Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Tale of a....Midnight Movie

Please - before you email me - read the disclaimer.

DISCLAIMER - My blog is an attempt to show respect to films some small minded, intellectually dishonest hipsters automatically label "bad". There is no film I discuss here that I believe to be bad at all.  The title of the blog comes from a discussion that took place some years ago when I was trying to explain the appeal of these films. The title is not meant to suggest I think these films are bad in the least.  Remember - ART IS ART  

Sometimes I really disappoint myself.  Sometimes I let a jewel of a film go unwatched for far too long.  Tonight film is one of them - a modern day classic with jolts and scares to spare.

The film begins in a mental institution, where the writer, director and star - Ted Radford (played with creepy perfection by Arthur Roberts) of a 40 year old slasher film has been committed.  The key to his madness appears to be the very film he made - a picture called The Dark Beneath.  Radford's doctor decides perhaps the best therapy will be to show Radford the film and confront him with his own obsession in spite of the warning from Dr. Wayne (played by Michael Swan).  The film is started for Radford and Dr. Wayne has to leave.

When he returns he finds the hospital a bloody mess.  Clearly many people were murdered but not a single body can be found.  This was one of the most effective opening sequences I've seen in modern horror film in quite some time.  Creepily atmospheric and engaging...I knew then I had made a wise choice in my evening film viewing.

Five years have passed since the events at the hospital, and a small, single screen theater is showing a midnight movie....The Dark Beneath.  Before the film begins we are introduced to the films protagonists.  Some of the characters are better developed than others, however, they are not the standard cookie-cutter late teens you generally find in films.  Also in attendance is a biker dude and his girlfriend, who were two characters I thought would be cast offs, with little development and nothing to do.  Nevertheless, those two characters play against type and I felt really showcased the fine writing and directing skill of Jack Messitt.

With our characters in place, including the ten year old little brother of the theater manager, The Dark Beneath is started and what begins is a spooky and well done film within a film.  Not an entirely uncommon trope (Purple Rose of Cairo and The Last Action Hero) but never has it been played for scares.  And be patient while watching because you'll believe there are flaws in the logic of our heroes, but, as the film continues the apparent logical mistakes are absolved.

The cast is small but amazing -

Rebekah Brandes as Bridget
Daniel Bonjour as Josh
Greg Cirulnick as Mario
Mandell Maughan as Samantha
Stan Ellsworth as Harley
Melissa Steach as Babe
Jon Briddell as Detective Doug Barrons
Michael Swan as Doctor Dave Wayne
Michael Schwartz as Sully
Justin Baric as Timmy
Brea Grant as Rachael
Shawn Ausmus as Kenny
Arthur Roberts as Ted Radford

Despite many in the cast being quite young you'll see some familiar faces, including Daniel Bonjour who just finished a small stint in a recent season of the Walking Dead.  I have to admit I was very taken with the cast.

However, I'm clearly in the minority if you do some reading about this film on other sites (except that the "kills" are good - c'mon folks - even a hardcore genre movie lover like me gets a little put off when reviewers discuss "good kills".  What can I say, I'm an old fart).  Still, I will share one of the less enthusiastic  reviews so that you can  get both sides.

Review of Midnight Movie from Horror Movie A Day

But, in my point of view, there are worse ways to spend 85 minutes.  I caught the film on Hulu but, it may be available elsewhere.  Also, for those who enjoy having the actual disk, there is a special edition floating around that is probably worth a look and I will try to pick up a copy at the next Con I go to or perhaps Dark Delicacies in Burbank.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A trip to The Beyond by way of The Bay of Blood

Please - before you email me - read the disclaimer.

DISCLAIMER - My blog is an attempt to show respect to films some small minded, intellectually dishonest hipsters automatically label "bad". There is no film I discuss here that I believe to be bad at all.  The title of the blog comes from a discussion that took place some years ago when I was trying to explain the appeal of these films. The title is not meant to suggest I think these films are bad in the least.  Remember - ART IS ART

First - my apologies for the length of time between posts.  My job is a bit 24/7 and so carving out time has become an issue.  But, in any case, onward and upward.

When people think of Italian artists, the names that initially come to mind may well be Botticelli, Raphael or Michelangelo.  But, if you are grindhouse fan you may also think Fulci, Bava and Argento.  Tonight lets take a look at classics by Bava and Fulci.  I'm consolidating these two films because they are both very well known, but I wanted to add my two cents.

First - the Bava classic The Bay of Blood (Netflix title)
or Bay of Blood
or Twitch of the Death Nerve
or The Odor of Flesh
or Carnage
or Last House on the Left - Part II (although it has nothing to do with the Wes Craven film)

Well, you get the point.  Rumor has it, but honestly I can't confirm, this film has more alternate title than any film in history.  In the 80s, when I was first dabbling in Italian horror films, I knew the film as Twitch of the Death Nerve, and was unaware of the multiple titles.  Then, when I started going to conventions, you'd see the film listed under different titles at the tables selling legit (and on occasion non-legit) copies of films.  I wondered how many people picked up tapes with different titles but ended up with the same film?

The plot is quite intricate and belays the reputation some cinema snobs have as grindhouse films being a bit simplistic.  It revolves around the titular "Bay" mentioned in at least one of the titles of the film, and desire for a number of people to take control of the property owned by Countess Frederica (Isa Miranda).  Mere moments into the film, the Countess is murdered in such a way to make it appear a suicide.  From there, various characters pave their roads to hell attempting to eliminate anyone else who may be able to lay claim on the valuable property.

The rest of this picture plays out as part Agatha Christie "Ten Little Indians" as those who can lay claim to the property are dispatched, and part biting black comedy (the final scene is both dark and head-scratchingly humorous in a very dark, dark way ; because, let's face it - Greed can be Deadly.

I'm not one to discuss "kills" in films.  I find that a bit odd.  However, the 13 "Kills" in this film were essentially part of the initial advertising.  Two things the viewer should note; the first is the clear homage director Steve Miner paid to this picture in Friday the 13th Part 2.  There are two murders in the Bava film that are done almost shot for shot in the FT132 almost ten years after the release of Bay of Blood.  In the days before social media, these were fitting "shout outs" from one artist to another.

However, the other thing I noticed is, for all the talk of killing in this film, there is nothing in this picture that isn't blown out of the water in the first ten minutes of an episode of Bones.  In fact, I read a review of a special edition of this film by someone who shall remain nameless and they stood firmly atop their soap box decrying the degree of violence in this film (which makes one wonder if they had heard of Mario Bava at all) but all I could think was "You don't watch television do you?"  It is not uncommon for me to walk through my living room and find my wife and daughter watching something on prime time television that looks like some of Savini's best work from 1979.  I don't mean to sound like an old man, I just think it is an interesting observation.

In any case, this is considered one of Bava's mot influential works and is often credited for jump starting the "slasher craze" of the 70s and early 80s.

If you are interested in watching this picture - it is available on Netflix, and the picture was....okay.  Watchable, but, appears to have an old VHS as its source material.

Thanks to a benevolent benefactor at my place of employment, I was able to watch a gorgeous special edition copy of the Fulci film The Beyond ( a restored copy recently played at the Nu-Art but...24/7 thing - I was unable to attend).  In any case I feel as though this is one of Fulci's best known works and it is one insanely evocative and atmospheric film (but, lets face it - that was one of Fulci's strongest abilities).

Again, like most Italian giallo affairs, this is not a simple or one dimensional film.  Beginning in 1927 New Orleans,  a lynch mob murders a man they believe to be a warlock at the Seven Doors Hotel.  This, in fact, opens one of the Seven Doors of Death.  Opening the door permits the dead to enter the world of the living.

Fast forward to 1981, a young woman from New York named Liza (played perfectly note for note by Katherine MacColl) inherits the hotel with plans of re-opening it.  Unfortunately, her attempts at renovating the hotel reactivate the door...and soon she and Dr. John McCabe (the late David Warbeck) find themselves having to deal with an increasing number of strange incidents culminating in one of the most disturbing endings of a film I have ever encountered.

The special edition from Anchor Bay that I watched had a 1997 audio commentary recorded for Laserdisc (remember those?) featuring MacColl and Warbeck.  The commentary was recorded only weeks before Warbeck was succumb to cancer.  It was fascinating to hear their memories of working with both Fulci and the locals of New Orleans during the making of this picture.  It is clear their respect for the great director was sincere.

Again, it is odd to think back to the 80s when Fulci's works seemed edgy and insanely violent.  Of course, The Walking Dead has picked up where Fulci left off and amplified it ten fold - which I like to hope is Greg Nicotero's homage to Fulci.

As I mentioned, I was lucky enough to get my hands on (if only for a time) the special edition DVD.  However, this film is available on Hulu, and the transfer is not bad.  So, if you're feeling like some Italian - order some pie and take in these classics by Bava and Fulci.