Friday, October 20, 2017
( 1:13 PM ) posted by Setsuled
For all the wonderful things about them, one can't ignore the inherent chauvinism that often turns up in Hammer horror films. Usually it manifests in a female protagonist who likes to wander naively into dangerous situations wearing negligee but sometimes, as in 1966's The Reptile, there's a little more too it than that. With the emphasis on "man" in the old concept of "white man's burden", the film follows in a tradition of horror fiction where a white man has been overwhelmed by a devilish foreign power and brought it back home with him to England. And like many such stories, The Reptile is concerned with how that foreign power has usurped the white man's perceived custody of women's bodies. As with the original novels of Dracula or The Beetle, one can appreciate the film's manifestation of the complex irrational anxiety provoked by such conceptions of obligation but the characters here are dim shadows of the more complex ones crafted by Stoker.
The film has some lovely visuals, opening with gnarled tree limbs over gloomy landscape. It uses many sets and locations seen in Plague of Zombies, released the same year, including this backlot set.
I'm pretty sure I can see the edge of the facade of that row of buildings.
Ray Barrett and Jennifer Daniel play Harry and Valerie Spalding, a newly married couple who've arrived in town following the death of Harry's brother. They plan to move into the dead man's cottage despite sullen, mysterious discouragement from the townsfolk. Harry carries Valerie over the threshold to find all the furniture is wrecked.
Jennifer Daniel played one half of the gerbil couple I talked about a few days ago in Kiss of the Vampire and she's basically as flatly innocent and guileless here. But while she was matched with a man equally sheeplike in the earlier film, here she's paired with the worldlier Harry, a retired soldier who's had experiences in India, something that will come into play later.
Noel Willman, who played the head vampire in Kiss of the Vampire, here plays the mysterious Dr. Franklyn, owner of the nearby manor house; he's in the traditional place of authority in England but implicitly deprived of those powers. He's also unable to control his daughter, Anna (Jacqueline Pearce), whom he's furiously searching for when he first sneaks up on Valerie.
There's some hint that Franklyn may be the villain but it becomes increasingly clear that his manservant, credited as "The Malay" (James Marne Kumar Maitland), has some kind of power over him. When we finally meet Anna, Valerie finds her inside the cottage, filling it with flowers.
Right from the start, Anna is overstepping the boundaries of the civilised world to introduce a riot of organic material where it doesn't belong. And as the film progresses, it's clear that the strange powers and needs of her body are a big problem. And it's a problem related to Franklyn's loss of control, something that's played out by the actors in a not entirely subtle exchange of looks when Anna defiantly plays a sitar while Franklyn tries to maintain an attitude of cool authority in his armchair.
Eventually, Valerie follows her destiny as a common Hammer female lead and sneaks into the house with no apparent strategy in mind, apparently drawn there just to get captured. The conclusion of the film presents less of a clear cut villain versus hero scenario than usual because all of the tension is based on responsibility and victimhood. Pearce does a nice job in her role but one wishes her character could have pushed a little more against the ideas at play, something Ingrid Pitt does more effectively a few years later in The Vampire Lovers.#
Thursday, October 19, 2017
( 11:24 AM ) posted by Setsuled
They say there are few things that lighten the heart so much as the laughter of Christopher Lee. Well, I'm sure someone says that. I say that, at least as far as 1966's Rasputin the Mad Monk is concerned. After seeing him in other Hammer horror films as a dour edifice playing Dracula or the Mummy it's refreshing seeing him in this hairy, gregarious role, booming with mirth and dancing with a barmaid. The movie someone resembles the real story of the historical Rasputin but in an effort to avoid political awkwardness, and to make a villain of a man best known for having been murdered, Hammer made Rasputin into an evil wizard, something that never quite ties in sensibly with the rest of his personality. But Lee sells the character and the usual Hammer atmosphere works well.
We learn that Rasputin (Lee) makes regular appearances in a rural village where no-one knows his name or where he comes from. He just shows up at a tavern, drinks an impossible amount of alcohol, makes merry, and vanishes--there are several scenes where the man effortlessly drinks other men under the table.
This is how he gains his key ally, Boris (Richard Pasco), when he comes to St. Petersburg. He's forced to flee the monastery after he heals the wife of an innkeeper but then kills a man for attacking him while he makes out with the innkeeper's daughter. The makeout session was consensual but it's implied it might not have been after the attacker was killed. Still, it's a little unclear why the rural innkeeper is suddenly angry at the man who brought his wife back from certain death.
In St. Petersburg, Rasputin seduces a noblewoman, Sonia (Barbara Shelley), a lady in waiting to the Tsarina (Renee Asheroson), then uses hypnosis so that she'll "accidentally" injure the prince. He can then step in and use his miraculous healing powers to win the favour of the Tsarina who gives him a mansion in thanks.
Apart from the hypnosis and magic healing powers, the story's vaguely close to the real Rasputin who gained popularity as a mystic in the Zsar's court, particularly among women. Instead of the political intrigue that was the real cause of Rasputin's protracted demise, here he's once again beset by the jealous lover of the woman he seduced.
It's never really clear why a man before contented with drinking and love making suddenly became so ambitious. Lee makes it seem like Rasputin is totally amoral and considers the world and its people but trivial playthings. In this, he's effectively frightening, but it would've been kind of nice just to have a big hairy Christopher Lee who liked having a boisterous but perfectly innocent good time.
Twitter Sonnet #1045
In bulky webs the garment fell to rocks.
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
( 2:45 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Siamese twins, a woman who eats man eating crabs, an imposter for a dead men, circus abductions, poison administered via the ceiling--can you have all these things in one movie that still reasonably holds together? 1969's Horrors of Malformed Men (江戸川乱歩全集 恐怖奇形人間) has all these things and more. Produced just at the beginning of the proliferation of exploitation film in Japan, the film has some kink, too, though it often feels out of place. But mainly the film succeeds for how it introduces strangeness in a way that feels simultaneously reasonable and disorientating, very like a dream.
The film starts with a young man, Hirosuke (Teruo Yoshida), locked in a cell being menaced by mad topless women with a collapsible pocket knife. It turns out he's also an inmate here, a medical student who was committed for unknown reasons--he clearly doesn't feel like he belongs.
He's haunted by dreams of a rocky beach with a strangely gesticulating man with long hair. The man is played by Tatsumi Hijikata, the creator of a dance performance art called Butoh and the strange gestures seen in the film are presumably part of this art. There's something both animalistic and robotic about him--it's no wonder Hirosuke can't decide if the man is human.
Hirosuke eventually escapes after hearing a woman outside singing the song from his dream. One thing leads to another and Hirosuke's implicated in a circus murder, sees an obituary for someone who looks exactly like him in a paper on the train, and goes to a remote seaside town to assume the influential dead man's identity. The rapidity with which strange events occur in itself suggests something's not quite right and I found myself wondering if Hirosuke really deserved to be in the mad house.
This all takes a back seat, though, to tension surrounding Hirosuke's attempts to live as the dead man, fooling his wife, mistress, and household servants. And then a new mystery develops as the women are beset first by snakes and then by strange, deformed men in the bath.
I wonder if these scenes were originally set in the bath in the source novel. This is another film based on a book by Edogawa Rampo and his famous detective, Kogoro Akechi, eventually shows up played by Minoru Oki. But it feels almost like an afterthought.
There's some post modern humour here and there, like a scene where three people who discover a dead body deliberately sabotage their characters as if to show up the inevitably artificial quality of film. Despite this and some gratuitous nudity, the film has some really effective subtext about identity and guilt. And not all the kinky stuff is a detour--Hirosuke discovers the strange man is the leader of a secret society of deformed men and beautiful women who engage in weird body paint performance art.
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
( 11:17 AM ) posted by Setsuled
When honeymooning in Bavaria, be careful not to linger long in counties controlled by vampires, like the unfortunate couple in 1963's The Kiss of the Vampire. One of the few 60s Hammer vampire films not to feature Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing, it's still a nice journey into that unmistakeable Victorian world of saturated colour.
Well, they have a car so I guess it might be Edwardian. Gerald (Edward de Souza) and Marianne (Jennifer Daniel) Harcourt lose their way on vacation and end up out of petrol on some desolate road. The first sign of trouble is when Marianne senses something awful in the woods while she's left to wait like a target on top of the car.
They stay at a local inn where the proprietor (Peter Madden) and his wife (Vera Cook) are friendly but oddly apprehensive. There's also the strange Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans) who has little to say beyond urging the couple to leave immediately. But before long they're offered the irresistible invitation to dine with the local lord in his lavish manor, a Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman).
Gerald and Marianne are cute and utterly guileless. There's no sinful subtext to their personalities or many layers at all but they're oddly enjoyable to watch, like a pair of gerbils. The vampires don't spring their trap until an impressively creepy masquerade ball, though none of the vampire characters are very well defined and their motivation for not killing some people whose death would really be in the blood suckers' best interests is never clear. Carl (Barry Warren), Dr. Ravna's vampire son, has kind of an intense stare and there's a nice scene where Marianne seems to become entranced by his piano playing.
There's also a young vampire woman named Tania (Isobel Black) whose mischievous facial expressions could have been exploited better. But it's a fun bunch of vamps.
Monday, October 16, 2017
( 4:56 PM ) posted by Setsuled
I would have liked to've seen the show Star Trek Discovery was meant to be before Bryan Fuller was forced to leave over creative differences with CBS. Last night's new episode, "Choose Your Pain", gave me what felt like a glimpse into the themes he had outlined for the show. But the show demonstrates the risk in putting the cart before the horse in this way--if you have a number of cooks in the kitchen who disagree, then their adherence to the outline can lead to incoherence. The show continues to be a visual splendour, though, and Fuller pushing for Martin-Green's casting continues to feel justified, even if her character development is in limbo.
Spoilers after the screenshot
I liked the scenes in the Klingon brig a lot, and Lorca (Jason Isaacs) resisting torture and trying to suss out information was nice. Rainn Wilson as Harry Mudd was fun, especially with his little animal friend and long coat, which, with his speaking mannerisms, made his character feel like the Treasure Island or other pirate fantasy homage the character in the original series was meant to be. And he's the one who delivers the insight into what the show has been aiming at all this time in its muddled way (no pun intended).
With the famous quote, to "boldy go where no one has gone before", Mudd chastises the Federation in the person of Lorca for the arrogance of going out into the universe and not thinking about the little guy who was already there, like the Klingons. Which would be a nice idea to explore, if we were talking about the Galactic Empire, but we still haven't seen this Imperial arrogance demonstrated by Starfleet. Nor have we seen how this motivates the Klingons in going to war. Maybe the tardigrade's plot was meant to develop this idea but to get that point you have to ignore how inconsistently the creature has been written and how inconsistent reactions have been to him.
Every episode seems to have one piece of dialogue that is so spectacularly bad it's difficult to believe it got past any editor or producer. Somehow it often seems to be dialogue between Saru (Doug Jones) and Michael (Sonequa Martin-Green), in this case it involved him accusing her of predatory, ruthless behaviour for, as he puts it, "saving the tardigrade." That's right, she clearly has the killer instinct because she's trying to prevent possible discomfort to a possibly sentient creature.
Later, Saru admits to not being so much afraid of Michael as jealous (despite what his threat ganglia indicated in the previous episode) of the relationship she had with Georgiou. It's then that Michael has the wonderful idea of showing Saru the precious heirloom Georgiou bequeathed to only her, the antique telescope, and then passing it on to Saru. So I guess he'll always have a reminder of how Georgiou liked Michael better? Good thinking, Michael.
It was nice to see Michael, Stamets (Anthony Rapp), and Tilly (Mary Wiseman) working together as a team and Stamets sacrificing himself for the tardigrade was an effective piece of melodrama. It seems at least a few people are acting like this is really the Federation for once.
Twitter Sonnet #1044
In passing nods the watchful suits dissolve.
Sunday, October 15, 2017
( 5:37 PM ) posted by Setsuled
A new kind of fantasy was being created in the 1960s in the wake of successful James Bond films, an increasingly strange and often campy world of flamboyant supervillains and subtly perverted heroes. One of the strangest examples of this genre is 1968's Black Lizard (黒蜥蝪) which pits the famous fictional detective Kogoro Akechi against the glamorous villainness Black Lizard played by the famous drag queen Akihiro Miwa. Adapted from a stage play by Yukio Mishima (the subject of Paul Schrader's film Mishima) from a work by Akechi's creator Rampo Edogawa the film has something of the style and logic of the Adam West Batman series but with a greater sincerity in its depiction of a strange adversarial obsession between its leads.
Akechi is played by Isao Kimura, best known for playing the youngest of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Fourteen years later, Kimura still pretty much looked like a kid and seemed an odd choice to for the authoritative Akechi. But he works well enough.
He's hired to prevent the kidnapping of a rich man's beautiful daughter, Sanae (Kikko Matsuoka), who applies for work at a club run by the glamorous Mrs. Midorikawa, who's in fact the Black Lizard.
Although a drag queen who identifies as male in real life, Miwa plays Black Lizard as a woman in this film. After orchestrating the kidnapping of Sanae, she boldly challenges Akechi to a poker game where the detective thinks he's guarding the slumbering girl--in fact she's been replaced by a mannequin. Black Lizard bets all her jewellery against Akechi's career as a detective, the bizarrely high stakes are casually accepted. This is appropriate when we learn just how many cards both players had been playing close to the chest.
The English art nouveau artist Aubrey Beardsley's work is featured a lot in this movie, first in the opening credits and then as a backdrop to a scene in Black Lizard's hideout. The woman soliloquises about Akechi's insight in front of Beardsley's Salome holding the head of John the Baptist, not realising Akechi is secretly watching from the rafters.
The film's unabashedly artificial look supports an unashamedly over the top story of ridiculous gadgets--like a trio of motorcyles waiting around just to provide a multicoloured smoke screen for a car chase--and absurd justifications for Akechi and Black Lizard to exchange dialogue--and for Black Lizard to confess her feelings, thinking for sure Akechi will be defeated this time. Even the kidnapped Sanae, who turns out to be a double for the real Sanae, falls for one of Black Lizards "slaves" and the two rhapsodically begin to dream of being turned into a pair of the human dolls collected by Black Lizard.
It all seems a pretext for a subtly sadomasochistic love making--Black Lizard wants to be caught by Akechi but only once she's been bad enough to really deserve it while Akechi waxes passionately about the thrill of waiting for the criminal to act. These two were made for each other.#
Saturday, October 14, 2017
( 5:04 PM ) posted by Setsuled
The Daleks and Napoleon Bonaparte, a team made in Hell. And it happened in the 2012 audio play The Curse of Davros, an entertaining Sixth Doctor story written by Jonathan Morris.
The story sees the return of Flip (Lisa Greenwood), introduced the previous year in The Crimes of Thomas Brewster. She becomes a companion with this story, a welcome addition as she's good hearted but adorably dim--she tells Napoleon (Jonathan Owen) that all her knowledge about him comes from Abba's "Waterloo".
Her and her equally dim and good hearted boyfriend, Jared (Ashley Kumar), accompany the Doctor (Colin Baker) from the present day back to the date of the fateful confrontation between Napoleon and Wellington. Davros (Terry Molloy) has a big role in this one, an unusual one that in some ways anticipates the oddly sympathetic meeting between him and the Twelfth Doctor on the television series. The justification for the Daleks teaming up with Napoleon doesn't quite hold water but I found myself quite willing to forgive Morris because he takes the story to some very fun places.#
Friday, October 13, 2017
( 2:33 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Last night brought "Krill", the first episode of The Orville not written by Seth MacFarlane and the first written by someone who used to write for a Star Trek series, David A. Goodman. Having worked on four episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise as well as having been a writer for Family Guy and Futurama--the famous Star Trek parody episode--Goodman seems ideally suited for The Orville and "Krill" was pretty good, featuring genuinely tense action sequences, some thoughtful moral dilemma, and comedy.
Spoilers after the screenshot
The episode begins with one of the funnier moments on the series so far as crew members are delighted that Bortus (Peter Macon) seems able to eat any and everything. Mostly, though, the comedy was one of the weaker aspects of this episode--Gordon's (Scott Grimes) references to 20th century car rental companies not being particularly funny, though I don't necessarily think it's an anachronism. Who's to say 20th century commercials aren't considered classic art of some kind in the future? Despite this, I really enjoyed the chemistry between Ed (Seth MacFarlane) and Gordon.
The Krill actually remind me of the new Klingons on Star Trek: Discovery--they both seem more like vampire Cardassians than Klingons though the vampiric angle is a little more literal on The Orville with Gordon actually calling them space vampires. The differences in the shows' budgets is clear from this similarity; the ships, costumes, and makeup for the Discovery timeline Klingons being for more beautiful and intricate. But as in other points of comparison, The Orville outstrips Discovery with better writing and the Krill's motives are much clearer, being a religious crusade founded on a belief in racial superiority. I'm still not clear on what the Discovery Klingons expect to get from war with the Federation.
Ed's moral delimma is much clearer, too. By the end of the episode, he asks the very natural question, what the hell else was he supposed to do but wipe out the whole crew who were bent on destroying a defenceless human colony? Yet the point that the children he went out of his way to save are likely to grow up hating the Union goes to show that a victory to-day puts the ultimate goal of peace that much further away. This may have been what Discovery was trying to say with Michael killing the leader of the STD timeline Klingons.
Twitter Sonnet #1043
In silent thought the pocket watch debates.
Thursday, October 12, 2017
( 12:43 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Sometimes a movie is great in spite of its lead actor and that's the case with 1955's The Quatermass Xperiment. A classic in weird science fiction dread, this is a film that shows an understanding of how the unimaginably strange might interact with the perfectly mundane to horrifying effect.
The director, the effects people, the producers, and most of the actors seem to have understood. Certainly the source material, the 1953 television serial, understood and in the two surviving episodes one can still appreciate the terrible mixture of anxiety, sorrow, and desperation in Reginald Tate's performance as Quatermass. But sadly, Tate's death and Hammer's desire to appeal to American audiences led to the casting of American actor Brian Donlevy in the first film adaptation.
To compare the two works is to see how much it matters when an actor understands the fundamental issues at play in the work as a whole. Donlevy doesn't get it and probably didn't care--he flatly barks orders to police and scientists, delivering lines about the importance of detaining the infected space man and the strange alien plantlife like he's ordering his secretary to get coffee. He keeps the film from being a masterpiece but there is still plenty to appreciate about it.
The television serial putting the site of the rocket's crash landing in a flat probably helped the show's budget and allowed the strangeness of the ship's presence alongside the ordinary residents and cops to have an effect. But the film version putting the rocket in a country field makes a wonderful impression and nearby residents are established well enough to give an idea of the existential disruption of the thing.
Richard Wordsworth as Victor Carroon is very good as the monster to Quatermass' Dr. Frankenstein, the man infected with some kind of space virus slowly turning him into a man eating plant. It's a nice transposition of the kind of experience with disease resulting from European contact with the Americas and considering how much of Carroon's story involves his inability to connect with others because of his body one could say it works as a metaphor for syphilis. The impending catastrophe promised by the full effect of his disease might be taken as the effect of European disease on Native American peoples.
And as in that case, it's clear the framework of civilisation has no means of coping with it or even recognising it. A television broadcast on a restoration Westminster Abbey can't even contemplate stopping production until the menace is actually visible on camera.
It's a lovely, mostly effective film filled with great atmosphere.#