any other moving object is still a novelty.

The other variation ~

Spike Lee is the main proponent of this one — camera and actor are moving in unison, but it’s a steady tracking shot, as if the actor is standing on the same dolly the camera moves on (and he is). Lee seems to do this in every film, and, distressingly, sometimes he seems to be doing it just to prove it’s him. His signature shot.

I used this one in my short film CLARIMONDE, back in the nineties — so Lee may have been the influence. I wanted a dreamlike effect and to show a character moving without free will. We didn’t actually have a proper dolly, just a tripod with castors, so I got my lead actor, Colin McLaren, to balance his feet on the castors and grip the top of the tripod so we could wheel him across the studio floor. I still like the result.

This whole slew of techniques seems to be without a name, unless I’ve missed something. I propose calling it the Rubber Biscuit Shot, even though Scorsese didn’t invent it and Spike Lee could probably stake a better claim to ownership. I just think Rubber Biscuit Shot sounds absolutely right for the weird, dislocating effect.