Archive for the Giallo Category

BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, British Horror, Compelling Cinema, Enigmatic Films, Giallo, Independent Cinema, LL Soares Reviews, Psychological Horror, Unusual Films with tags , , , , , , on July 9, 2013 by knifefighter

BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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The sense of atmosphere in BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO is so thick, you could chop it with a machete, and that’s a big part of what makes it so fascinating. More a character study (and a study of a specific time and place in film history) than an outright horror movie, Peter Strickland’s BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO nonetheless has a pervading, unsettling mood throughout.

Toby Jones (probably best known for playing Truman Capote in 2006’s INFAMOUS) plays Gilderoy, a mild-mannered Englishman who seems to have mostly done sound for children’s shows and nature programs back home, is somehow plucked from his small existence and inserted into an Italian horror movie studio. The vibe is completely 1970s, at the high of the giallo craze. Gilderoy is a fish out of water, and there’s more than a little Kafka in his situation. Many of his co-workers do not speak English. Those who do, specifically the film’s producer Francesco (Cosimo Fusco) and the mysterious director, Giancarlo Santini (Antonio Mancino), are tall, intimidating men whose comments to Gilderoy can sometimes seem more like threats.

Gilderoy is not really sure why he was chosen for this project, especially based on his previous work, but, as Francesco tells him at one point, there are people dying to do his job for free, so he should be happy to do it. The implication being that he should be willing to do it for no money, which he isn’t. But trying to get reimbursed for his flight to Italy alone is an ongoing dilemma, as he keeps getting shuttled from Francesco, to his secretary Elena (Tonia Sotriopoulou), to the Accounting Department. It’s quite clear that the studio isn’t very eager to pay for anything unless it really has to. At one point, the guy in accounting tells Gilderoy that there was no record of a flight leaving England the time he said he flew, and that they cannot pay him back. By then, Gilderoy is so frustrated (since he clearly was on this supposedly non-existent flight!) that he begins to lose his cool, and the worm finally begins to turn.

For hardcore film fans, BERBERIAN is a fascinating look at a side of cinema we rarely see. Sure, we’ve seen the making of a film from the actors’ point of view, or the director’s, but this movie finally gives us entrée into the studio where the sound engineers and foley artists do their thing. We get to see which vegetables and fruits, when smashed or otherwise destroyed, make for the best sound effects, and how a scream can be amplified and manipulated to set your hair on end.

I thought the technical aspects in BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO were fascinating. But I didn’t find much of a plot here. Not that this is particularly detrimental in BERBERIAN’s case. As his ordeal goes on, Gilderoy feels more and more cut off from the outside world, and the movie does a good job of making us feel as claustrophobic as he does. The only people he sees every day are Francesco and the other sound guys. Occasionally Santini stops by to strut around and tell Gilderoy how wonderful he is for the project (meanwhile laughing behind his back in Italian with Francesco). There are also actors and actresses who come and go, spending time in sound booths to either dub dialogue or make vocal sound effects. Or scream.

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It is one of the screaming actresses, Veronica (Susanna Cappellaro)  who befriends Gilderoy. She’s the only one who really seems interested in him as a person, and who confides in him that Santini has been sexually harassing her (as he seems to be doing with all his actresses, some of whom are more responsive to his advances), when he’s not treating her and her co-stars like garbage when they don’t scream just right for his satisfaction. She decides to get revenge on Santini and the production in a way that is very effective (if bloodless).

There are scenes of menace. One particular scene involves Gilderoy waking up to someone thrashing his door and wildly shaking the knob. When he grabs a knife to investigate, he wanders out into the hall, eventually finding himself in a screening room, where the projector starts running and plays footage on the wall behind him of everything that had just happened (inside his room!).

The film the crew is making, concerning 16th century witches who rise to fulfill a curse, and who are in the tunnels beneath an equestrian school—the Italian title translates as “The Equestrian Vortex—bares more than a passing resemblance to Dario Argento’s classic SUSPIRIA (1977), which involved witches and a girls’ dancing school. Of course, we do not see much footage from the film. Early on, we see the opening credits. But the rest of the time, we only know the story based on the recitation of lines by the actors in the sound booths.

Gilderoy is clearly uncomfortable with the subject matter of the film. Whether he is ripping radishes from their stems to replicate the sound of hair being torn from a witch’s head, or listening to women scream over and over (as they are forced to do retakes), he clearly is not thrilled with what he’s doing, even if he realizes it is a unique opportunity for someone who has only done sound for films for the telly back in England (and, despite his age, who still lives with him mum).

His only contact with his former life is in the form of letters from his mother, which start out mundane enough, and which get stranger as time goes on. When an actress recites the contents of one letter, line for line, in front of him, you know something sinister is afoot.

As he is forced to redo sound for scenes over and over, we start to wonder how long this job is going to last, and then wonder if he will ever be allowed to leave. We never see him go outside. He is either in the studio (which is most of the time), or in his room. If there is horror here, it’s the horror of being trapped in an unpleasant place without knowing if you’ll ever escape. Because the longer Gilderoy stays there, the more it seems he won’t be permitted to leave.

The cast is quite good, led by Jones, who is one of those gifted actors who, because of how he looks and sounds, will never be a traditional leading man, but who you want to see more of. Aside from playing Capote in INFAMOUS, Jones’s Hollywood career has amounted mostly to small roles as a character actor (like playing one of the commentators in THE HUNGER GAMES, 2012),  so it’s nice to see him take center stage again in this smaller, British production.

The emphasis on technical details and atmosphere and subtle menace makes this a little different from the usual horror-related film. As I said early on, it’s much more interested in giving us a glimpse into one man’s life than scaring us, but the sense of dread is strong here, and seems quite real.

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Director Strickland has created a unique film that reaches in the direction of art. While it won’t appeal to everyone (it does move at a slower pace than most summer blockbusters), the audience that will appreciate it will obviously have a good time with it. I know I did.

I give BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

(Note: BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO has been having a very brief run in arthouse theaters in some cities. It is also currently available on some cable OnDemand services)

LL Soares gives  BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO ~three and a half knives.

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Listens to THE SCREAMING MIMI (1958)

Posted in 1950s Movies, 2012, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Crime Films, Film Noir, Giallo, Mystery, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , on August 2, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

THE SCREAMING MIMI (1958)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

What do you get when you take a respectable novel by a legendary writer, mix in a beautiful ex-Miss Sweden, and the world’s best known stripper (and musical theater role-of-a-lifetime)?  Go ahead and toss in the director of A KISS BEFORE DYING (1956) and numerous OUTER LIMIT episodes and the guy who penned the screenplay for FROGS (1972).  You get THE SCREAMING MIMI (1958), a whacked-out, nearly adults-only movie that skirts exploitation while titillating audiences with copious teasing moments.

Statuesque Anita Ekberg (ARTISTS AND MODELS, 1955 and KILLER NUN, 1979) stars as Virginia Wilson, an exotic dancer from New Orleans who is introduced to us taking a shower on the beach.  Va-va-voom!  Rusty, her dog, keeps barking at the bushes until he is killed by a madman with a huge knife who has escaped from an asylum.  As Virginia fights him off while he tries to rape her, her stepbrother shoots him dead with his shotgun!  She goes mad and is admitted to the Highland Mental Health Hospital.  She believes that she killed her attacker.  What an opening!  That’s the first four minutes, folks!

Through therapy, she gets better (or does she? Duh-duh-DUHHHH).  Even in the mental institution, she’s incredibly beautiful, and her psychiatrist falls in love with her, and the feeling is mutual.  “Please don’t leave me,” she begs, claiming she’ll do anything he says.

Meanwhile, her stepbrother, Charlie Weston (Romney Brent – THE VIRGIN QUEEN, 1958 and TO HELL WITH HITLER, 1940) teaches sculpture in New Orleans.

Virginia gets a job at a nightclub, El Madhouse, as Yolanda Lange!  The hostess of the club, Joanie, is none other than Gypsy Rose Lee, world famous stripper and the eponymous basis for the musical GYPSY.  Faster than you can sing, ‘Let me entertain you,’ we are in the nightclub and the Red Norvo Trio (oddly enough, actually a quartet) play jazz while the bartender yodels bad opera.  The waiters dance like the Nicholas Brothers.  Playing the hostess, Gypsy Rose—I mean Joanie—tells a customer to “Drink up!  My rent is due!”  She glad-hands the room before introducing Yolanda, who does an exceptionally erotic dance for the late Fifties, involving two ropes hanging from the ceiling.  It’s like Circus of the Stars with more bump and grind.  The crowd goes wild, which makes me wonder how strong their drinks were.

Anita Ekberg dances up a storm in THE SCREAMING MIMI

Joanie runs across the room to greet a journalist she knows, Bill Sweeney, played by Phillip Carey who was also in I WAS A COMMUNIST FOR THE FBI (1951) and a longtime regular on (the soap opera) ONE LIFE TO LIVE.  He congratulates her on not getting raided yet.  Joanie tells him Yolanda is the greatest thing ever in nightclub history (whhaaaat?), and she introduces them.  They meet cute in her dressing room where she’s bought a new dog, a huge beast named Devil.

Yolanda and her Great Dane, Devil.

Bill interviews her thusly:

Bill Sweeney: How tall are you, Yolanda?
Virginia WIlson (aka Yolanda Lange): With heels or without?
Bill Sweeney: With anyone. Me, for instance.

Suave, Bill, very suave.

He discovers a twisted sculpture by her dresser, a woman contorted in pain, mouth open wide in terror.  She introduces her manager, Mr. Green, her ex-psychiatrist!  He’s played by Harry Townes, a veteran TV actor with more than 150 shows under his belt.  After the press leaves, he shoves Yolanda/Virginia and tells her she must always do what he says, no matter what, no questions.  He yells at her about having the sculpture; he’s told her to destroy it.  He wants her to make enough money so they can go to Europe, so no more men stare lewdly at her, so he can be a doctor again.  She is completely under his spell.

Cut to later that night—Yolanda is discovered in a state of shock, stabbed in the side and stomach, protected by her fiercely loyal Great Dane (“A great dame with a Great Dane,” one man calls her).  Bill gets her to the hospital, but something is bothering him, so he does what anyone would do—he takes a trip to the newspaper morgue.  Searching through old copy, he finds a story about another exotic dancer who was murdered a few months ago, and she was found with the exact same sculpture next to her when her body was discovered.  Hmmm…

While Mr. Green and Yolanda continue diving deeper into their toxic relationship, Bill tracks down the sculptor who created the Screaming Mimis, and it is none other than Virginia/Yolanda’s stepbrother.  He based the art figurines on Virginia when he rescued her, screaming, naked in the beach shower.  He insists the sculptures are a kind of therapy for him, but he was always sad that Virginia died in that hospital.  It appears Dr. Green and Virginia lied to him to get her out of the asylum and out of the country.

When Bill returns to New Orleans, he is seduced by Yolanda, despite the eternal interference of Dr. Green, who appears more fixated than ever on his former patient.  Will Yolanda run off with Bill and leave the obsessed psychiatrist?  Who killed the first dancer and attempted to murder Yolanda?  What is the connection of the Screaming Mimi statues?  It all comes to a head in a twist ending you’ll catch if you’ve watched carefully.  Don’t expect me to tell you who did it!

The legendary Gypsy Rose Lee introduces Anita Ekberg and Phillip Carey in THE SCREAMING MIMI

Mention must be made of the exquisite camerawork by the fabulous Burnett Guffey, who shot many great classics, such as FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953), BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (1962), THE INFORMER (1935), and Hitchcock’s brilliant and underrated FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940).  The winner of two Oscars, Guffey brings a really brilliant look to THE SCREAMING MIMI.  There’s a terrific seduction scene in a hotel with a blinking sign outside the window.  The room is lit only by the buzzing neon, and when it goes dark, it goes dark for a daringly long time, tightening the tension.  Is someone kissing someone or killing someone?  You actually find yourself squinting to see.  Also, Anita Ekberg is shot in a sort of halo-like light throughout the film, especially that long golden hair of hers, which could be a character itself.  It takes a somewhat pedestrian script and raises it to a whole other level.

The acting is uniformly fine.  Ekberg, no great actress, is quite good in this, although she seems to be in shock or catatonic through most of the feature (probably a good move on the director’s part), but it’s Harry Townes as Mr. Green who impresses the most.  He oozes sexual frustration and twisted morality.  Every line in his face is etched there by this woman he needs to protect, needs to own.  Hell, even Gypsy Rose Lee is fine.  She seems to be having a grand old time smoking and playing cards and insulting everyone.  She does sing an entire song in the movie at one point, and she proves she should stick to dancing and stripping.  The song, ‘Put the Blame on Mame’ is dreadful anyway, but with her off key mumbling, she should have been booed off the stage.  She does know how to work that fringe dress when she starts dancing, though!  Interestingly enough, Gypsy Rose Lee wrote a novel, a thriller called THE G-STRING MURDERS in 1941, which was turned into a movie, LADY OF BURLESQUE (1943) starring Barbara Stanwyck!  Life does indeed imitate art.

Plus, if that great musical score sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the classic music from ON THE WATERFRONT (1954) by Leonard Bernstein!  Yes, sometimes even the most famous scores were recycled as library music by the studios, and THE SCREAMING MIMItook full advantage.

THE SCREAMING MIMI was based on a book by the legendary mystery writer Fredric Brown.

THE SCREAMING MIMI is a fun mystery that somehow straddles the line between the film noirs of the 1940s and 1950s and the Italian giallo of the 1970s.  It contains all the femme fatales, the luckless people pulled into bad situations, the shadowy streets and hotel rooms of the film noirs while exploiting the sordid sexuality and twisted psychology of the films of the giallo genre.

I give THE SCREAMING MIMI three beach showers out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl