Archive for the Vengeance! Category

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: THE EXTERMINATOR (1980)

Posted in 1980s Movies, 2013, Action Movies, Crime Films, Cult Movies, Detectives, Exploitation Films, Gangsters!, Grindhouse Goodies, Nick Cato Reviews, Revenge!, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Tough Guys!, Vengeance!, Vigilantes, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on July 11, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 64:
Flamethrowers, Meat Grinders, and State Senators…
By Nick Cato

 

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 Released six years after DEATH WISH (1974) but two years before FIRST BLOOD (1982), 1980’s THE EXTERMINATOR is a combo of these two classics with a dash of TAXI DRIVER (1976) thrown in. I recently revisited this on DVD, but in the fall of 1980 (when I was in the 6th grade), me and a buddy managed to get into this violent R-rated flick one Saturday afternoon at the always reliable (and now defunct) Amboy Twin Cinema, Staten Island’s best bet of being admitted when you were underage.

After an opening flashback scene set in Vietnam (which features a grisly, non-CGI decapitation courtesy of FX whiz Stan (ALIENS) Winston), we flash forward to 1980 New York City. John Eastmand (played by popular TV star Robert Ginty) works at a meat packing plant along with his best friend Michael, who had saved his life in Vietnam. When they bust a group of thugs robbing beer from an adjacent warehouse, Michael again comes to John’s aid, but the gang follows Michael home and throws him a severe beating that leaves him paralyzed. Fueled by this event, and fed up with the state of the city’s crime rate in general, John goes on a mission first to get the guys who crippled his buddy, then wage all-out war against the mob, pimps, and all kinds of low lives.

John transforms into a vigilante a bit too quickly (in the scene immediately after he visits Michael in the hospital, John already has a gang member tied up and threatens him with a flame thrower). But this is a sleazy action flick, so subtly and character build-up be damned! His arsenal includes a .44 magnum with custom, poison-tipped bullets, an AK-47, and a foot locker full of military-issued hand grenades and knives.

Minutes later, John goes to the gang’s hideout (one is played by THE WARRIORS’ (1979) Irwin Keyes), tells the girls to leave, and then proceeds to shoot one thug and take two others hostage. But his partial-heart leads to one guy surviving, and one of the hookers he let go is interrogated by Detective James Dalton (played by Christopher George), who is on the trail of the vigilante the news has labeled “The Exterminator.” Former ABC-TV news anchor Roger Grimsby appears as himself during a newscast, giving the film a real-time feel (at least if you lived in NY at the time).

With the gang taken care of, John sets his eyes on a mob boss who has been shaking his employer down for years. He does some stake-out work and manages to drug him and drag him to an isolated warehouse, where he chains him from the rafters and dangles him over a huge meat grinder, then proceeds to shake him down for money to support his fallen friends’ family. After he gets the mobster’s keys, safe-lock combination, and a promise that there are no surprises at his house, John goes out to his NJ home and is attacked by a guard dog the gangster “forgot” to tell him about. Now severely ticked, John returns to the warehouse and lowers the Don into the meat grinder, and while nothing is shown (besides shadows and chop meat coming out of the bottom), the scene is still quite disturbing. It also received the loudest cheers from the evidently blood-thirsty (or justice-thirsty?) audience I was with.

In the second most memorable sequence, John visits a hooker (ala TAXI DRIVER) who gives him info on an underground operation that exploits young boys. John shows up at the illegal brothel and quickly destroys the place by burning the owner and shooting a freaky-looking pedophile in the groin (said pedophile is played by FRANKENHOOKER’s (1990) scene-stealing freak David Lipman). The pedophile also turns out to be the State Senator from New Jersey!

In-between investigating the vigilante killings, Detective James manages to find the time to date a doctor (played by Samantha Eggar). In one scene they meet for a late-night shag session in an empty hospital room, but as things heat up they’re interrupted by an alarm: it seems Michael’s ventilator has gone off, and little do the detective or doctor realize John had come by to help his buddy pull the plug on himself. This John’s a real angel of mercy I tell ya…

With plenty of shoot-outs, a motorcycle vs. car chase scene, a goofy side-plot involving the CIA that leads to a partially head-scratching finale, a poor old-woman getting a beat-down, and a nasty scene of the aforementioned State Senator burning/raping a hooker with a red-hot soldering iron, THE EXTERMINATOR is a trashy revenge/vigilante film that has developed quite a cult following over the years. And like most NY-lensed genre films from this time, there are plenty of shots of Times Square back in all its sordid glory, complete with pimps, hookers, and glorious theater marquees that will have cinema-philes hitting the pause button to read the film titles (of course we couldn’t do this in the theater so it was nice finally seeing what was playing!).

This is a genuine blast of old-school, politically incorrect action film-fare that has almost no conscience whatsoever, and it manages to work despite its ho-hum performances from most of the actors. Too bad the sequel, 1984’s THE EXTERMINATOR 2, failed to deliver the goods.

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

John (Robert Ginty) about to make mince-meat out of a local mob boss in THE EXTERMINATOR.

John (Robert Ginty) about to make mincemeat out of a local mob boss in THE EXTERMINATOR.

 

 

The Geisha of Gore Reviews: SHUTTER (2004)

Posted in 2013, Asian Horror, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Evil Spirits, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Ghosts!, Supernatural, Vengeance! with tags , , , , on March 19, 2013 by knifefighter

SHUTTER (2004)
A Review by Colleen Wanglund, the Geisha of Gore

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Written and directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom, SHUTTER is a 2004 horror film from Thailand that was remade as an American film with the same title in 2008 (which they are uncredited for).

The film opens with Tun (Ananda Everingham), a photographer and his girlfriend, Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee), celebrating the wedding of Tun’s friend from college, and they are among the last few left at the celebration.  On the ride home, with Jane driving, the couple hit a girl who seemingly appears out of nowhere.  In a panic, Tun tells Jane to drive away, and they do.  Jane is feeling guilt and anguish over their decision to leave the girl lying in the road and we discover Tun has had pain in his neck since the accident.  She goes to see Tun but he doesn’t do much to console her.  Tun is developing photos he had taken of his sister’s college graduation, but discovers they were all ruined by a weird shadow that Tun cannot explain.  The shadow is a face in some of the photos and Jane believes they are being haunted by the girl they hit and left to die.   The couple drives to the spot of the accident, but the only evidence that anything happened is a damaged billboard.  Tun’s friend calls local police stations and hospitals but there is no record of an accident ever happening.

While Tun finally goes to see a doctor about the pain in his neck, Jane finds a magazine about ghost photography.  Convinced of the haunting, Jane and Tun go see the magazine’s publisher who tells them that most of the photos are manipulated fakes, but that some photos are real.  He tells the couple that he believes there are ghosts, because the dead feel there is unfinished business or a message to be passed on.  He also says that sometimes the dead cannot leave their loved ones.

Next we see that Tun’s friend has committed suicide by jumping off of the building he lives in.  Tun and Jane are then told of two other college friends who have died in the same manner.  In the car, Jane confronts Tun with photos from Tun’s days in school, including one of a young woman.  Tun tells Jane that the girl is Natre (AchitaSikamana), his girlfriend in school but he kept it a secret because all of his friends thought she was weird.  He tells Jane that Natre was really in love with him and she took their breakup very hard.  Tun told his friends, who assured him they would take care of her.  Jane believes it is Natre who is haunting them.  They drive out to Natre’s home and are shocked to be told by Natre’s mother that the girl is home but not feeling well.  While the mother is busy Tun and Jane search the house and find Natre’s corpse in an upstairs bedroom.  They convince Natre’s mother to finally hold a funeral and have her cremated.  At the funeral, Tun and Jane are told that Natre had returned from school depressed but wouldn’t say why.  Natre tried to kill herself by taking pills but she was found and brought to the hospital in time to save her life.  She then jumped off the hospital’s roof and died.   Jane believes that once Natre is cremated the haunting will end—that she is restless because her body was not given a proper burial.

Jane later finds time-lapse photographs that Tun had taken of the apartment and sees the ghost.  Putting the photos in order and using them as a flip-book, Jane sees the ghost near the shelves where Tun keeps all of his work.  She finds a stack of negatives hidden behind the shelves and develops them in Tun’s darkroom.  What the photos show is something horrific that occurred while Tun and his friends were in school.  It seems that Natre’s haunting is far more than just a restless spirit needing a proper funeral.  Natre is seeking revenge.

Thailand has a strict code for movies, so you won’t see much gore and blood—some, but not a lot.  As a result, horror films have to rely on a good story and the right atmosphere.  SHUTTER has both.  The story is a bit more complex than it first seems and there are a few strange twists that make the movie that much more enjoyable.  While you may see a typical ghost story, there is also betrayal and the fact that people are not always what they initially seem.  The story is a solid one and the acting and directing are great.  Thongmee does a fantastic job as Jane, conveying her fears and her cultural beliefs in the case of the dead.  We believe that Jane believes they are being haunted for a reason, but because she does not know the whole story surrounding Natre’s death and Tun’s involvement with the girl, she is also somewhat naïve.  However, Jane is the film’s real protagonist, a strong and determined female doing what she can to protect the person she loves, while at the same time showing true concern and empathy for Natre.

Everingham is very good at portraying Tun as a good guy, and then showing the eventual cracks in the surface.  He is a likeable guy who may or may not have made the wrong decisions where his friends and girlfriend Natre were concerned.  Even his decision to drive away from the accident is understandable because he was scared.  Wrong, but still understandable.  Was that fear for himself or for Jane, who was driving?  Does he deserve what is happening to him?  You, the viewer must decide.  Both Tun and Jane are sympathetic and real.  Natre is also a sympathetic character for me.  It seems she has good reason to haunt Tun and his friends.  The friends turn out to be selfish, brutal and callous; and Tun, at the very least, stood by and did nothing.

Natre the ghost, from SHUTTER

Natre the ghost, from SHUTTER

Unlike some ghost stories out of Southeast Asia, SHUTTER is fairly linear and coherent in its telling.  Yes there are flashbacks, but they work to advance the plot and to bring the true cruelty of the film to light.  SHUTTER is also classically Asian, in that the ghost has lost her identity and has only her revenge left to her.  It is grim with an almost vague ending that is typical of Asian ghost stories, regardless of their country of origin.  Natre is a frightening antagonist and I doubt even Jane would have survived if she were among the ghost’s targets.  Natre was sadistically and savagely victimized in life, but she became powerful in death and able to punish the men responsible in the only way she could.  This, again, is a major cultural aspect of Asian horror films and is clearly demonstrated by Jane’s belief that the haunting would end when Natre received proper funerary rites.  What I did find odd is that Natre’s ghost was dressed in her old school uniform, as opposed to the usual white gown.  Even if she died jumping from the hospital’s roof, she would probably be in a hospital gown.  Then when we see her later in the film, the uniform is gone, replaced by something I couldn’t quite identify.

While not an exceptionally great film in the genre, SHUTTER is still above-average and I did enjoy it quite a bit.  It has an angry ghost, a strong female lead, an insensitive guy, and a decidedly unhappy and not-too-predictable ending.  It’s dark and chilling and worth your time.  And it’s only 90 minutes long.

Interestingly, while remade as an American film in 2008, it has also been remade at least a half-dozen times in other countries in Southeast Asia, including two different times in India.  While I have not seen the American remake (I’m generally not a fan of remakes) I can tell you that it was directed by Masayuki Ochiai whose Japanese horror titles include PARASITE EVE (1997), HYPNOSIS (1999), and INFECTION (2004).  Yes, an American remake of a Thai film by a Japanese director.

© Copyright 2013 by Colleen Wanglund

The Final CKF Review of 2012: DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Plot Twists, Revenge!, Tarantino Films, Vengeance!, VIOLENCE!, Westerns with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: A saloon in the old west. L.L. SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA sidle up to the bar. The bartender is washing glasses and suddenly looks up at them and his eyes bug out of his head)

BARTENDER: You boys are from that Cinema Knife Fight gang, aintchoo? We don’t want no trouble ‘round here.

LS: And there won’t be any trouble, as long as you bring us a bottle of whiskey and two glasses.

(BARTENDER grabs a bottle and puts it in front of them, with two glasses)

MA: Wow, what fast service! Thank you, my good man!

BARTENDER: Sshh-sure (goes to the other end of the bar)

LS (pours whiskey): And here we are, doing our last Cinema Knife Fight review for 2012, and it’s probably the movie I’ve been looking to most all year, Quentin Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED.

MA (lifts his glass): Why don’t you tell the fine people in the audience what the movie is about.

LS:  Sure thing, pardner!

DJANGO UNCHAINED opens two years before the Civil War, and Django (Jamie Foxx) is one of a group of slaves being transported across some rough terrain, when along comes a traveling dentist, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who rides a wagon with a big tooth on top. But Schultz stopped being a dentist five years earlier. Now, he’s a bounty hunter, and he is after the reward for three outlaws named the Brittle Brothers, but he doesn’t know what they look like. Instead, he’s tracked down one of the slaves from the plantation they were working at, Django. Schultz offers the man his freedom if he will help him identify and capture the Brittles.

Django would like nothing better than to hunt down the men who beat him and sold his wife and himself  to separate buyers (when they tried to escape from the plantation), so he readily agrees. When the men transporting the slaves (which include Django) protest, Schultz makes short work of them. Soon, the two men are making their way to small town in Texas, to discuss their partnership, and to kill the local Sheriff (you’ll find out why when you see the movie).

Schultz finds out that Django is desperate to get his wife back, so he makes him a deal. If they get the Brittle Brothers, Django will become a free man. But if he continues to work for Schultz, collecting rewards for outlaws who are wanted dead or alive (and they just about always bring them in dead) throughout the winter months, Schultz will help him track down his wife in the spring, and help him free her.

Their hunt for the Brittle Brothers take them to the plantation of a man called Big Daddy (Don Johnson), and Django relishes the chance to get revenge. This begins the partnership between Django and Schultz, which turns out to be quite profitable, since Django is a natural shooter and the fastest gun Schultz has ever seen.

Come spring, their journey takes them to the plantation of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a sadistic Southern Gentleman-type who treats his slaves viciously, especially the men he buys to participate in fights to the death for his amusement. Schultz pretends to want to buy one of his fighters in order to get close enough to confirm that Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) is indeed on the plantation, and he and Django plan to get her out. Django pretends to be a “black slaver” who is there to be Schultz’s consultant, and everyone is astounded to see a black man who rides a horse and acts like an equal to the white men around him.

The odyssey Django undertakes to free his wife parallels the German legend of Sigfried and Brunhilda, where Sigfried traveled through hellfire and slew a dragon to free the woman he loved. What Django goes through is just about as dangerous, once Candie gets wind of what is really going on, thanks to the keen observation skills of his right hand man, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).

DJANGO UNCHAINED is a violent, but highly stylized revenge drama set in the old South. And it continues Tarantino’s streak of making great movies, as far as I’m concerned.

MA:  I hated it.

(LS spits out his whiskey.)

MA (laughs):  Just kidding.  You just looked so happy talking about the movie, I couldn’t resist.

LS:  You scared me.

MA:  There’s a first time for everything.

LS:  A new Tarantino movie has become s0mething of a big event for me, and I was more than happy to check it out at the matinee on Christmas Day (when it was released). However, I was shocked to find the theater packed so early in the day. I thought most people would be home with their families, but the theater appeared to be sold out at the showing I saw. It was a good crowd, though, and it was nice to see that there are so many Tarantino fanatics.

MA:  I saw it this past Friday night, and the theater was packed then too, and it was a very enthusiastic lively audience.

(YOSEMITE SAM gets up from the table where he’s playing cards and approaches the bar)

YOSEMITE SAM: So you varmints think you’re tough, huh?

LS: Yup.

MA: Well, to be honest,  we never actually said that.

YOSEMITE SAM: The last hombre who spoke to me that way is now six feet under…

LS: Is that where Bugs Bunny lives these days?

YOSEMITE SAM: Why, you!

(MA pulls out his gun and fires at SAM’s feet, making him dance as LS claps his hands)

LS: Hey, this is fun!

MA: You tired yet?

YOSEMITE SAM (breathing hard): Damn you, Knife Fighters.

(MA stops shooting and YOSEMITE SAM topples over in exhaustion)

LS: Rats! I wanted to see more dancing.

Anyway, back to our review.

Nobody makes movies like Quentin Tarantino, and DJANGO UNCHAINED is just another in a long line of powerful epics. Not only is DJANGO the tale of a man yearning for freedom and the freedom of the woman he loves, and thus there is a love story at the heart of this film, but it’s also a chance for Tarantino to recreate American history in his own image. Because his movies are not so much set in certain point in time as they are events that unfurl in a world of Tarantino’s creation. In his world, things don’t happen exactly like they did in ours. For example, in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009), his last film, a rag-tag group of soldiers actually succeeded in assassinating Hitler.

Tarantino also has a sense of style that sets him apart from everyone else making movies today.

MA:  That’s certainly true.

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LS:  It’s a mixture of art (because there is an artistic eye to the way his movies are filmed) and pure grindhouse adrenaline. Even though DJANGO is over two and a half hours long, I never once felt bored, and it never dragged—in fact, I wanted even more. For once, every scene was necessary, and expanded upon what came before it, like the petals of a flower in bloom. There are several reasons why his movies are so satisfying. First off, there’s that artistic eye of his. Tarantino pays attention to detail and, in so doing, he fleshes out his world quite nicely, and makes it feel like a real place.

MA:  I would argue that it feels less like a real place and more like the world seen through an artist’s eyes, which doesn’t make it any less satisfying or believable.  Watching DJANGO with its rich imagery and fine attention to detail was like looking at an artist’s painting, only this artist is also a helluva writer.

LS:  Which brings me to my second point, his dialogue, which is second to none in modern cinema.

MA:  It’s great dialogue. I could listen to Dr. King Schultz all day.

LS:  There are also his soundtracks, which treat music as a character in the film, and he draws from everything from the music scores of other films (the opening song, “DJANGO” is from the 1966 spaghetti western of the same name, and it works just as well here), obscure pop songs, and music written just for his movies.

MA:  I agree.  The soundtrack is second to none.  My favorite part of the soundtrack is the variety he uses, the combination of pop songs—which amazingly don’t seem out of place here—with traditional film music.

LS: My favorite songs, aside from the title song, included ones by John Legend and Brother Dege. Hell, Tarantino even uses a Jim Croce song (someone I normally don’t like) to maximum effect in the middle of the film.  (And this is probably a good time to mention that the soundtrack album is pretty damn cool, too.)

And then there’s the casting. Tarantino’s movies always seem to have amazing casts, and DJANGO UNCHAINED is no exception. I wasn’t a big fan of Jamie Foxx before seeing this movie, but I consider myself a fan now. Foxx turns in a terrific performance here, full of anger, heart, and frustration with the world his character finds himself in.

MA:  Yeah, I’m not the biggest fan of Jamie Foxx either, but he is excellent here.  He really brings Django to life, and pretty much everything he does with this character in this movie is spot on.  He makes Django one bad-ass bounty hunter, yet he never sacrifices the sympathy we feel for him as he tries to rescue his wife.  It’s a very satisfying performance by Foxx, and I enjoyed him here much more than I did in RAY (2004) and DREAMGIRLS (2009).

LS: Alongside him is Christoph Waltz as Dr. Schultz. If you remember, Waltz won an Oscar for his role as a Nazi officer in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, and he’s just as mem0rable here. Waltz is fascinating to watch as the self-assured and morally righteous Schultz, and he and Foxx play off of each other really well.

MA:  Waltz is great.  Not quite as mesmerizing a performance as he pulled off in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, but it’s a much different role and is satisfying in a different way.  Dr. Schultz is a much more enjoyable character than the intense Nazi officer Waltz played in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS.

LS:  I’m not a big Leonardo DiCaprio fan, either, and I still don’t understand why so many directors want to use him so much (Martin Scorcese comes to mind), but he is brilliant here, playing against type as a sadistic villain.

MA:  Directors want to use him so much because he’s a terrific actor!  Admit it, he’s a great actor!

LS:  I’m not admitting anything!  But I will say that it may be the best performance I’ve ever seen DiCaprio give, and one scene where his Calvin Candie makes a point with an old skull and a hammer is especially intense.

MA:  Very intense.  That’s a testament to both DiCaprio’s acting skills and Tarantino’s direction.  I mentioned that I saw this movie with a very lively enthusiastic audience.  There was definitely a buzz in the theater before and during the movie, but during this scene, you could hear a pin drop.

(Sheriff QUICK DRAW MCGRAW and his deputy BABA-LOOEY enter the saloon and walk over to the bar)

QUICK DRAW: I hear you gents are disturbing the peace in my town.

BABA-LOOEY: Yeah!

LS: So what if we are?

MA: Actually, we’re trying to mind our own business and review a movie here.

QUICK DRAW: Why, you! How dare you speak back that way to a lawman!

BABA-LOOEY: Yeah!

LS: A law-horse you mean. Make him dance, Michael, I want to see the funny horse dance!

QUICK DRAW: I think you need to be taught some manners. (reaches for his gun)

(LS fires first, and a fountain of blood spurts out of QUICK DRAW, splashing all over BABA-LOOEY)

QUICK DRAW: I’m shot!

BABA-LOOEY: I’m getting out of here!

LS: Someone call the glue factory.

MA: Back to our review, after being so rudely interrupted.

While my favorite performance in the film belonged to Christoph Waltz as Dr. Schultz, I wouldn’t say he gave the best performance in the movie.  That honor goes to DiCaprio.

DiCaprio delivers a riveting, delicious performance as Calvin Candie.  He’s the perfect antagonist for Waltz’s and Foxx’s protagonists.  And as you mentioned, once you get to that scene with the hammer and skull, he’s one scary guy.  It’s the best DiCaprio performance I’ve seen since THE DEPARTED (2006) and BLOOD DIAMOND (2006).

LS:  Sam Jackson is just as villainous as Candie’s sidekick Stephen, a man who appears to be a fussy old “Uncle Tom” type, but who is, in reality, Candie’s confidante and pretty much his equal behind closed doors. And he’s just as vicious as his “master.”

MA:  It’s my favorite Jackson performance in years.  Stephen is one aggravating, vicious son of a bitch.

LS:  Kerry Washington is perhaps the heart of the film as Broomhilda, a slave who speaks German as well as English (which Schultz finds delightful and which they use in their plan). She’s undergone much brutality by the time Django finds her again – the first time we see her in a scene that isn’t a flashback, she’s being pulled naked out of a hotbox, where she’s being punished, and screams when a bucket of water is splashed on her—and you immediately want him to succeed in his plan to rescue her from the hell that is Calvin Candie’s plantation, called Candieland.

MA:  Yep.  Washington is great and does a terrific job evoking our sympathy throughout the film.

LS:  And those flashbacks are pretty potent. There are several times where Django’s mind wanders during their journey and he sees fleeting images of Broomhilda behind a tree, or bathing next to him in a stream, and you can feel Django’s yearning for her. His passion. And his remembrances of the abuse inflicted on him and “Hildi” (as she’s called) keeps him focused throughout to exact the vengeance he so rightly deserves.

The use of flashbacks in this movie is another plus. The cinematography in these scenes looks different from the rest of the movie—kind of dreamy—and evokes the way flashbacks were used in the best movies of the 1960 and early 70s (MIDNIGHT COWBOY comes to mind).  I loved that effect.

(DEPUTY DAWG enters the saloon)

DEPUTY DAWG: Dang it, you shot Sherriff McGraw!

LS: Yeah, what of it?

DEPUTY DAWG: Y’all think you can come into this town and shoot our sheriff in cold blood?

MA: He’s just a cartoon. So are you.

DEPUTY DAWG: Just a cartoon? Do we not cry if you hurt us? Do we not bleed if you shoot us?

(CLOSE-UP of DEPUTY DAWG’s face, as tears stream down his cheeks)

MA: If you put it that way, I feel kind of bad.

LS: Me, too.

DEPUTY DAWG: You two are so lucky that I wanted to be Sheriff of these parts, otherwise I’d take you in. But since QUICK DRAW’s dead, now I can take his job. Barkeep, drinks for everyone! Put it on my tab!

SALOON PATRONS: HURRAY!

BABA-LOOEY (hiding behind a barrel of beer): Looks like I better make like a banana and split (runs away).

DEPUTY DAWG: Let’s get back to your review. I want to see how this ends.

LS: What were we talking about? Oh yeah, the cast. The rest of the cast in DJANGO UNCHAINED is top-notch, and there are lots of really great actors in small roles here.

MA:  Which is always a lot of fun.

LS:  Just some of them include: Walton Goggins (from THE SHIELD and more recently the FX series JUSTIFIED) as a cowboy on Candie’s crew with a mean streak; Franco Nero (the Italian star of the 1966 DJANGO, you can identify him by his piercing blue eyes) as another slave owner who pits his man against Candie’s in a brutal fight scene that is going on when Schultz and Django first meet Candie. James Remar (Dexter’s father on DEXTER) as both one of the Speck brothers who are transporting the slaves in the beginning of the movie, and later as Candie’s hired gunman, Butch; Tom Savini as a man who handles Candie’s vicious dogs;  Bruce Dern in flashback as Django’s former slave owner; Jonah Hill in one of the movie’s more humorous scenes as a complaining Klansman – with Brad Dourif as another one of that gang;  M.C. Gainey (one of the more memorable “Others” from the TV series, LOST) as one of the Brittle Brothers; and Lee Horsley as a corrupt sheriff. The only actor here who seemed a little off was Tarantino himself, in a role as an Australian mercenary. But considering how great a job he’s done here as a director, it’s easy to give him that. (besides, rumor has it another actor backed out at the last minute, and Tarantino had to fill in for the scene, because it was the easiest solution).

MA:  It was fun seeing Bruce Dern, even for just the one scene.

And don’t forget Don Johnson in a memorable bit as Big Daddy, a southern plantation owner who serves as a sort of precursor to Calvin Candie.

LS: You’re right. Don Johnson is terrific in this movie as well. I loved him in every scene he’s in.

MA: I also enjoyed seeing Dennis Christopher as Candie’s lawyer, Leonide Moguy.

I’m not quite sure what Jonah Hill was doing in this movie.  He seemed a bit out of place, even if he did appear in the film’s funniest scene.

LS:  DJANGO UNCHAINED is gory. When bullets enter flesh, there is a fair amount of blood.

MA:  And it’s not of the CGI variety, which is a good thing.

LS:  During a big shootout towards the end, things get messy. But there’s a kind of visceral authenticity to it.

MA:  Yeah, but I thought things got a bit carried away at the end.  It seemed unnecessary, and didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the movie.  I could have done without the big concluding bloodbath.  I don’t have a problem with the fates of any of the principal characters, but to have an army of nameless gunmen riddled with bullets nonstop while spewing blood showers all over creation did nothing for me.

LS:  Between the top shelf acting, terrific script and dead-on direction, DJANGO UNCHAINED is easily one of the best movies I have seen in 2012. I just wish I didn’t have to wait all year long to see it. I give it four and a half knives.

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MA:  I liked it too, but not as much as you.  I agree that it has phenomenal acting, directing, and a top-notch script.  All three of these things are equally terrific.

One of my favorite parts of the script is that it runs the full gamut of emotions.  It’s  a love story, an actioner, a revenge tale, a statement on the evils of slavery, and the moods range from that incredibly tense scene near the end where Candie delivers his spiel with the skull and hammer to the funniest Ku Klux Klan scene in a movie this side of Mel Brooks.  It’s laugh out loud funny, and not of the nervous laughter variety.  It’s simply hilarious.

LS: It’s also a western—Tarantino’s take on the spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s, to be exact—as well as a homage to the black empowerment films of the 1970s. Two genres with their feet firmly planted in grindhouse cinema. Tarantino takes these elements and uses them to transcend his inspirations with something new and epic in scope. But the grindhouse elements here mean this movie is also entertaining as hell.

MA: There are lots of well-crafted scenes.  I thought the initial meeting scene between Dr. Schultz and Django, which comes right at the beginning of the movie, is one of the film’s best sequences.   It sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

The “Mandingo” fight sequence is a particularly brutal scene, as is the scene where a slave is torn apart by dogs.  These scenes aren’t overly gory, but they’re tough to get through.  Tarantino does a nice job with reaction shots of his characters.  You don’t need to see what’s going on.  You can tell by looking into the pained eyes of Dr. Schultz, for example.

But the film’s not perfect.  While I would agree with you that the pacing is very good throughout, I did think it lost momentum towards the end.  The movie reaches an obvious climax when the plot to rescue Hildi comes to a head, but from there, as the story continues, I thought it lost a few steps.

It’s not that I didn’t like the ending to this movie.  I did.  It’s just that I thought the last twenty minutes or so didn’t have the same edge as the rest of the movie, and I didn’t find the final few events of the film as believable as all that had come before it.   And once it became obvious where the tale was headed, it didn’t have the same sense of unpredictability towards the end as it had during the beginning and middle.

LS: The only moment in the film that seemed to strain believability for me was the outcome of the deal between Candie and Schultz for the freedom of Hildi. It seems that Schultz could have resolved it much easier, and that his motives were almost forced to take the movie where Tarantino wanted it to go. I can’t fully complain, because what happens afterwards is so spectacular, but it just seems that Schultz was a little unnecessarily stubborn in that scene for the sake of the plot.

MA:  See, I didn’t find what happens afterwards all that spectacular.  To me, the film hit its peak during that scene where Candie and Schulz make their deal, and what followed, while good, was less intense.

It’s tough to keep up the kind of intensity found in DJANGO UNCHAINED for an entire movie, and I think, as this one made its way to the finish line, it slowed down somewhat.  I don’t mean the pacing slowed down, but the story did, if that makes any sense.

Still, I liked DJANGO UNCHAINED a lot, and it’s also one of my favorite movies of this year.  I give it three and a half knives.

LS: That’s all you’re giving it? What are you, insane?

MA:  I’ve only given a handful of movies more than a three knife rating this year, which puts DJANGO UNCHAINED in the upper echelon of movies I’ve seen this year, where it belongs.

Hey, bartender!  How about another round of whiskeys?

BARTENDER:  S-sure.  Then you folks’ll be leaving?

LS:  We’ll be leaving when we’re good and ready.

BARTENDER (pouring whiskey, nervously spilling some):  No hurry.  Take your time.  You’ll get no trouble from me.

LS (downs his drink):  I’m good.

MA:  And I’m ready.

LS:  Let’s blow this watering hole.

BARTENDER:  Please!  Don’t blow up my bar!

MA:  It’s just an expression.  Keep your shirt on.

BARTENDER:  Why would I take off my shirt?

MA:  You don’t get out much, do you?  Let’s get out of here.

LS:  So long folks!  We’ll see y’all next year with lots more movie reviews! So stay with your pals here at cinemaknifefight.com for 2013!

MA:  Adios, muchachos y muchachas!

BARTENDER (scratches his head):  You’re Mexican?

(CLOSE-UP of DEPUTY DAWG who’s asleep at the bar, snoring loudly)

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives DJANGO UNCHAINED ~ THREE AND A HALF knives (out of five)!

LL Soares gives DJANGO UNCHAINED  ~ FOUR AND A HALF knives!

SAVAGES (2012)

Posted in 2012, Chainsaws!, Cinema Knife Fights, Crime Films, Gangsters!, Just Plain Fun, Torture, Vengeance!, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SAVAGES (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene: A California beach. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES sit on the back steps of a luxurious beach house, facing the ocean. A beautiful blonde bikini babe approaches them.)

WOMAN: I love both you guys. (to MA) I love your sensitivity and your intelligence.

MA (holding a book and some flowers): Gee, thanks. (blushes)

WOMAN (to LS): And I love your boldness and your strength.

LS (puffing on a stogie and holding a chainsaw in his lap): You better believe it, baby!

WOMAN: It’s the perfect relationship.

MA (points to LS): Except he doesn’t like to share.

LS: Share? What, are you in pre-school? It’s only natural that she should like me more than you

MA: Well, I disagree. As usual, you’re missing the point, which is—.

LS: Which is I’m the better critic than you. (revs up chain saw) Hell, I’m better at everything than you!

MA: Them’s fighting words!

(MA squeezes the flowers and they squirt a thick green goo onto LS’s face.)

LS (drops chainsaw and covers his eyes): I’ve been slimed! Someone grab Slimer before he gets away!

WOMAN: Stop it! Stop it! You’re ruining the moment. Why can’t things be like in the movies? (She stomps away).

MA: Because movies aren’t real.

(Sad violin music fills the soundtrack)

MA: But the best movies are the ones that make you believe they’re real. Speaking of which, we have a movie to review, SAVAGES (2012), the new movie from director Oliver Stone. Shall I start this one?

LS: Be my guest while I wipe this slime off my face.

MA: SAVAGES is Oliver Stone’s latest movie, and if I may say so, it’s the best Stone film I’ve seen in a while. It’s an intense crime thriller about two young men who run a profitable marijuana business, and live with their shared girlfriend. Life is great until they run afoul of a Mexican drug cartel.

Ben (Aaron Johnson) is the brains behind the business, while Chon (Taylor Kitsch) provides the muscle, and O (Blake Lively)—named after Ophelia from “Hamlet” —is their shared girlfriend—the glue that holds them together.

LS: They actually have a believable relationship. And it’s nice to see a ménage a trois actually work in the movies!

MA: O also serves as the story’s narrator. Supposedly, they grow some of the best marijuana in the world, which makes their business both extremely profitable and noticeable, which is one of the reasons why a Mexican drug cartel is interested in moving in on their operation. The cartel offers them a deal, in which they promise to distribute Ben’s and Chon’s product and provide them with protection, in return for learning the men’s growing secrets and 20 % of the profits.

When Ben and Chon refuse the deal, the cartel’s leader, Elena (Salma Hayek, in a movie-stealing performance) orders her henchman, Lado (Benicio Del Toro), to kidnap O so that she can teach the men a lesson in “manners.” With O in her clutches, Lado is now able to dictate terms, but Ben and Chon decide to fight back, and fight back with a vengeance. To do so, they need to cash in all their chips and involve everyone in their organization, including a crooked Federal Drug Enforcement agent named Dennis (John Travolta), who plays so many sides it’s difficult to know who he’s aligned with and who he’s against.

In effect, Dennis is a lot like the entire movie. Everyone seems to be in it for themselves, and you don’t know who to trust; everyone, that is, except for Ben and Chon. You know exactly where they stand. They are completely loyal to each other and to O, and this solid bond is one of the many strengths of the movie.

LS: Yeah, they’re order, and everyone else around them is pure chaos.

MA: I loved SAVAGES. Other than THE AVENGERS (2012), it’s the best movie I’ve seen this year. It has a rich, literate story— you can tell it’s based on a novel, by screenwriter Don Winslow—fully developed characters, very strong acting performances, and superb direction by Oliver Stone. This one’s a winner from beginning to end.

LS: Yeah, since the book is almost always better than the movie, this movie made me wanted to seek out Winslow’s book right afterwards. If the book is better in this case, then it’s gotta be killer!

MA: The cast was excellent. At long last, I finally enjoyed a performance by Taylor Kitsch. While you liked him in JOHN CARTER (2012) and BATTLESHIP (2012) and I didn’t, I can’t say that here.

LS: Wait a minute! While I’ll admit I am a huge fan of JOHN CARTER—man, did that movie get a bad rapI never once said I liked BATTLESHIP. Kitsch does what he can with his role, but BATTLESHIP was pretty awful. I just want to set the record straight.

MA: I didn’t say you liked the movie BATTLESHIP. I said you liked Kitsch’s performance in the movie, or at least you said he was serviceable, while I didn’t like his performance at all.

Anyway, Kitsch is excellent here as Chon, the muscle of the partnership. But the most important part of his performance and his character, and the same holds true for Aaron Johnson as Ben and Blake Lively as O, is that he’s likeable. In effect, the guy’s a drug dealer, but that doesn’t stop you from liking the guy. One of his defining moments, in an argument with Ben, is when he’s talking about their commitment to getting O back, and he yells that he’s never left a man behind, referring to his days in the military. In that moment, you know what he’s all about. He feels personally responsible for protecting O, and he’ll stop at nothing to see that she’s safe again.

LS: Look, I’ve been singing Kitsch’s praises since he played Tim Riggins in the TV series FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2006 – 2011). So this just confirms what I already knew.

MA: Aaron Johnson is just as good as Ben. Johnson, who played Kick-Ass in KICK-ASS (2010) is about as far removed here from that character as one can get. He’s the sensitive one in the partnership, the brains, the man behind the incredible growing method they use for their weed.

LS: Yeah, I liked Ben Johnson a lot in KICK-ASS, and it’s nice to see him turn in another solid performance here.

MA: And while Blake Lively as O isn’t as strong as Kitsch and Johnson, she’s still very good, plus she’s beautiful to boot!

LS: Yeah, this role is a long way from THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS (2005) and the TV show GOSSIP GIRL—and yes, I know she was also in THE TOWN (2010)—but you’re right, she’s good here. Maybe not on the same acting level as Kitsch and Johnson, but, for the most part, she’s fine.

Which brings me to a new feature. “Does It Earn Its R?

(Two scientists bring out an oversized, clunky computer from the 50s)

LS: I even had a special computer created just for this segment. Let’s see. (he pulls out a punch card and slips it into a slot). Tell us, computer, does SAVAGES earn its R-rating?

(The machine makes all kinds of noises as its lights flash. Then a card pops back out)

LS: Hmmm. Well, it’s got plenty of graphic violence and language. And there are several sex scenes. So those things alone would prove that, yes, this movie definitely earns its R-rating. But what’s this about Blake Lively keeping her clothes on during every single sex scene she’s in? Who does that in real life?

MA: I knew that would bug you. Get over it.

LS: It’s just not an “R” thing to do, that’s all. Especially when her male partners show their butts. Hey, people care about these things!

MA: Well, it’s obvious you care about it. Jeesh!

LS: Anyway, the three main characters—who are all crucial to if this movie will work—are well cast. I don’t have any complaints. Except for the fully-clothed sex thing.

MA: I liked all three of these characters and cared about what happened to them, which is a major reason why I liked SAVAGES so much.

The supporting cast is outstanding as well, perhaps, even better. Benicio Del Toro is absolutely creepy as henchman Lado. I found him scarier here than as the Wolf Man! John Travolta is excellent as Federal Agent Dennis, and Demian Bichir turns in a strong performance as Alex, the lawyer for the cartel who eventually is set up by Chon and Ben.

LS: Yeah, Travolta is really good in this one. Although, I have to admit, as he gets older, he sure is getting awfully creepy-looking. Tony Manero did not age well! But he’s really good in character roles like this. He doesn’t always have to be the star.

(VINNIE BARBARINO, Travolta’s character from the old TV show WELCOME BACK, KOTTER (1975 – 1979) walks along the beach)

VINNIE: Did I hear you say that when I get older, I’m going to be be creepy-looking?

LS: Yes, hate to break it to you Vinnie, but someday you won’t be the heartthrob you were in the 70s.

VINNIE: I can’t believe that! I’d never let myself go.

MA: But you do. You turn into a creepy-looking fat guy.

VINNIE: Who?

MA: I said…

VINNIE: What?

LS: Oh, he’s doing his Barbarino schtick.

VINNIE: Where?

MA: I think I hear the Sweathogs calling you.

LS: Yeah, I hear the waves are much better on TV Land.

(VINNIE walks away, singing his name over and over)

Demian Bichir is really good here, too. I first noticed this guy as the crime lord Esteban Reyes in the Showtime series WEEDS, and I thought he was amazing in that. Then he got nominated for an Oscar last year for a much more sympathetic role in the movie, A BETTER LIFE. And he’s terrific here.

But I have some issues with Benecio del Toro as Lado. It’s not that I didn’t like his performance. I thought it was a force of nature. I thought he was entertaining in every single scene he’s in, and I think del Toro is a great actor. But I thought it could have been even better if he didn’t play it so over-the-top and went for something more scary. As it is, Lado is almost like a cartoon. But if he’d toned it down a little, it would have made him more intense. And since this guy is a cold-blooded sadist, more intensity would have made the scenes of violence even more uncomfortable to watch. Maybe they let him have a kind of comic relief aspect to his personality to keep things from getting too dark, but personally, I thought some of his scenes were intense, and some made him almost look like a buffoon. If he’d been intense throughout, then there could have been some real scares in SAVAGES.

So I loved his performance, I just would have done it a different way.

MA: Really? I’m not sure which scenes you’re talking about in terms of his coming across as a buffoon. I thought he was pretty disturbing throughout.

But the best of all of them is Salma Hayek as Elena. She pretty much steals the movie as the cutthroat drug lord who, as she says, would slit Chon and Ben’s throats in a heartbeat. She’s amazing. That being said, my personal favorite performance in this movie belongs to Del Toro. He creeped me out throughout the movie.

LS: Hayek is great here. It’s nice to see her get such a meaty role she can really sink her teeth into. And Elena is complex; she is ruthless but she also has vulnerabilities that come to light. I especially liked her scenes with O. There was a real chemistry between the two characters.

MA: Yeah, there’s a moment in the movie where O and Elena bond over a discussion about Elena’s estranged daughter, and there’s another moment where Elena points out to O that her relationship with Ben and Chon is flawed, that it’s obvious that the two men care more for each other than her, because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to share her. These scenes are really good.

The screenplay by Shane Salerno, Don Winslow, and Oliver Stone is first-rate. It’s one of those stories where you really don’t know what’s going to happen, and that’s a rarity in most movies these days. The characters are all fleshed out, and the relationships in the movie work.

LS: Yeah, the cast and the script are perfectly in synch. I liked every single character here.

MA: I bought the three-way relationship between Ben, Chon, and O.

LS: Totally. It’s rare to see a believable relationship between three people, but it totally works here.

MA: There’s also an intense meeting between Agent Dennis and Lado where you’re not sure if Lado’s going to blow Dennis’ brains out. There are lots of key instances like this in the movie, where there’s more going on than what you usually see in a standard crime thriller plot.

LS: Yeah, you’re not always sure how different characters are going to react in certain situations, which is great. I love unpredictability!

MA: The movie even does a good job promoting the positive effects of pot without being preachy.

LS (hides something): What? Me? I wasn’t smoking anything. (exhales smoke)

MA: Oliver Stone does a masterful job directing this movie, from the elegant California beach scenery to the claustrophobic scenes of brutality and torture.

LS: Yeah, I’ve been a fan of Stone’s for a long time, but he is a very uneven director. Sometimes he makes great movies, like PLATOON (1986), the underrated U-TURN (1997), and my all-time favorite Stone movie, NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994), but he’s made some duds, too. And even more movies that could have been great, but were flawed. I think SAVAGES is easily his best movie since the 1990s. And it’s nice to see him make something so strong again. He really is a terrific director when he puts his mind to it.

(KEVIN COSTNER and ANTHONY HOPKINS walk past them on the beach)

COSTNER: I tell you, I have proof that JFK’s death was part of a conspiracy!

HOPKINS (talking like Richard Nixon): I am not a crook.

LS: Get a load of those two weirdos. And why are they wearing suits on the beach?

MA: You see all types out here.

Yes, SAVAGES contains some disturbing scenes, but these scenes don’t get carried away.

LS: Including some scenes with my favorite power tool, the chainsaw!

MA: I was struck by the idea expressed in the movie that these “savages” all have their moments of humanity and vice versa, that those who are humane have their moments of savagery.

At one point, O mentions that she, Ben, and Chon are like Katharine Ross, Paul Newman, and Robert Redford in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969), which sets the audience up with the feeling that Ben and Chon, like Butch and Sundance, will be killed by the end of the movie.

Which brings me to the end of the movie. The ending takes a turn that I can see many people not liking, but since I was about to dislike the ending before it took this turn, I have to admit that it worked for me.

LS: Yeah, in effect, the movie has two endings, and at first that kind of annoyed me. But the more I think about it, the more it works.

MA: All in all, SAVAGES is an exceptional movie, worth the price of admission and your time in the theater. It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.

LS: You know how I was on the fence about PROMETHEUS, whether to give it three and a half knives or four (if I was reviewing it now, it would be 3 ½ )? Well, despite the fact that I thought it was visually terrific, and I liked the cast, the big problem for me was that I didn’t love it. I didn’t totally identify with all the characters and didn’t really care enough about them. In a lot of ways, it was an impressive movie, but it was just lacking something.

In comparison, SAVAGES had me from the get-go. I loved the characters, I wanted to see what they’d do next, and I genuinely cared about what happened to them. This doesn’t happen a whole helluva lot at the movies. So I have to agree with you. Easily one of the year’s best.

MA: I give it four knives.

LS: For once you and I are of the same mind about a movie. I give it four knives as well. And hell, if Benecio Del Toro had been more menacing, I might have even given it a higher rating. But, he’s very entertaining as is.

MA: So I guess we’re saying people should go out and see this movie?

LS: Absolutely! And you don’t even have to pay extra for 3D glasses. SAVAGES is one of the few movies lately that’s not in 3D.

MA: Even better!

(The blonde bikini babe is back)

WOMAN: What, you guys are still here?

MA: We had to review a movie.

WOMAN: Well, its’ time for you two to move out of the beach house. I’ve got a new boyfriend now.

LS: You sure did replace us pretty quick!

WOMAN: And he doesn’t go on and on about movies!

MA: So who is this guy?

WOMAN: Oh here he comes now.

(VINNIE BARBARINO runs up to them from the beach)

VINNIE (singing): Bar-bar-bar-bar-bar-Barino

-END-

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives SAVAGES ~four knives.

L.L. Soares gives SAVAGES ~four knives.

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: THIRTEEN WOMEN (1932)

Posted in 1930s Horror, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Melodrama, Pre-Code Films, Vengeance! with tags , , , , , , , on March 15, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

THIRTEEN WOMEN (1932)

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!

In the pre-Hayes Code days of 1932, you could get away with an awful lot in motion pictures.  Hollywood films were rife with prostitutes, glorified gangsters, adultery, murder, child abuse, rape, and nudity.  One film of that year, however, proved so salacious that Warner Brothers cut it from 74 minutes down to a meager 59 minutes in length.  Rumors of graphic killings, homosexual affairs, and gun-fighting women on trains persist to this day, but sadly, this footage is all lost.  What is left of the film, THIRTEEN WOMEN (1932), is a miracle of crazed, trashy, pulp filmmaking, and it still maintains its shock value when seen today.  One can only imagine what it would have been like in its entirety.  I believe it would be hailed as a classic of its kind, standing alongside the film versions of Fu Manchu and the early dramas of James Cagney.

THIRTEEN WOMEN begins with the Raskob Sisters getting ready for their trapeze act at the E. Marvel Circus.  June has just received her horoscope from the mysterious Swami Yogadachi, and it informs her that because of something she will do, someone very close to her will die and she will end up in an insane asylum.  In walks Hazel, an old friend from school days long past, played by Peg Entwistle, an actress who actually killed herself two days after the release of THIRTEEN WOMEN by throwing herself off the ‘H’ in the Hollywoodland sign!  The two women are frightened by these ominous letters, but Hazel informs June that it must be some kind of prank, and the show must go on.  The trapeze artist, tormented by the words in the letter, becomes more and more nervous.  She and her sister swing high above the crowd in a pretty terrifying, silent sequence.  Each time June grabs for her sister, she nearly misses, until at one point, she jerks her hands back at the wrong time and her sister falls to her doom.

In the office of Swami Yogadachi, we find 1930’s villain character actor C. Henry Gordon (SCARFACE-1932, MATA HARI-1931) speaking with his “secretary” (oh you know what she REALLY is), Ursula Georgi, played by a pre-Nora Charles Myrna Loy (THE THIN MAN – 1934, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES-1946, and MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE – 1948).  Myrna’s all made up in a fabulous dress made from copper coins and wearing slanted Asian eye make-up.  She slinks over to the Swami, who has just completed a horoscope for another woman.  He maintains that it only shows happiness for this woman, Hazel.  Ursula stares him down and informs him that twelve women, all related by a round robin letter and their days in school together, must not lose their faith in the occult.  She kisses him, explains they were lovers in a previous life, and then asks about what he sees in the stars for her future.  He says, “It is death I wrote for you…not pleasantly.  Your body, mangled like that.  An accident, the stars say.  A railroad, perhaps.”  She says, “Strange.  So are you to die, like that.”

The great Myrna Loy in THIRTEEN WOMEN.

She hypnotizes him into sleep, takes his happy horoscope, and changes it to inform the recipient that she will commit murder and go to prison.  It is Hazel, who proceeds to fulfill the prophecy, screaming as she brutally stabs her husband.

We are then introduced to sensible single mother Laura Stanhope, played by Irene Dunne (THE AWFUL TRUTH-1937, A GUY NAMED JOE-1943, I REMEMBER MAMMA-1948, and many others great films).  Laura calls Helen, who has recently lost a child and is receiving horoscopes claiming she will soon kill herself.  Laura has also received a letter, stating that her son will die before his next birthday.  She says it’s all a bunch of hooey, and she is going to prove it.  She invites Helen to her house, where all the remaining girls from their sorority will meet, thus proving the Swami a fake.  Helen agrees and books a train ticket.

Meanwhile, Grace, another gal from the sorority, tells Laura that they are all doomed, that she believes everything the letters say.  The Swami has just sent her a letter stating that he, himself, will die before July 1st.  On June 31st, Swami Yogadachi unwisely tramps to Grand Central Station with Ursula, who makes him leap in front of a train in a stunningly edited sequence.  She then hops on her own train, the very one transporting the grief-stricken Helen to California.

On the trip, she speaks with Helen, who says she regrets the way Ursula was treated at school, then she shows the Eurasian woman a gun she keeps with her to prove to herself that she won’t kill herself.  Not exactly a good plan!  Ursula lurks behind her, nudging her closer and closer towards suicide until the sobbing Helen shoots herself through the head while Ursula listens at her door, smirking with satisfaction.

The suicide is investigated by Police Sergeant Barry Clive (Ricardo Cortiz-THE WALKING DEAD-1936, MR. MOTO’S LAST WARNING-1939), and the trail leads to Laura Stanhope and her son, whose birthday is fast approaching.  Ursula, now in California, is sleeping with the Stanhope’s chauffer, Burns, played by tough guy Edward Pawley (G-MEN-1935, EACH DAWN I DIE-1939).  First, the crazed woman tries to poison the little boy with candy.  Then she gives Burns a rubber ball filled with explosives, saying “Give this to Bobby with all your love.  And don’t drop it!”  When he refuses, she comes on to him, wearing another revealing and fabulous dress, and convinces him to give the boy the lethal present.  “He won’t know anything,” she whispers into his ear.  “He’ll bounce it.  Children always bounce rubber balls, don’t they?”

Myrna Loy terrorizes Irene Dunne in THIRTEEN WOMEN.

The next fifteen minutes contain many tense moments as the rubber ball is placed in various precarious positions (the film is alarmingly easy-going about putting a four-year-old child in mortal danger), a wild car chase with an out-of-control limousine, a harrowing sting operation, a chase through a train, and the big confrontation between Ursula and Laura.  Ursula was a half Hindu, half Japanese girl who was sent by a missionary to school.  She had to “learn to be white”, because if you were Asian and a man, you were a thug.  If you were Asian and a woman, you would become a prostitute.  The girls of the sorority learned that she was passing for white and made her life so miserable she had to leave the academy.  Thus, her lust for revenge was born, a desire to see every one of the women in that sorority to either be killed or tormented by loss.  It’s a plea for tolerance, and it’s hard not to feel sorry for Ursula, even though she’s just attempted to blow up a little kid.  Loy is so adept with her acting, especially her eyes, she brings real sorrow to the plight of this “half-breed.”  The attempt at sympathy for other races, however, is muddled completely by the fact that this woman is a monster through and through, so the whole progressive point of the movie becomes moot.

THIRTEEN WOMEN barrels along at a furious pace, all the more so for its missing scenes.  Stylishly directed by the prolific George Archainbaud (BLONDE TROUBLE-1937, THE DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND-1946), the movie has at least five action/horror sequences that are all the more exciting by the lack of music, especially that trapeze plummet opening.  A shout-out must go to the costume designer, whoever that may be.  There is no credit for the person responsible for the wild outfits worn by Ursula Georgi, sexy and daring and exotic, the perfect gowns for the murderous half-caste.  They would almost be acceptable in a FLASH GORDON  serial!  The movie also includes an early score by the brilliant Max Steiner (GONE WITH THE WIND-1939, KING KONG-1933, NOW VOYAGER-1942, CASABLANCA-1942, and 237 others).  Although sparingly used, the music is quite effective and understated.

The film was based on a salacious novel by Tiffany Thayer, the Harold Robbins of the 1920s and 1930s.  He wrote books filled with murder, sex, and violence, rife with misogyny and racism.  F. Scott Fitzgerald once called his books “Slime…in drug store libraries.”  Dorothy Parker stated, “He is beyond question a writer of power; and his power lies in his ability to make sex so thoroughly, graphically, and aggressively unattractive that one is fairly shaken to ponder how little one has been missing. Thayer died while writing a 21 volume (series) about the Mona Lisa, which was never completed.  Many have called his works literary potato chips, not good for you, but hard to stop eating once you’ve started. .”  Wow!  Where can I find a copy of one of his novels?

Even in its truncated 59 minute form, THIRTEEN WOMEN casts a weird, dream-like spell.  If only we had the missing fifteen minutes, it could have been a pre-code classic.  As it stands, it’s still a wonderfully campy, shocking, and exciting relic with an amazing performance by the lovely Myrna Loy.  Warner Archive has put out a nice copy of THIRTEEN WOMEN, and it deserves to be seen by a whole new generation.

I give THIRTEEN WOMEN three explosive rubber balls out of four.  Just don’t bounce it!

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl