Archive for the Surrealism Category

The David Lynch Chronicles Volume One: MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

Posted in 2012, Art Movies, Classic Films, David Lynch, Experimental Films, Film Noir, Just Plain Weird, Plot Twists, Surrealism, The David Lynch Chronicles with tags , , , , , , , on March 21, 2012 by knifefighter

The David Lynch Chronicles Volume One:
Two Lynchians Take on MULHOLLAND DRIVE
By Nick Cato and Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

Nick Cato: There are two kinds of people in the world: those who “get” and enjoy the films of David Lynch and those who think he’s simply filming whatever comes to mind in an attempt to con the artsy-fartsy crowd out of their money and validity.  When I was about 20 minutes into my first viewing of Lynch’s iconic ERASERHEAD (1977), on VHS back in the early 80s, I became fascinated with the surreal director, both by his demented images, and later with the craft of unraveling his stories: yes, I said the CRAFT, because a single viewing of most of Lynch’s films won’t reveal too much.  His films demand multiple viewings, and more often than not, major contemplation.  And while some of his films, such as ERASERHEAD and WILD AT HEART (1990), are easier to decipher than later titles such as THE LOST HIGHWAY (1997) and the super-brain twisting INLAND EMPIRE (2006), this first look for CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT at a David Lynch classic goes to 2001’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE, that, while head-scratching enough and open to various interpretations, does have several ideas running through it that a vast majority of the director’s fans agree on.

Sort of.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: “Sort of” is right. When it comes to interpretations, we could spend days going over the elaborate details and symbols. I’ve seen Lynch films with people who insist he’s just messing with the audience. On the surface, perhaps that’s true. It might even be just another trick up the genius’s sleeve. My first Lynch experience was also ERASERHEAD. It was an English major’s dream come true. As someone who had been taught to look for symbols under every bed and in every corner, the film clicked with me. MULHOLLAND DRIVE brings me back to that experience, as do many of Lynch’s films, sitting in a darkened room, unraveling these intricate knots he’s woven for us.

Nick Cato: Like most of Lynch’s films, I didn’t even bother trying to interpret what was going on during my initial viewing of MULHOLLAND DRIVE.  I was taken aback by just how addictive this gorgeously-shot film was, plus, as usual, simply enjoyed Lynch’s surreal images and several scenes that are creepier than anything you’ll see in a solid, seriously made horror film.  But things began to take shape in my mind, even before the second screening.  A brunette woman (played by the beautiful Laura Harring) survives a nasty car collision, seconds before two men were apparently about to shoot her.  She stumbles out of the wreck and makes her way down the Hollywood hills, taking refuge in an apartment where she notices the owner (and older woman) is on her way out.  Another woman named Betty (played by Naomi Watts) arrives in Hollywood to take her first screen test, and stays at an apartment owned by her aunt.  She soon discovers the brunette woman in her aunt’s bathroom, and discovers she’s suffering from amnesia.

So far, MULHOLLAND DRIVE gives an interesting and some might say “normal” set up, despite the unusual opening credits sequence, where Betty is superimposed over what looks like some kind of 50s dance program, and the sequences of the amnesiac surviving the wreck and eventually meeting Betty are divided by one of the most head-scratching things Lynch has ever done: Two men are in a restaurant, one claiming he wanted to be there as he’s been having nightmares about the place, as well as a spooky figure who lives outside behind it.  The men discover that the figure behind the diner IS real, causing the one who dreamt of him to pass out.

During the early meetings of Betty and Rita (a name the brunette takes off a film poster when Betty asks her name), we see mysterious men talking on the phone, saying things like “she got away” and “we missed her.”  Evidently, someone is trying to kill Rita.  Lynch’s mystery is off.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: There’s something dream-like about the opening sequences that really made me take note. To say the setup is “normal” would probably be misleading. Betty seems so saccharine that she can’t be real. Chipper to a fault, optimistic beyond belief, she charges into Hollywood, ready to take on her first audition with the kind of aplomb reserved for the mentally ill or children. She’s Dorothy headed down the Yellow Brick Road. Even the elderly people she meets on her flight out to Hollywood seem odd beyond imagination, excessively cheerful, nearly insane with joy, wishing their fellow passenger all the best on her journey to become a star. They also have the creepiest smiles this side of Mr. X’s in ERASERHEAD.

I found that even the scene in which Rita is about to be eliminated is so cliché as to be unreal. Lynch seems to be setting us up for something that is so far from reality that it has to be questioned immediately. Hit men only take beautiful women out in limousines to murder them in movies. It’s almost as if Lynch has established a film within a film. It’s even suggested early on that the real hit man in the story is a bumbling low-life who can’t even carry out a simple task without causing utter chaos. He’s no suave mobster in a limo, that’s for certain.

The man in the diner scene near the beginning gnawed at me for a long time. I have an idea that meshes with a sort of WIZARD OF OZ retelling, but to keep it simple, I feel he’s a cowardly lion of sorts.

Nick Cato: MULHOLLAND does a fine job of balancing suspense and straight drama, especially when Betty goes to her first audition, a sequence that not only displays the acting skills of Naomi Watts, but one that leaves me breathless every time I see it.  Between this scene, and the scenes of movie director Adam (Lynch favorite Justin Theroux) being threatened to alter his film by a group of gangsters and an extremely strange cowboy (played by real-life cult film producer Monty Montgomery), the film develops a deeper story on a few levels.  One classic Lynch staple put into play here are mysterious, underground people seemingly causing things to happen behind the scenes.  We’re never sure if they’re the mafia, or corrupt studio executives, or everyday goons hired out by a rival of the aforementioned director.  Either way, their presence here gives MULHOLLAND much of its mystery, and in the case of the cowboy enforcer, some latent humor that doesn’t take away from the film’s serious tone.

Betty (Naomi Watts) and Rita (Laura Harring) dealing with Rita’s amnesia

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: There’s certainly no shortage of suspense here. As a Lynch addict, I try not to take any plot point for granted. You never know when there’s a trick. I really do feel that Lynch is a magician of sorts. If you blink, you’re likely to miss something.

The cowboy is one of the more mystifying characters. He seems to be the enforcer for this whole underworld operation, at least on the surface. He tells Adam to pick a girl in a photograph, a blonde woman named Camilla Rhodes, to play the lead role in his film – the one that has been grabbed away from him by the Castiglione brothers (one of whom is portrayed by famed composer Angelo Badalamenti, who provides the chilling music to many of Lynch’s works). The brothers may be the leaders of this mob-like organization. Adam’s choices, the cowboy tells him, are to either pick that girl or have his career ruined. It’s the only option he has left after being kicked out of his house by his wife, who is having an affair with the pool boy (portrayed hilariously by Billy Ray Cyrus).

Nick Cato: When Betty and Rita visit an apartment that happened to pop into Rita’s memory, what they discover provides a turning point in the film, one that throws a curveball that put MULHOLLAND on a path I’m assuming most viewers never saw coming.  Now fully convinced someone is out to get Rita, they disguise her in a blonde wig, making the two look like sisters.

Shortly after they discover Rita’s pocket book contains $50,000 in cash, as well as a mysterious blue key, the women have their first sexual encounter, cleverly placed by Lynch where it is in the film’s progress; we’re so taken with the sight of these two beautiful ladies in bed together (and apparently falling truly in love) that the little hints Lynch has left for eagle-eyed viewers to notice are all but forgotten.  But it’s at this point where Betty and Rita really try to find out just WHO Rita is and where she came from.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: I’m not so sure this steamy scene is intended as a way to distract viewers from the clues. I think it’s a very big clue in and of itself. Rita is a vulnerable woman, someone who has forgotten who she is. Betty plays a traditionally masculine role here. She’s sweeping in to save the damsel in distress. She is compelled to save Rita, to help her remember who she is. I think you’ll find this extremely important later in the film.

Nick Cato: Perhaps some of us guys became more easily distracted than most female viewers?

In one of my favorite sequences, Rita has a dream where she takes Betty to a vaudeville-style show at an old theater.  It’s here where we’re told “This is all a tape recording.  It’s an illusion,” as performers lip-sync to music and verse.  Perhaps Lynch is telling us that the events going on in Betty and Rita’s lives have been pre-recorded, maybe even by the same people who are attempting to control Adam’s new film.  As the women sit watching one opera singer pass out as her song still plays on, we’re left to wonder if Betty and Rita have been brought here as a way to accept their coming fates.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: At the club, called Silencio, they encounter a dream-world emcee who firmly states, “No hay banda!” There is no band. It’s all an illusion. This seems to be the pivot point in the plot. We start to move into reality. Lynch is telling us, quite literally, everything leading up to this point has been an illusion. But whose illusion is this? Is it Betty’s illusion? Is there someone else pulling the strings?

Nick Cato: MULHOLLAND DRIVE really kicks into weird gear when Betty and Rita return home from the show.  Rita goes to get her hidden pocketbook from the closet, and when she turns around she discovers Betty is nowhere to be found.  Not knowing what else to do, she takes that blue key and sticks it into an odd, small blue box, and from her POV we’re sucked into the box, and then taken back to the apartment where they had just visited.  It turns out Betty is really named Diane and is in a relationship with Rita, whose real name we learn is Camilla, the same actress the corrupt studio execs were trying to force onto Adam’s film.

Don’t worry folks…it get’s even trippier from here.

Apparently Camilla is the real movie star, and has fallen for Adam, leaving Diane behind.  Diane acts out her rage in a furious masturbation scene, then the phone rings, and brings us back to an alternate (or is it the real?) opening sequence of the film.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: Mr. Lynch really loves doubles. He’s used them in myriad films, and even in his seminal series TWIN PEAKS. When Betty and Rita visit the club Silencio, they look nearly identical, both sporting short, blonde tresses. I see this as a huge symbol of Diane’s own disgust with herself, and her desire to pull Camilla down with her. She wants Camilla to be just like her, a loser who can’t get a starring role. Instead, Camilla is a rising star, living out Diane’s dream, and now about to marry a man. I feel the box has a very obvious sexual connotation. There’s a key in Camilla’s box now, folks. And Diane is not happy about that. The box is reality.

Rita is Diane’s way of handling her lover’s decision to leave her for a man. Rita has forgotten who she is. As far as Diane is concerned, Camilla has also forgotten who she is. She belongs to Diane, not to Adam. This anger and frustration drives her to plot a very nasty demise for her former lover.

Nick Cato: In the circular final section of MULHOLLAND, we learn Diane/Betty had paid hit men to take out her girlfriend Rita/Camilla, and we see the creepy homeless man behind the diner now holding the mysterious blue box in his hands, perhaps a symbol of a supernatural string puller.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: Everything up to this point is merely Diane’s way of justifying her decision to take a hit out on Camilla. She’s not the villain here. She’s really Betty, a confident, happy woman who will make her way in Hollywood. If only Camilla would remember who she really is, Diane wouldn’t be forced to hire that hit man. This is the story of a woman who has lost touch with reality.

Nick Cato: As Sheri mentioned, when Betty first arrived in Hollywood, she had befriended an elderly couple on the plane.  Now, they reappear during the final sequence, taunting Betty/Diane around her apartment to the point she blows her own brains out, falling onto the bed in the same manner they found the corpse upon their earlier visit in search of Rita’s memory.  While there’s plenty of discussion on who this elderly couple is, Betty had mentioned her parents during one conversation, making me believe this was her way of dealing with failing to do them proud.  And perhaps the entire film is a picture of Betty/Diane battling her demons as she tries to make a life for herself in Tinsel Town, the success of her lover making things that much harder.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: Much like the WIZARD OF OZ, the story all starts and ends in a bed. In the very beginning, we see sheets and a pillow, and we hear someone gasping for air. This comes full circle at the end. We now know that Diane shot herself in the head and collapsed onto her bed after being accosted by these menacing elderly people. Could these older people be symbolic of her mental breakdown? The film up to this point, it seems to me, all comes from within Diane’s mind. Betty is her breakdown version of herself. Camilla has been successful, and she can’t handle that success coupled with her own failure. Like Dorothy, Diane discovers the truth about herself in the end. And it’s too terrible to bear. Reality is a tough pill to swallow.

Nick Cato: MULHOLLAND DRIVE is David Lynch’s love/hate letter to Hollywood.  It’s pretty easy to figure out Betty and Diane are the same person: Diane the real-life failure, with Betty being Diane’s fantasized version of herself, as well as her desired relationship with Rita/Camilla.  Lynch—an independent filmmaker using Hollywood actors and sets here—basically portrays his own apprehensions and pleasures as a director and as one trying to deal with the Hollywood system.  And though at first the film may seem like the tired “it’s all a dream” thing, it’s a bit more complex than that, especially in the light of Diane/Betty’s dreams possibly being manipulated by other entities.

 Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: It might be the clichéd “it was all just a dream” story, but the person dreaming it is significantly disturbed, if not destroyed. Hollywood is very much like the Emerald City. Betty took a jaunt to find her calling, her home in a sense. But Hollywood, not unlike the Emerald City, is not all that it seems. There are mysterious forces that determine who makes it big and who doesn’t. It’s a tough world, baby, and the guaranteed success that Betty hopes to find rarely happens in reality.

Nick Cato: MULHOLLAND DRIVE is basically a surreal, modern film noir, with an incredible performance by Naomi Watts, complimented by co-star Laura Hanning’s often speechless speech and deathly-sexy mannerisms.  While we could easily take up another 15 pages breaking down what the cowboy symbolized, who the homeless man behind the diner was, and just WHY on earth Billy Ray Cyrus was cast as Adam’s wife’s lover (!), MULHOLLAND DRIVE is one of those films that reveals itself more and more upon each viewing.  It’s like staring at a surreal painting for hours on end, when suddenly things start to appear you hadn’t noticed before.

And with each viewing the film seems to unravel itself a little bit more, almost like Lynch somehow caused the film to work over periods of time.  Am I giving him too much credit as a director here?  Maybe.  Some would say definitely.  Either way, this is how MULHOLLAND DRIVE happens to work.

There are few films like it.

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel: MULHOLLAND DRIVE demands several viewings. Even taken at the surface level, it’s a thrill ride through a twisted world. The most cynical viewer will likely take something away from the film. Things crop up after a few viewings that never occurred to me before. Part film noir, part horror flick, part crime drama, it all comes together in a collage that sometimes leaves the viewer with just as many questions as they resolve.

The legendary Ann Miller makes her final screen appearance as Betty’s landlord.

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato and Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel

Meals for Monsters: SANTA SANGRE (1989)

Posted in 2012, Classic Films, Highly Stylized Films, Jenny Orosel Columns, Just Plain Weird, Madness, Meals for Monsters, Religious Cults, Surrealism with tags , , , , , on February 1, 2012 by knifefighter

MEALS FOR MONSTERS: SANTA SANGRE (1989)
By Jenny Orosel

 

I have to preface this by saying just how much I love Alejandro Jodorowsky.  The man is insane.  Beautifully, wonderfully insane, and it’s reflected in his movies.  Watching one of his movies is like going to a four star restaurant in a foreign country—you may not understand all of what you’re consuming, but my God, it might be one of the best things you’ve ever consumed.  That’s how I feel about his movies.  And it thrills me to come up with a delicious meal for SANTA SANGRE (1989).

SANTA SANGRE was the last movie Jodorowsky directed (well, there was one work-for-hire the year after, but he refuses to acknowledge it, so I shall not) before moving into the realm of comics.  Our hero, the young Fenix, grew up in a circus but has been in a mental institution since, years earlier as a child, he saw his father cut off his mother’s arms before killing himself.  He stayed there in willing silence until his armless mother helps him escape.  They make a good living doing a mime act, but Mom’s got a grudge and, since she doesn’t have the hands to do it herself, forces the sad Fenix to murder beautiful women for her.  It sounds like a simple slasher flick.  However, this is nothing like any splatterpunk you’ve seen before.  There’s enough blatant symbolism to make Freud weep.  Temptation is a running theme (the family mime act is about the Garden of Eden), poor Fenix has strange hallucinations of white doves and giant snakes growing from his crotch.  And the ever-present holiness of blood.

It makes sense that, for a cocktail, to mix up a few Santa Sangrias:

SANTA SANGRIA

 

Ingredients:
Chopped fruit
Seltzer water
Cheap red wine.

Directions:

Drop a handful of the chopped fruit into the glass.  Fill half with red wine and half with seltzer water.  Enjoy.

The opening scene of Fenix in the institution shows them trying to get him to eat a meal like a normal person.  When that fails, they offer him a whole fish, which he devours.  While I’m not going to have you serve up anything with a face or eyes, I think fish would be an appropriate main course:

BLOOD ORANGE BAKED COD (serves four)

Ingredients:
4 pieces cod
2 blood oranges
1 stick butter
Salt, pepper & dried parsley to taste

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Melt the butter.  Juice one of the blood oranges and mix with the butter.  Dip each piece of cod in the mixture, coating it, and place in baking pan.  Drizzle some of the excess onto the fish.  Salt, pepper and parsley to taste.  Slice remaining blood orange and place one slice on each piece of fish.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Serve with rice, potatoes or toast.

With all the temptation symbolism, it should come as no surprise that apples are in a number of scenes.  Why not, for dessert, have some apple dumplings?

GARDEN OF EDEN APPLE DUMPLINGS: (serves four)

 

Ingredients:
4 apples
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed if frozen
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tbs cinnamon
1 beaten egg with a splash of water

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Peel and core the apples.  Cut each sheet of puff pastry in half.  Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon.  Place the apple in the center of the pastry, fill the core hole with the sugar/cinnamon mix, and sprinkle a little extra on top.  Bring the corners up, pinch them closed and seal up the sides.  Place on greased baking sheet.  Brush the egg over the dumpling and bake at 425 for ten minutes.  Lower the temperature to 375 and bake an additional 20 minutes.  Serve warm.

If you’ve heard of Alejandro Jodorowsky but never seen any of his movies, this is a great one to start with.  It has all his signature style and weirdness, but the plot is the most linear of any of his movies (minus that one film-that-shall-not-be-named).  If you’re willing to sit through a little weirdness, you won’t be disappointed.  Or, at least, you’ll have a yummy meal to get you through the night.

© Copyright 2012 by Jenny Orosel

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: BLACK ZOO (1963)

Posted in 1960s Horror, 2011, Animals Attack, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, British Horror, Just Plain Weird, Surrealism, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , on November 24, 2011 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

BLACK ZOO (1963)

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 unclassifiablethen 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.

In the annals of film history, there have been many Hollywood pairings that worked wonders time and again, when the producer/director and the actor operated as a team.  Working separately, they created great art.  Working together, they were even better.  John Ford and John Wayne; Michael Curtiz and Errol Flynn; George Cukor and Katherine Hepburn; Martin Scorsese and Robert Deniro; Herman Cohen and Michael Gough.  What, you ask, who the hell are Herman Cohen and Michael Gough? 

Herman Cohen could really churn the cheapies out, and he spent several years at AIP producing such gems as I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957), I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN (also 1957), and, my favorite make-up man on a rampage movie ever, HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER (1958).  In 1959, Cohen travelled to England, where he teamed up with Michael Gough for the first time in a grisly little flick called HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (you know, the one where the binoculars had little spears that went into your eyes).  The two got along very well, and a silver screen team for the ages was born.

Michael Gough was a hammy British actor who starred in a stream of whacked-out low-budget movies for Cohen.  In 1961, he grew a giant chimpanzee and was carried away in doll-form in KONGA.  In 1967, he was Joan Crawford’s partner in a cursed circus in the wildly campy BERSERK.  In 1963, Gough portrayed Michael Conrad in BLACK ZOO, a movie nobody other than Herman Cohen could produce.

Let’s talk about that one!

Our picture starts with a beautiful young woman walking in lovely Technicolor streets on her way home.  Suddenly, a huge tiger leaps over a fence and attacks her (actually, her rather burly male stunt double) and mauls her on the sidewalk.  It’s a violent scene that lingers on the violence and the incredible animal slashing at the bloody girl.  Soon, we are taking a tour at Michael Conrad’s  zoo.  There’s a tiger named Baron, a leopard, two cheetahs, a lion called Caesar, a lioness, a gorilla, and a show featuring trained chimps and Conrad’s wife who is played by Jeanne Cooper (THE INTRUDER – 1962, THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS from 1973 till today, and the mother of Corbin Bernson).  Well, Mrs. Conrad isn’t such a nice lady after all.  Not only does she tipple more than a little (“Since when is a fifth of bourbon a little nip?”), she also makes her chimps smoke cigarettes during their act.  The horror!  There’s also a lion tamer named Joe, played by the great Elisha Cook Jr. (THE MALTESE FALCON – 1941, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL -1959 and ROSEMARY’S BABY – 1968).  Raking leaves and sweeping in the background is a young mute man, Carl, taken in and mentally abused by Conrad.  He’s dark and good looking and very, very familiar.  Why, it’s Rod Lauren, the star of the classic astronaut-limb-on-the-loose non-epic THE CRAWLING HAND from 1963!  And the pretty art student who flirts shamelessly with him is played by Marianna Hill, star of MEDIUM COOL (1969) and BLOOD BEACH (1980)!  What a cast!

Michael Gough plays the evil zookeeper Micharel Conrad in BLACK ZOO.

Conrad gets a visit from Jerry Stengel, a coarse man who wants to buy his zoo, all sixty acres, to put up tract housing.  Michael does what any reasonable zookeeper would do when confronted with a crooked lawyer, he brings all the big cats into his living room, where they lounge around on sofas and couches, and he plays a concert for them on his giant organ.   Now, I am all for surreal scenes in movies, but watching these huge animals relaxing in a plush home while Gough preaches at them about the evils of men – it’s beyond surreal.  It’s just freaking weird.  And rather hilarious.  Later, after the rant, he and Carl set the lion loose in Jerry Stengel’s house, where it’s lawyers for lunch.  Rare.

And it only gets more bizarre from here.

One day, when feeding Baron, the tiger, Joe is attacked.  To be fair, he was being a jerk and teasing the animal.  The tamer pulls out a pistol and shoots the poor creature, killing it instantly.  Well, this does not sit well with Conrad.

Joe: It was him or me.

Conrad: Then, it should have been you.  You know what a tiger’s worth, even in lousy dollars and cents?  And do you know what this bum’s life is worth?

Conrad convinces Carl to muscle Joe into Caesar’s cage, where the lion rips Elisha Cook Jr. apart.  The camera lingers on the mauling, and it’s an effective and terrifying scene.  Afterwards, in a thick English fog, they bury Caesar in an animal graveyard, complete with a grave-side service by Conrad and attended by all of the other big cats.  They all sit around the casket (the cheetahs sit on top of grave markers) and bow their heads in prayer, and we are once again in that weird Herman Cohen alternate universe where things like this are common.  Weird, weird, weird.

But, yes friends, it gets weirder.

The tigers are hungry at the BLACK ZOO (1963)

After the funeral, Conrad attends a religious service of animal worshippers which takes place in what looks like a Knights of Columbus hall, decked out with tiki torches and bongo drums.  The priest, wearing a tiger skin complete with toothy head as a hat, transfers Baron’s soul into a young tiger and presents it to Conrad, who takes the cub back to his zoo.

Meanwhile, Conrad performs more organ concerts, while his wife Edna is tempted to return to the circus by her old friend and agent, played with great sarcastic wit by Virginia Grey (THE NAKED KISS – 1964, AIRPORT – 1970).  Well, her hubbie isn’t about to let her or the chimp act go, so he sets his gorilla on Grey, who gets her skull smashed in.  The police begin to suspect that maybe all these animal attacks are somehow related, and Mrs. Conrad starts to put the pieces together, and Carl starts to remember his past and rebels against Conrad’s tyranny.

All through the movie, Michael Gough screams and shrieks and overacts so much you keep expecting someone to salt and pepper the scenery before his entrances.  Spittle must have covered the furniture.  He owns this role, roaring as loudly as his cats.  He is the very personification of an out-of-control madman.  He seems to be trying to give Vincent Price a run for his money in the hammy acting department, but what’s interesting is that all through the Herman Cohen movies, Gough overacts horrendously (making these flicks even more fun than they deserve to be – take a look at TROG – 1970 – if you don’t believe me), but soon, he became a very respected British actor, appearing in many great roles in many great movies.  A few examples –

-Delamere in OUT OF AFRICA (1985)

-Schoonbacher in THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988)

-Alfred the butler in BATMAN (1989)

-Henry van der Luyden in THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (1993)

Sadly, Gough died in March of this year, leaving behind more than 175 performances, from the garish to the stylish.  He will be missed.

Meanwhile, Herman Cohen, his early partner in crime, produced his last movie in 1977, WATCH ME WHEN I KILL, a rather tedious giallo filmed in Italy.  He died in 2002.

But, the two of them teamed up for a series of twisted films that reached their loony heights in BLACK ZOO.  Competently made, but almost David Lynchian in its freakiness, it nevertheless entertains in a grand manner.

BLACK ZOO has been restored gloriously by Warner Brothers and is available in their Warner Archive Collection.

I give BLACK ZOO 3 giant organs out of 4.

© Copyright 2011 by William D. Carl

CKF on the Edge: EMBODIMENT OF EVIL!

Posted in 1960s Horror, 2011, CKF On the Edge, Classic Films, DVD Review, Exploitation Films, Foreign Films, Gore!, LL Soares Reviews, Supernatural, Surrealism, Weird Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2011 by knifefighter

CKF on the Edge: THE EMBODIMENT OF EVIL (2008)
DVD Review by L.L. Soares

I’ve been waiting for this one for a while.

Back in the 1960s, Brazilian director Jose Mojica Marins (who, at 75, is still going strong) created his legendary character, Coffin Joe (Ze do Caixao) in a series of films, beginning with AT MIDNIGHT I’LL TAKE YOUR SOUL (1964) and THIS NIGHT I’LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE (1967).  These movies made Joe  as iconic in Brazil as Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster are here. There were other films featuring Coffin Joe over the years (most were never released here), including the LSD-soaked madness of AWAKENING THE BEAST (1970) – these three are the ones that are most easily found in America , and have been shown late at night on the Independent Film Channel (IFC) —but there were more, including a television series, that we’ve never seen here.

With his distinctive look—a top hat, cape, beard and long, gnarled fingernails— Joe (and Marins, who always plays his character) have garnered something of a rabid cult audience here in America, thanks first to the VHS boom of the 80s (which introduced a lot of us to films we never would have seen before) and then DVD (thanks to companies like Something Weird). And while we await the release of more of the old films, we recently got a treat from the excellent company, Synapse Films, who just released the brand new Coffin Joe film, EMBODIMENT OF EVIL (2008).

There were other films that featured Joe, but EMBODIMENT is important because it wraps up the trilogy started way back with those first two films, AT MIDNIGHT I’LL TAKE YOUR SOUL and THIS NIGHT I’LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE. Together, these three films have a shared storyline, and EMBODIMENT offers us a satisfying conclusion after more than 40 years of waiting.

Right off the bat, you know you’re in for a good time, when we see a warden on the phone in his office, arguing with someone over the release of one of his prisoners. The man is so terrified of the convict in question that he surrounds himself with guards as he goes to the man’s cell to set him free. We expect the convict to be monstrous, but when the door is opened, we look upon the visage of —a little old man!

But don’t be fooled. Coffin Joe has killed more than 30 men during his stay in prison alone. And the warden has every right to be terrified of him. Forty years have changed Joe considerably, but he still wears his iconic clothes, and still has menace aplenty in his haunting eyes.

Outside the prison gates, he is greeted by his old servant, the hunchback Bruno (Rui Rezende), who takes Joe to a shanty village (favela) where he can continue his work. And what is his work, exactly? Well, technically, Joe was an undertaker/gravedigger (thus the nickname “Coffin” Joe), but his mission, his holy task, is to find a woman worthy of continuing his bloodline. Joe believes he is above mortal men and that,  in order to carry on the line, he must find a woman of equal worth. But this has not been easy. In the first two films, he kidnapped dozens of women and put them through horrific tests to judge their worthiness –and yet no woman has yet born him the son he demands. Bruno takes Joe to a huge basement room, where he can resume  his experiments, and Joe is eager to resume his work. This time, he even has a group of young followers to assist him —men and women who would gladly die in service to the mission of Coffin Joe— to find the ultimate woman worthy of bearing his son.

I always wondered why Joe did not impregnate multiple women, instead of searching for just one who was worthy, and this movie finally addresses that.

So now, even though he is old and gray, Coffin Joe resumes his quest. Of course, someone as arrogant and determined as Joe is going to acquire enemies along the way. This time around it is the corrupt police force, who routinely terrorize the inhabitants of the favela, and even kill their children viciously, in order to control them with a fist of terror. Coffin Joe rejects this and refuses to bow to anyone. He also goes to a local canteen to face the thugs who run the favela. When they demand that this new resident pay them protection money, he shows them he is not to be trifled with. He is not subject to the laws of mortal men.

At the forefront of the forces out to stop him are a policeman, Colonel Claudiomiro Pontes  (Jece Valadao) who lost an eye to Joe forty years before and  Father Eugenio (Milhem Cortaz) —a priest who tortures himself viciously as penance and hungers to avenge his father, whom Joe had murdered. They join forces and make a pact that when Pontes finally kills Joe, Eugenio will perform a ritual to condemn the villain’s soul to hell.

There are visually stunning scenes, as there usually are in Marins’s films, including Joe making love to a young woman (the niece of blind witches) as the witches – whom Joe has killed and nailed to the ceiling—rain down blood upon them. And a visit to the afterlife (“the core of everything; the center of the centers”), where a mad old man shows Joe the damnations of hell (but Joe has been here before, and is not new to such visions).

There’s also some footage from the older films (which holds up very well), and scenes where Joe is haunted by the ghost of his victims, which are quite powerful, including Laura —a woman who he impregnated but who died in childbirth in the old films.

The tortures of prospective brides are very gory this time around, as Marins ups the ante for a new generation, including everything from submerging a woman into a vat of blood and guts to slicing off the flesh of another and forcing her to eat it, to horrible uses for spiders and rats (favorites of Joe), to a stunning sequence where Joe slices open the belly of a pig to release a woman sewn up inside it.

A showdown between Joe and his enemies after hours in an amusement park is well done, and the ending offers us a fitting conclusion to the story of Coffin Joe.

I always thought Coffin Joe was a fascinating character because he is the most philosophical of monsters. His great “power” is not immortality or superhuman strength, but rather the fact  that he is a man who has risen above the shackles of concepts like “heaven” and “hell.” He is the Nietzschian superman, a man beyond good and evil, who seeks to bring forth a child who is born into this new knowledge—the ultimate free man. What other monster can boast of such lofty ambitions!

For fans of the original series, EMBODIMENT OF EVIL will be a fun, satisfying capper to the story of Coffin Joe. There is a lot of like about this one, and Marins does not disappoint his fans. For newcomers to the story, this is will be a very strange and wild ride through the tortures of the damned, led by a demented ringmaster. But either way, it’s well worth your time. If you have a strong stomach and are looking for something far removed from the by-the-numbers slasher films we usually get here in America, EMBODIMENT OF EVIL is for you!

If I gave ratings to DVDs – I’d give this one four knives!

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares

Blue Ray/DVD Combo Pack from Synpase Films
EMBODIMENT OF EVIL
94 minutes
Directed by: Jose Mojica Marins
Starring: Jose Mojica Marins, Jece Valdao and Milhem Cortaz
Not Rated

The Blue Ray/DVD is available now from Synapse Films