Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!... and GROWING BOY

Well, we survived the hurricane here at Junta Juleil, but it's sort of put a damper on all things Halloween.  Far more time was spent watching news reports and stockpiling water/peanut butter/beer than was spent watching CAT'S EYE and HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and BASKET CASE– though rest assured, time was made for those fine films.

Anyway, speaking of horror films, I have a new one that debuts tonight at the First Annual Spooky Fest in Bushwick, Brooklyn– it's called GROWING BOY, and promises to frighten and appall.   



It stars Joe Stipek and David F. Slone, Esq.  I wrote and directed and edited and all that jazz.  Music by Jesse Carlson.  It was made with the helpful participation of Jillaine Gill, Rachel Klein, and Daisy Tainton.

I hope you all weathered the storm and are enjoying your Halloweens– and remember– Halloween's not truly over till Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Theatrical Halloween Happenings in NYC!

For our New York City-based brethren:  there are a number of Halloween-related performances that I must bring to your attention: 

On October 26th & 30th:
•DANCE MAYHEM: A GRINDHOUSE BALLET

From David F. Sloan, Esq. and the Love Show comes an action-packed homage to the gritty films that Hollywood didn't want you to see. Combining the ballet and jazz infused choreography of underground favorite Angela Harriell with the pop and lock b-boy style of street dancer Nobuya Nagahama, Dance Mayhem tells the tale of a louche nightclub, owned by a beautiful yet ruthless drug dealer who will stop at nothing to get what she wants, and the man she pushes one step too far. Intrigue lurking at every turn. Sex! Murder! Horror! Not a ballet for quiet contemplation, this show will have you on the edge of your seat from the opening number to the curtain call.

Directed and choreographed by Angela Harriell.  Additional choreography by Nobuya Nagahama.  Featuring Dorian Cervantes, Duane Gosa, Angela Harriell, Atsunori Hayamizu, Miku Kawa, Rachael Ma, Takushi Minami, Nobuya Nagahama, Toshihiko Nakazawa, Tsubasa Ogawa, Julie Megan Smith.

It shall be presented Friday, October 26 at 11 p.m. and Tuesday, October 30 at 8:00 p.m. at Theater 80 (80 St. Marks Place between 1st and 2nd Avenue).  Tickets are $20 in advance here, or $25 at the door.  


On October 30th:
•BEDTIME STORIES OF BAKERY, BUTCHERY, AND BASTARDS

From the makers of MR. LONG SPINDLY FINGERS: STORIES OF MURDER AND MADNESS, comes an evening of spine-tingling tales from author Kristen Lee, whose work combines a genuine, spooky charm with an escapist's sense of nostalgia– your own morbid childhood, revisited!  It is described as "Dr. Seuss meets Edward Gorey meets a blender" and will be featuring readings by Peter Aguero, Brad Lawrence, Julia Young, and Rory Scholl.   It shall be presented at the Red Room, upstairs from the Kraine Theater (85 E 4th Street between Bowery and 2nd Avenue) at 9:30 p.m. on October 30th.  Tickets are $10 at the door.  There will be treats also!


On November 4th:
•A one-night only remount of the now-classic TRAGEDY OF MARIA MACABRE!

Back from the dead (sort of), the RKP theater ensemble will resurrect their whimsically morbid dance drama on the prestigious LaMama stage.  Conceived, designed, and directed by Rachel Klein.  Story by Rachel Klein, Sean Gill, & the ensemble.  Sound design by Sean Gill and Rachel Klein.  Choreographed by Rachel Klein and the ensemble.  Starring Elizabeth Stewart, Michael Porsche, Danielle Marie Fusco, Preston Burger, Megan O'Connor, Eric Schmalenberger, Freddy Mancilla, Brian Rubiano, and special guest the Love Show's Angela Harriell as Maria Macabre!

THE TRAGEDY OF MARIA MACABRE has played to sold-out houses and critical acclaim at Dixon Place, the Access Theater, the Wild Project, the Kitchen, DUMBO Dance Festival, the LES Festival at Theater for the New City, the House of Yes, the premiere of Banzai! at the Red Lotus Room, and the Bushwick Site Fest at 3rd Ward.

The remount performance shall be at November 4th at 5:30 p.m. at the Club at LaMama (74A E 4th Street, between Bowery and 2nd Avenue).  Tickets are $15 and can be purchased here.  Proceeds go to the Howl Emergency Life Project.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Junta Juleil's Guide to Melancholy Horror

What is "Melancholy Horror?"  I think it's my favorite horror sub-genre, at least for the moment.   It's sort of difficult to describe, and I may be the only one actively trying to define it, but here goes:

I'd say it's a sub-genre of especially artistic horror/thriller/supernatural drama films that fill half of you with genuine scares, and the rest with a genuine sadness– or at least a sense of overwhelming alienation.  They routinely begin and/or end with a tragedy, often of an accidental, non-supernatural variety.  They were made, by and large, between 1970 and 1981, and mostly on lower budgets that lend them a very "documentary" feel.  They always make the most of their budgets, however, and come across as very impressionistic, hypnotic, and dreamlike; the 1970s film stock often lending sunlight, candlelight, and fall colors a special ethereal prominence.

There's often a female or child protagonist slowly losing her mind, or slowly receiving a twisted spiritual enlightenment.  (If it's a child, the odds are high that they'll be wearing a creepy nightgown at some point.)  Often there's a conspiracy of dubious veracity.  At the very least, these films are wrought beneath a haze of narrative ambiguity.  Sometimes, afterward, you're not even sure that you've just seen a horror film, but you're unsettled just the same.  Rarely are they fast-paced, but this only draws you in to their exquisite atmospheres even more; perhaps you even let your guard down...

They often have soundtracks comprised of flutes, harpsichords, or atonal noise; or, equally often, a solo classical pianist.  Sometimes they're set in small towns, abandoned villas– or houses and shanties on the edge of a spooky desert, or a black forest.  They generally feature little gore, if any (otherwise something like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE might fit in), and frequently deal with ghosts and madness and loss of identity.

Hard to say exactly what and who the grandfathers and grandmothers of this mini-genre are; I'd say perhaps the ghost stories of Henry James, M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood, and J.S. le Fanu, Japanese folk tales, European morbid fairy tales, Edgar Allan Poe, Dreyer's VAMPYR, Herk Harvey's CARNIVAL OF SOULS, Antonioni's BLOW-UP, Frankenheimer's SECONDS, and the films of Mario Bava and Ingmar Bergman.

So, without further adieu– JUNTA JULEIL'S TOP 20 MELANCHOLY FRIGHT FLICKS!

They aren't exactly ranked, per sé– but perhaps they are ordered by my enthusiasm. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I invite you to submit your own recommendations in the comments section;  I would love to discover more films of quality that fit the bill.

1. THE CHANGELING (1980, Peter Medak)

A sheer force of atmospheric dread. Medak is a master of effectively controlling space, foreboding architecture, and ornate interior design– as well as the roaming camera that captures them.  The score, by Rick Wilkins, is hauntingly evocative, consisting of ever-flowing, swirling piano, surging and eddying like sudden rushes of air or gentle, ghostly breaths.  It's almost as if a shroud lies draped upon the film- a defeated sigh, a pensive look, a sense of loss.  As long as we fear the unknown, this film will resonate.

2. THE TENANT (1976, Roman Polanski)

One of the most frightening and claustrophobic movies I've ever seen.  Polanski directs himself through a film full of disintegrating identities, bathroom hieroglyphics, Shelley Winters, and a world gone mad.  The less you know, the better.  Based on a novel by Roland Topor.

3. 3 WOMEN (1977, Robert Altman)

Halfway between PERSONA and SINGLE WHITE FEMALE is 3 WOMEN, and for my money, it transcends them both.  (No high-heel murder, though– ha!)  Impressions?  Monstrous paintings.  Old, well-used, bloated bodies, wading through a pool with waifish companions.  People talking, but never listening.  That terrifying mechanical bar curiosity, "Dirty Gertie."  The tragedy of finger food prepared for guests who'll never come.  A mysterious pile of gravel.  I will spoil no more. Altman adapts one of his own dreams and in the process creates one of the finest films of the 70s.  (Not to mention that the incredible Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall are two of the finest actors of their generation.)

4. PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975, Peter Weir)

Buttoned-up lace and sun-beaten earth.  Obsession.  Hysterics.  Frozen clocks.  Young girls wandering among prehistoric boulders and deep crevices, never to be seen again.  A deeply unsettling picture.  J.D. over at Radiator Heaven just did a fantastic take on it here.

5.  PHANTASM (1979, Don Coscarelli)

That spooky-rockin' soundtrack.  The yellow blood.  The Jawa-men.  The box of pain (a DUNE homage?).  That sleazy lean-to shack-bar that looks like a stiff wind could blow it over.  The noiseless, alabaster-white corridors of the mausoleum. The angry red sky of the other dimension.  The phantasm balls, and their hidden secrets.  The Tall Man.  BOYYYYYYYYY!
Few films build such a wonderful impression of the end of summer and the beginning of autumn.   Ultimately, it's a grim coming-of-age, and minus the supernatural elements, I think that its honesty and sheer quality could have even made the "establishment" critics take notice.   In fact, Coscarelli's first two films were slice-of-life coming-of-age flicks played straight (the excellent KENNY & CO. and JIM, THE WORLD'S GREATEST, the latter of which I have not seen).  But let the establishment critics have their films, and let genre fans have PHANTASM.
And despite all it's wonderful bells (and balls) and whistles, it all really comes down to a feeling, an emptiness, a melancholy born of grieving. That secret urge to wander the graveyard on an overcast day, and see what you can see...

6.  DON'T LOOK NOW (1973, Nicolas Roeg)

Marketed as a "psychic thriller," DON'T LOOK NOW is a subtle, bewitching marriage of virtuosic visuals with a story of genuine pathos and terrible dread– a real sense of loss accompanies the terror here.  In a way, it is a film of textures– troubling, murky waters; shattered glass; the dreary, mottled marble.  You dance in and out of consciousness, chasing that red-coated figure through the grey labyrinth of Venice and the boundless convolutions of the human mind.  Based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier.

7. LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971, John D. Hancock)

If I had to pick one movie that truly embodied what "melancholy horror" represents for me, it'd be LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH.  It's handling of mental illness is eerie but always tasteful; its soundtrack is haunting and folksy, brimming with doleful sincerity; its low-budget is worn on its sleeve and only increases the film's authenticity; it's layered with intriguing, understated soundscapes; and Zohra Lampert's eponymous performance is heart-rending– everything the film needs lies in her bewildered gaze and her pitiful smile.  And there's a dangerous streak that runs beneath the surface of this film– it feels raw, it feels immediate; it knows the Summer of Love is over, and that there's something blurry on the horizon that speaks to man's darker aspects.  The sort of film that fuels sprawling, multi-layered dreams afterward...  There's even a loving cult web tribute, and the enthusiastic ramshackle mood of the site fits the film perfectly.

8. DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (1973, John Newland)

"Can you see them, Sally ... hiding in the shadows?  They're alive, Sally. They want you to be one of them when the lights go out."  As I've said before, the film begins by adhering to the 'young couple moving into possibly haunted old house' template and proceeds to -quite rapidly- outperform the cliché with a combination of skillful realism and morbid, childlike dream-logic.  The dynamics of marriage, the motif of the forgotten housewife, the attention paid to gender and overmedication, and the irresistibility of the unknown are tackled evenly, and it's tempered by a sense of Lovecraftian, ancestral doom.  Likely the best made-for-television horror movie we'll ever see.

9. THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976, Nicolas Gessner)

This is an odd one.  Based on the novel and stage play by Laird Koenig, its major scenario (which I shall not reveal) is one that could just as easily occupy a child's daydreams or a child's nightmares.  Centered around a bold, confident performance by an adolescent Jodie Foster, this tale is woven in the midst of an extremely evocative autumn atmosphere.  In the midst of this cool, creepy ambiance and a damned gutsy plotline, the film even ventures to ask some pretty daring, open-ended questions about the usefulness of human society and its infrastructures in general.  There's a strong supporting role by Martin Sheen as a complex, despicable being; and a pleasant bit by BAD RONALD's Scott Jacoby as a boy on the cusp of being a man; but still, the poetry is what makes the lasting impression: the quiet roar of the seashore, the stillness of the night, the glow of the candlelight, and perhaps the faintest scent of bitter almonds...

10. THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975, Bryan Forbes)

Ira Levin's work has a way of getting to you when you're at that oh-so-vulnerable point of moving into a new space or city– you don't know where anything is, you have no established circle of friends, and you sometimes feel like a prisoner in your own home.  So you stick your neck out and discover that your environs are not so idyllic as they seemed at first glance... or maybe it's just the isolation talking.   An effective and sociopolitical film that really works even if you've already had the major twist spoiled for you (via cultural osmosis).

11. NOSFERATU (1979, Werner Herzog)

An actual army of rats flooding the village of Wismar.  Cow-biting.  Gypsy violins.  The stroke of genius in centering a NOSFERATU/DRACULA remake around the 70s' best psychotic approximation of Max Schreck: Klaus Kinski.  From the opening shots of actual, dessicated corpses from the cholera-vaults of Guanajuato, Mexico (set to the strains of Popol Vuh), Herzog is letting us know that, no, he does not intend to fuck around.  Kinski doesn't play the vampire as a villain, per sé– he's more like a resigned, intellectual animal-creature who finds himself to possess an unfortunate, unavoidable biological function:  the fact that he has to schlerp on necks to survive.   Though it remains faithful in many regards, there are plenty of twists on the well-known source material (very much in the vein of the changes Polanski made to MACBETH), and the whole affair is lightly swathed in the dreamlike, hypnotic atmosphere that Herzog perfected in occasionally macabre, but non-Horror films like HEART OF GLASS, AGUIRRE THE WRATH OF GOD, and THE ENIGMA OF KASPAR HAUSER– which makes it an excellent "Melancholy Horror" candidate.

12. MARTIN (1976, George A. Romero)

Ostensibly a "vampire" movie, MARTIN turns the genre on its ear into a meditation on suburban malaise in the greater Pittsburgh area.  Our titular hero is a vampire.  Only he doesn't have fangs or Svengali-esque powers of hypnosis, he has to use razor blades and roofie-laced syringes.  And garlic and crucifixes don't seem to do much.  And daylight's cool, too.  But he's a vampire, yeah.
Romero's first collaboration with Tom Savini (acting and effects-wise), it becomes a psychosexual "coming of age" portrait filled with unnerving ambiguities, some great performances from some folks who are the antithesis of airbrushed Hollywood-types, and some good ole Rust Belt mysticism.  And I don't believe I've ever quite squirmed so much during a vampire film.  Romero considers it his finest work, and it's so damn well done, it's hard to argue with him.

13. NIGHT GALLERY(TV SERIES) (1969-1973, Rod Serling and others)

I know it's not technically a movie, but so frequently does it hit upon all the aspects of "Melancholy Horror" that I have defined, I feel as if I owe it a mention.  Similar to THE TWILIGHT ZONE in many ways, NIGHT GALLERY differentiates itself by being a true product of the 70s, and, by and large, by telling different sorts of (melancholy) horror stories, stylishly and cinematically.  Its avant-garde music and hallucinatory titles recall perhaps the surreal 60s work of Japanese auteur Hiroshi Teshigahara, and episodes like "The Doll," "Clean Kills and Other Trophies," "The Caterpillar," "Certain Shadows on the Wall," and the incredibly well-directed (by John Astin!) "The House" really tap into this subgenre, feeling often like mystical little fever-dreams.  Hurried production schedules give it that raw, occasionally indie feel, and nothing really can match the joy of seeing Serling striding around the Night Gallery, clasping his hands and tersely informing us of the shocks in store...

14.  TOURIST TRAP (1979, David Schmoeller)

As I've asked before, what is it that elevates this flick from 'boondocks slasher' rip-off to a quiet masterpiece of 70s horror? How about a crew defined by a dedication to genuine- and sometimes avant-garde artistry? Check it out: TOURIST TRAP possesses ethereal, soft-focus visuals courtesy of Nicholas Josef von Sternberg (DISCO 9000, GAS PUMP GIRLS), son of- yup, Josef von Sternberg; an eerie, unsettling Italian soundtrack full of echoey wailing and offbeat woodblock/slide whistle/ominous harpsicord curiosities courtesy of Pino Donaggio (DON'T LOOK NOW, TRAUMA, PIRANHA, countless Brian de Palma flicks); and mesmerizing, mood-fitting editing by future director Ted Nicolaou (TERRORVISION). All of this might sound silly on the page, but, trust me, when it all comes together, it's truly special.  Also...  MANNEQUINS.

15. PHASE IV (1974, Saul Bass)

Before you whine that it's more sci-fi than horror– please tell me what bodily and psychological sensations you were experiencing the last time ANTS WERE CRAWLING ON YOUR NAKED BODY. But, to be serious, this isn't a "killer-bug" flick, or else it wouldn't be on this list.  I've written at length about it elsewhere, but let me say that Bass creates a cruel, exotic worldscape of geodesic domes, subterranean tunnels, microscopic photography, and blistering sunlight. Brian Gascoigne's accompanying soundscapes are often electronic, high-pitched, oscillating frequencies; elsewhere they're eerie synthesized organs and low, dissonant tones.  This film is trippy as shit, and it's as beautiful as it is troubling. PHASE IV is order and disorder. Geometry and disarray. Patterns and chaos. Symbols and meaninglessness. It's something hidden- buried- within our souls and etched upon our spinal columns. It's been with us since the stone faces were built on Easter Island and since the time of the pyramids and before. Each and every image captivates us, fascinates us, because deep down we know that we are not the masters of this planet.  It's not a chronicle of a young person's descent into madness, like many of these other films, it's the chronicle of a species, an entire planet undergoing that blood-curdling journey into the unknown...

16. DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971, Harry Kümel)

When somebody describes a film to me as a "Euro-Vampire Lesbian Movie from the 70s," I sort of assume it's going to be soft-core hilarity in the vein of Joe D'Amato–  instead, this feels like a Fassbinder flick with a little bit of blood, or perhaps an Albee play directed by Argento.  Set in an empty seaside hotel in Belgium in the wake of a series of mysterious, blood-draining murders, DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS explores the flexibility of human sexuality (equally on the sado/masochistic spectrum as well as the hetero/homosexual one) and indeed the flexibility of human identity.  Delphine Seyrig (as The Countess Bathery) steals the show in an otherworldly, Weimar-style old-school starlet performance; she's the sort of actor who has no trouble convincing you that she could be several centuries old, and she uses it as a starting point for some extraordinarily nuanced drama.  (There's also a chuckle-inducing appearance by a sugar daddy whom IMDb user kwedgwood hilariously and accurately describes as an "older, dominant and pampered sissy.")  Anyway, there's a pensive mood, graceful seascapes, and loads of interesting and beautiful faces– the sort that surface especially in European art films from the 60s and 70s.

17. THE BEGUILED (1971, Don Siegel)

Based on a novel by Thomas Cullinan, it invokes the spirit and temperaments of Poe, Bierce, Hawthorne, and Capote, and the resulting film possesses a sort of 'Southern Gothic psychedelic existentialism.' It almost has the feel of SPIDER BABY combined with THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY.  Lalo Schifrin delivers his most mature, complex score (full of deep, echoey flutes, mournful oboes, and intricate harpiscords), and it perfectly complements the mood of the film.   Stifling, hypnotic, even baroque, the film is presented from an omniscient perspective: different characters' thoughts, memories, and hypocrisies bleed into one another, like wreckage upon wreckage. You can blame it on the war or you can blame it on human nature, but no one- not even the sweetest, most innocent of little girls- emerges from this thing unscathed.

18. AUDREY ROSE (1977, Robert Wise)

Not quite a horror film, not quite a drama, AUDREY ROSE takes a serious and sometimes scary look at reincarnation while making use of a few tropes from the "ghost story" genre.  It's anchored by strong performances by Marsha Mason (as a mother coming unraveled) and a young Anthony Hopkins (as a mysterious stranger who may have a link to her family, involving past lives).  Child actor Susan Swift does a fine job, too, and manages, uncannily, to look a lot like "kiddie Karen Black."  Though it lingers perhaps too much on courtroom scenes in the latter half, the film maintains a splendid atmosphere of discomfiture without ever overtly dipping into horror.  Based on the novel by Frank De Felitta (THE ENTITY).

19. DEAD AND BURIED (1981, Gary Sherman)

I've written about this film before, and it manages to capture all the melancholy frights of the seaside.  The waves roll in, crest, and break; smashing against the rocks.  There's a violent tranquility in that.  Dusk falls.  Colors in the sky obscured by clouds.  You smell the salty air.  There is a wonderful haze so thick on the film stock, you feel as if you could reach into the screen and run your fingers through it.  There are some fine scares at play here, too, not to mention one of the freakiest bandaged men in all of filmdom.  Similar to LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH in its claustrophobic portrayal of a small town gone (seemingly?) mad.  Like a gloom-soaked EC comic for adults.

20. VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970, Jaromil Jires)

As I've said before, some have called VALERIE a fairy tale, inspired by the likes of ALICE IN WONDERLAND and LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD. It's even more appealing to pin it down as such, given its clear influence on subsequent works from Angela Carter and Neil Jordan's THE COMPANY OF WOLVES to Jan Svankmajer's ALICE to even Lynch and Frost's TWIN PEAKS, but I think it might be more accurate to say that it resembles a medieval painting 'come to life.' Imagine a sprawling vision by Bosch, brimming with disturbing, inscrutable visual metaphors and beguiling, fleeting reveries; fair maidens and old crones; men of the cloth and perversions of men of the cloth; dances of life and dances of death. It's truly as if a portal has opened from within one of these masterworks and allowed us a quite tangible, timeless taste of its fancifully macabre contents (or as tangible as twenty-four frames-per-second will allow).

Honorable Mention: Altman's IMAGES, Bergman's THE SERPENT'S EGG, Romero's SEASON OF THE WITCH, Clark's BLACK CHRISTMAS, Leacock and Matheson's DYING ROOM ONLY.

Honorable Mentions that are a little too polished and high-profile to quite qualify:  De Palma's OBSESSION, Kubrick's THE SHINING.

Movies that I haven't yet seen (as of Oct. 2012), but I am told fit the bill:  Fuest's AND SOON THE DARKNESS, Fulci's DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING, Fleischer's SEE NO EVIL, Mulligan's THE OTHER, Benedek's THE NIGHT VISITOR, Martino's ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK.  I'd be particularly interested in the feedback of those who have seen some of these, too!

-Sean Gill

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Coming soon... Junta Juleil's Guide to Melancholy Horror

It's a subgenre I've been meaning to define for years– but it involves the 1970s, and a certain fever-dream feeling, a feeling of sadness and dread...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Only now does it occur to me... CHILDREN OF THE CORN

Only now does it occur to me...  that the true highlight of CHILDREN OF THE CORN is not the weirdo kiddie preacher performance by John Franklin, nor the frequent corn-cobbin' crucifixions, nor the hideous pacing.  It is the unusual (and ultimately sort of sad) battle that pre-TERMINATOR Linda Hamilton wages against her own dignity in the following clip in which, á la some pocket of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, time itself seems to slow until it stops.  We feel your pain, Linda.



Though, I also feel as if she could have easily snagged a nomination at my GIANT OSCAR MESS in the category of "Best Spazzified Solo Dance."

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Film Review: MANHATTAN BABY (1982, Lucio Fulci)



Stars: 2 of 5.
Running Time: 89 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Written by Elisa Briganti (1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS, ZOMBI 2) and Dardano Sacchetti (DEMONS, THE BEYOND).  Starring Christopher Connelly (PEYTON PLACE, BENJI), Laura Lenzi (THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES II), and Giovanni Frezza (that damn kid from THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, THE NEW BARBARIANS, and A BLADE IN THE DARK!).  Music by Fabio Frizzi (THE PSYCHIC, ZOMBIE, THE BEYOND).  Cinematography by Guglielmo Mancori (SPASMO, FUZZY THE HERO, RUN MAN RUN).
Tag-line: "Little Suzy is very young, very pretty, and very, very evil!"
Best one-liner: "AHHHHHHHHH!"


This is an older review that was never published for some reason or another.  Enjoy.
Some people say that Fulci has a "Gates of Hell" trilogy.  Indeed, THE BEYOND, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, and CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, all sort of have a something to do with the concept of the "Gates of Hell."  Well, I'm going to go ahead and declare another Fulci trilogy:  "The New York Trilogy," and lemme tell ya, it gives Paul Auster's a run for his money.  The included films would be ZOMBI 2 (bookended by scenes in New York), the jaw-dropping NEW YORK RIPPER, and MANHATTAN BABY.  Grouping them together means that MANHATTAN BABY imparts no more nor less meaning than if it were standing alone.

 In fact, if this movie makes a shred of sense, then I'm sober. Now I cant say that I was (sober) last night when I viewed this fine film, but I was with two other intelligent, semi-focused people, and between the three of us, all we could figure out was this, which should read something like a schizophrenic's telegram: 

EGYPT GEM SUPERNATURAL SNAKES POLAROIDS. STOP.  




FAMILY POLTERGEIST-INDIANA JONES RIP-OFF. STOP.  
  
 Kid's even got a clown toy like in POLTERGEIST.

DEATH BY STUFFED BIRDS THAT COME ALIVE THAT AREN'T REALLY ALIVE IT WAS JUST A HALLUCINATION BUT THEN WHY IS HE STILL DEAD.  STOP.


 The stuffed birds in question, causing mischief and Fulci-esque eye trauma.

That's about it in a nutshell. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Italians in the 70s and 80s were missing some crucial brain component. Usually that's a good thing. It gave us MURDERROCK, PHENOMENA, and the rockin' tunes of Goblin. But MANHATTAN BABY is the flip side, the dark side, of that coin. I mean there's a couple good things going on- bad dubbing of children, a whacked out soundtrack that somehow weaves its way into the narrative when one of the characters whistles it (why do Italians always do that?!), some fake spring-loaded flying snakes, some eye-gouging, and a twist ending that confounds more than it shocks; but overall, it's something of a bizarro snoozefest. 

 And I swear that's one of the masks from TROLL 2

Oh, and it's got that towheaded kid (Giovanni Frezza) who was apparently the only genre child actor in all of Italy from 1980-1985.  You know the one I mean– that kid from DEMONS and THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY and THE NEW BARBARIANS and A BLADE IN THE DARK and A LEAP IN THE DARK!



Anyway, I'd describe it as good background material for an Italo-Horror party, or something of that nature, but it hasn't got much of the truly inspired lunacy that is typical of the Fulci we know and love.  Allow me to push on you instead:  THE NEW YORK RIPPER, MURDERROCK, or LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN.

-Sean Gill

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

FRESH PISS at the PollyGrind Film Festival in Las Vegas

FRESH PISS, a heretofore unreleased short film of mine, is making its debut on October 12th at the PollyGrind film festival, a paean to underground cinema in Las Vegas.  For fans of Junta Juleil in the area who'd like to see it, it'll be screening at 10:20 p.m. at Theater7 and tickets are available here.
 
The film is described thusly:  "A nasty little scene, set in a cesspool. A nefarious, masked man hires two fun-loving, Thunderbird-swilling hobos to assist him in a specialized task."  It's dark, political, and features a curious combination of masked men and ventriloquist's dummies.  It stars John Sellers, Isaiah Piper, Astrid Ferrari, Scooter Pie, and Eric Schmalenberger, and was written, shot, edited, and directed by yours truly.

It's also a bit of feather in my cap that it's premiering alongside (the same week at the same festival) as the North American premiere of ROAD TO HELL by Junta Juleil hall-o-famer Albert Pyun (CYBORG, VICIOUS LIPS, OMEGA DOOM, ALIEN FROM L.A., KICKBOXER 4, DOLLMAN, and BRAIN SMASHER...A LOVE STORY).

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Film Review: CON AIR (1997, Simon West)

Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 123 minutes (director's cut).
Notable Cast or Crew:  Nicolas Cage (WILD AT HEART, VALLEY GIRL), John Malkovich (EMPIRE OF THE SUN, DANGEROUS LIAISONS), John Cusack (BETTER OFF DEAD, ONE CRAZY SUMMER), Steve Buscemi (KING OF NEW YORK, MILLER'S CROSSING), Ving Rhames (PATTY HEARST, JACOB'S LADDER), Dave Chapelle (BUDDIES, 200 CIGARETTES), Rachel Ticotin (TOTAL RECALL, FALLING DOWN), Danny Trejo (KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS, DEATH WISH IV: THE CRACKDOWN), M.C. Gainey (LOST, FATAL BEAUTY), Doug Hutchison (LOST, THE X-FILES), Fredric Lehne (LOST, DALLAS), Colm Meaney (UNDER SIEGE, DICK TRACY), Mykelti Williamson (HEAT, FREE WILLY, FORREST GUMP), and a possible vocal cameo by Powers Boothe (SOUTHERN COMFORT, TOMBSTONE).  Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (THE ROCK, TOP GUN).
Tag-line: "Welcome to Con Air.  They were deadly on the ground.  Now they have wings."
Best one-liner:   "Cy..."  –"Onara!"  [man is burned alive]

Alright, ladies and germs.  We all know CON AIR already, and we all know that it's glorious.  Certain elements have been discussed to death, and I'm sure I could zero in on Cage's mullet, his distressingly bad Southern accent, or his doing origami for the love of a daughter he's never met:

or Steve Buscemi being zanily creepy and singing "He's Got the Whole World (In His Hands)":

 or the enormity of all the hare-raising-stuffed-bunny-related setpieces.

But in such cases where a film– notorious for its singular, over-the-top flavor– has been often discussed elsewhere (á la, say, a BLOODSPORT or a COMMANDO), it would likely behoove me to discuss the elements that you don't think about every day when you reach that point in the afternoon that you reserve for thinking about CON AIR.  Therefore, I am proud to present my ten newest and most absurd observations– nay, revelations– that materialized upon my latest viewing of CON AIR.

#1.  Danny Trejo's intention to fuck your whole family.

Playing the rapist "Johnny-23" ("one heart for each of my 23 bitches"), Trejo's had a lot of experience playing convicts– both in real life and in the movies THE HIDDEN, RUNAWAY TRAIN, PENITENTIARY III, LOCK UP, MANIAC COP 2, WEDLOCK, JAKE AND THE FATMAN, LAST LIGHT, AGAINST THE WALL, ANIMAL FACTORY, and a bunch of others.  In fact, after recently seeing him in Cannon Films' KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS, I now am actually afraid that Danny Trejo is going to fuck my whole family. 

Anyway, my point is that I guess it isn't really an action movie unless Danny Trejo is in it, portraying some kind of imprisoned ne'er-do-well. 

#2.  It's not technically an action movie till you blow up a gas station.
I've held this theory for a while, but I'm just impressed that CON AIR, a movie whose logline would lead you to believe that it must take place entirely in a prison and on an airplane, manages to do so by about the halfway point.

#3.  It's not an action movie till there's a vanity license plate.  
One day I'm going to do a feature on vanity license plates in horror and action movies of the 80s and 90s, but until that day, we'll just have to take 'em one at a time.  It's no AWESOM50 from COBRA, but AZZ KIKR firmly receives the Junta Juleil seal of approval.  Here, it doesn't actually belong to John Cusack, it belongs to his hateful boss Colm Meaney, who's playing an aggregate of every bureaucratic authority figure from all of the DIE HARD films combined.

#4.  John Cusack's bizarre cultural references.
Speaking of DIE HARD, Cusack's function here is basically to be the Reginald VelJohnson (Carl Winslow) role from DIE HARD– a.k.a. the only man on the ground who fights the FBI/DEA bureaucracy and believes in his anonymous action-buddy helper who's trapped in the building/airplane fighting thieves/hijackers, and then, ultimately, proves himself as he saves Willis/Cage from that pesky Godunov/Malkovich who you thought might be dead already but then of course he wasn't.  Whew.  Anyway, I guess my original point was to say that it's an odd choice to have the Cusack character quoting Dostoyevsky and enthusing about the PLANET OF THE APES Pentology, but it's a choice that I appreciate.

#5.  Q:  Are Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman CON AIR fans?

A:  Difficult to say, but all of the main characters from Kaufman's first two screenplays to be directed by Spike Jonze (Cusack & Malkovich and Cage & Cage in BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and ADAPTATION, respectively) come from the top billing of CON AIR.  Makes ya wonder.

#6.  I never thought in a million years that I would ever see Dave Chappelle's corpse plummet to Earth
and land atop the hood of Don S. Davis' car in a bit intended to be comic relief. 

Also, it's never explicity made clear whether or not Don S. Davis is still portraying his character from TWIN PEAKS, Major Briggs, so for the sake of argument, I'm just going to assume that he is.

#7.  There's an extremely bizarre connection to TV's LOST.  Okay, they're not just both about airplanes that happen to crash.  It goes deeper.  In CON AIR, only two characters actually fly the eponymous airplane: the original, pre-hijacking pilot; and the prisoner who takes the controls post-hijacking.  The original pilot is none other than Fredric Lehne, who on LOST plays the Marshal Edward Mars, the only true authority figure on the plane.
 
After the convicts– or CON AIR's 'Others,' if you will– take over, M.C. Gainey mans the controls.

Fans of LOST will recall him as the memorable, mysterious character Mr. Friendly who is the initial face of the "Others" and one of the primary antagonists throughout several episodes.  Pret-ty strange, I say.  [Also, Doug Hutchison ("Horace Goodspeed" on LOST) has a bit part here, too. ]

#8.  The look in Nic Cage's eyes after he reveals his intention to prove that God exists.  You see, at one point, it doesn't look like Cage's prison buddy (Mykelti Williamson– Bubba from FORREST GUMP) is gonna make it.  He's been shot, maimed, and needs insulin. 

And all he can think about is, like, there ain't no God.

Cage says, "I'm gonna show you God does exist," and then commences to kick some ass and cause a crash landing and a number of slow motion explosions.  But before he commences with the requisite Bruckheimerian antics, he does this with his face:

Maybe Cage attempting to will God into existence, or it's Bruckheimer's kind of deus ex machina, with Nic Cage as literally a god in the machine.  Or maybe it's something else entirely.  Who can say?  Regardless, I applaud it with the same slow-clap used by faux-Gorbachev in ROCKY IV.

#9.  Strange surface similarities to David Lynch's WILD AT HEART.  For those, not in the know, that's another movie with frequent slow motion flames where Nicolas Cage has an ambiguously terrible Southern accent and serves a prison sentence while a blonde waits patiently for him and upon his release introduces him to his own beloved child that he's never met in the flesh before.   

#10.  The idea that this film was born as the filmmakers absentmindedly daydreamed while watching THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and decided that wouldn't this be a lot better as an action movie?  Think about it.  Combine Steve Buscemi's gnawin' mask and Malkovich's intellectual psychopath and you've basically got an American Hannibal Lecter.  "Hannibal the Cannibal."

  That's perfect!  Wait-  they couldn't call him that, though– copyright issues!  Damn!  How 'bout "Cyrus the Virus?"

Then– they co-star Colm Meaney as the "annoying, undermining-the-whole-operation-through-his-own-dickery bureaucrat" character.

He functions and looks like the Irish version of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS' American counterpart, Anthony Heald!

However, all of this simply proves that I have too much time/character actor knowledge on my hands.  Ah, well.

Four and a half stars.

-Sean Gill