Archive for Wolfgang Preiss

Exhumed ex-humans

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2019 by dcairns

The credits of CAVE OF THE LIVING DEAD aka LA NUIT DES VAMPIRES aka DER FLUCH DER GRUNEN AUGEN aka BLUTRAUSCH DER VAMPIRE  (1964/5) feature the guy with the greatest Halloween nickname ever, as his real name: Stane Sever.

It’s a West German-Yugoslavian co-production. Alone amid the Eastern block countries, protected by Tito, Yugoslavia made some fun cheesy horror movies in the sixties. Michael Reeves made his first film there, THE SHE-BEAST. This one, however, is directed by Akos V. Ratony, aka Akos Rathonyi, who was nearing the end of his thirty-year career.

Intrepid, boozy, sex-mad detective Adrian Hoven (later a PRODUCER of Euro-horrors) is sent to investigate a series of mystery deaths near a “famous grotto,” each fatality accompanied by a power cut. A story David Lynch might enjoy.

His car conks out just as he arrives at the inn — electromagnetic pulse? or something more sinister, but stupider? Amusingly, when power is restored the next day, the radio is still playing the same tune. That’s how it works, apparently: the radio will pick up where it left off, but maybe play slightly faster until it catches up with the current live broadcast. Either that or Radio Belgrade only has one record to play.

We meet a tavern keeper, a cavern creeper, a wise woman, an unwise woman, a professor who can make his big black candles flame up by breathing on them, like WC Fields, and a deaf mute who’s “harmless, really,” but keeps attacking people — plus he plays the accordion. Not that I’m holding that against him, but it seems inconsistent with his deafness. I suppose he can enjoy the vibrations though. Maybe that’s also why he keeps attacking people. He enjoys the vibrations from his fists thudding into them. While it was, in a way, refreshing to find a hard-of-hearing character portrayed in this unusual way, I felt the other characters were wrong to constantly refer to him as deaf. The thing about this guy isn’t that he’s deaf, or mute, or maybe slow-witted or whatever. The thing about him is that he’s a surly, violent arsehole. The dialogue should not be, “Don’t mind him, he’s deaf,” but rather “Don’t mind him, he’s a violent, surly arsehole. Or maybe do mind him, and give him the occasional punch in the breadbasket.”

There’s also a black manservant working at the local castle (John Kitzmiller from DR. NO). While he’s portrayed as superstitious re vampires, this is perhaps forgivable as he’s RIGHT. More interesting is the fact that the villagers are superstitious of HIM, because of his race, and they’re NOT right. Despite working for the mad scientist vampire troglodyte, he’s thoroughly decent.

I became convinced that at least one, maybe two of the dubbed voices were the same as one of the detectives in Orson Welles’ THE TRIAL. Well, those scenes were seemingly shot in Yugoslavia… but would they have been dubbed there? It seemed unlikely. But I couldn’t shake it. Maybe it was the cavernous echo, and that constipated quality dubbing actors all seem to have because they’re trying to voice three or four different characters. (Welles did a lot of the voices in THE TRIAL himself, and I’d always assumed he was doing that detective. With accompanying strain in voice.)

Really, really shoddy script — we never find out why there are power failures, though we do helpfully cut to the power station at the end where they’re puzzled, too. But old Akos seems to be having fun with a few spooky shots and clever transitions, and his native land has coughed up some good locations.

Am reminded that John Landis conceived AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF OF LONDON after witness a body being buried at a crossroads at midnight on location in Yugoslavia while he was working on KELLY’S HEROES. He later shifted the location to Yorkshire, because they both begin with a Y, I guess.

CAVE OF THE LIVING DEAD stars Professor Henri Vollmer; Jo le Suedois; Dr. Mabuse; Quarrel; and Stane Sever.

Under Steam

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2013 by dcairns

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Back on my Frankenheimer kick — THE TRAIN was one I had fond memories of, but it turns out I’d only seen the last half hour of this two-hour epic. During that section, it’s basically DIE HARD, with the injured but unstoppable Burt Lancaster single-handedly taking on a train full of Nazis with stolen “degenerate” art, the plunder of France.

The earlier parts of the film feature —

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Bad dubbing: with a strange old-time prospector voice emerging from the baggy wreckage of Michel Simon’s huge landslide of a face, and weirdly New York accent issuing from Albert Remy, I wondered if this was a misguided attempt at consistency — since Burt is playing a Frenchman, maybe they wanted all the French characters to sound American. But then a character shows up with a strong French accent, and blows that out of the water. (Also, Paul Scofield assumes a German accent to play a German, while some of the bit players around him actually SPEAK German). Jeanne Moreau sounds like herself, but with her accent dialed down to zero — is she dubbed by a soundalike or by herself with an accent coach hovering over her head wielding a bat?

Gritty textures: most of the best war movies are black and white, and this one makes beauty out of dirt and oil and metal and leather, in a way that would have been impossible with colour. And desaturated hues as in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN do not cut it. In fact, with its clanking, thrumming hissing soundtrack and loving detailing of the textures of machinery and grime, THE TRAIN is like the ERASERHEAD of WWII pictures, except —

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It’s GIGANTIC — they blow shit up on a massive scale, they crash real life-size steam trains, and they imperil human life in the most terrifying ways, Burt does his own stunts, and poor Remy has to uncouple a carriage from a moving train, and one actor has to stand by while a train comes off its track and nosedives into the gravel inches away.

The DIE HARD connection also calls to mind THE GENERAL, another one man army epic, but Frankenheimer’s aesthetic, which combines mockumentary energy with Wellesian Dutch tilts and propulsive tracking shots, aims at conspicuous production values and a relishing of expense that’s alien to Keaton, who serves up spectacle deadpan.

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The pyrotechnics and suspense are augmented by traces of a genuine theme — Scofield’s murderous Nazi actually appreciates the art he’s stealing, not as loot, cultural capital of “the Glory of France,” but as art. And he’s willing to kill for it. Against this is set Lancaster, whose humanist principles are seen as mere animal instinct by the German — he has no comprehension of what’s in these crates he’s required to risk his life for.

The story is told, I think by a screenwriter, of Frankenheimer talking Burt through the psychology of a scene in great detail, only for Burt to say “Ah, what the hell, I’ll just give it the grin.” It’s a story that seems to sum up Burt’s highly physical, movie-star charisma approach to acting — but Burt never actually grins in this film.

He’s very good, if stylised, jabbing and slashing with those huge meaty hands, the actor as athlete.

Movie features a cut from Dr Mabuse (Wolfgang Preiss) to Dr Orloff (Howard Vernon).

Frankenheimer’s ending — incorporating quick cuts of objects littering the ground, objects the story has revolved around — is reprised in many of his films, from THE HOLCROFT COVENANT to RONIN to his last movie, REINDEER GAMES (where the objects are dead Santas, if memory serves).

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THE TRAIN is a smart dumb movie, of the kind one wishes were made more often today. If we can’t have smart, we could at least have this.