Friday, 31 March 2017

The Guyver ([a.k.a.: Mutronics] Steve Wang & Screaming Mad George, 1991)

Created by former hentai artist Yoshiki Takaya in 1985, the long-running Guyver manga series ran into the magazine Shonen Captain.  Chronicling the adventures (and misadventures, old friend) of Japanese student Sho Fukamachi after his discovery of the alien Guyver module and his subsequent battles against the faceless and monolithic Chronos Corporation and their hordes of shapeshifting mutant hybrid Zoanoids.  Initially adapted for the moving image as the 55 minute OVA (Original Video Animation - an animated movie or series made with the intention of going direct to home video rather than for cinematic or television transmission) Guyver: Out of Control in 1986, the property was made into a full series of twelve episodes from 1989 to 1992 as The Guyver: Bio-Booster Armour, the guise in which i first encountered it in the early to mid '90s.  Released  in the UK by Manga Entertainment episode by episode (or 'Data' by 'Data', each VHS being dubbed Data 1, Data 2, etc.), with one 30 minute installment - plus Guyver and Zoanoid 'fact files' appended at the end of each - per videocassette (now there's a word that seems positively archaic nowadays.  Videocassette?  How arcane), my adolescent self thrilled to see Sho, the love of his life Mizuki Segawa, her brother (and Sho's best friend) Tetsuro, and their unreliable sometimes ally sometimes enemy Agito Makashima taking on the Chronos Corp to prevent the Zoanoid conquest of the Earth, aided by Sho's merging with the alien Guyver technology to create a secret identity as he becomes encased in the bio-booster armour of the title, becoming a Japanese superhero in the tradition of Spectreman (1971-1972) and Ultraman (originally 1966-67, but ongoing as sporadic series, miniseries and films as recently as 2015).

The directorial debut for special effects creatives Steve Wang and Screaming Mad George (Joji Tani to his mum) - who between them had been responsible for the creature effects in such films as Renny Harlin's A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988), Frederico Prosperi's "man's arm-into-snake's head" curio Curse II: The Bite (1989), Donald G. Jackson and R.J. Kizer's Rowdy Roddy Piper classic Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988) and Joe Dante's postmodern sequel Gremlins 2: The new Batch (1990) - The Guyver (released on VHS in the UK as 'Mutronics') certainly doesn't scrimp on the monster SFX front.  Retaining the vague plot outline of the Manga and anime versions of the story, the movie Americanises the lead character from Sho Fukamachi to the blond-haired Anglo gwai lo 'Sean Barker' (Jack Armstrong), who attends martial arts classes to emulate his action hero idols much to the exasperation of his Aikido instructor and the derision of fellow students such as part-time gangbanger Craig (Johnnie Saiko, whose credits include the intriguingly titles Chicks With Sticks, Part 3).  Sean's obvious intrigue with all things of the Orient include his Japanese girlfriend Mizky Segawa (Vivian Wu - the character's name being inexplicably slightly altered from Mizuki), whose father Dr. Tetsu Segawa had been working for the mysterious Chronos Corporation before his mysterious murder, drawing this Occidental tourist into a web of alien intrigue.

Sean discovers the object that Dr. Segawa had given his life to hide from the clutches of Chronos - the alien Guyver unit, a weaponised suit of armour that bonds with a host to create a symbiotic lifeform with the power to wipe out the hybrid Zoanoid creatures of Chronos.  Accidentally bonding with the Guyver, Sean finds himself the baffled new owner of a pair of vampire-bite style wounds in the back of his neck which pulsate with a life of their own when he is angry or in imminent physical danger before his cry of "GUYVER!" releases his symbiotic star-born sibling from its dormant phase of taking a nap in the nape of his neck.  Wires shoot out from his pinhole pricks and wrap around his body like living tendrils, then these chaotic coaxial cables form and assemble the Guyver suit around him: a blue-green armour plated alien-killing machine complete with elbow-mounted razor-sharp blades and an oxygen mask-style face plate which periodically "breathes" by hissing gas (and, quite possibly, prompting a murmur of "Are you my Mummy?" from viewers.  Or me, at least...).

Also involved in investigating the shapeshifting shenanigans of this mysterious company is FBI agent Max Reed (Star Wars' own Mark Hamill, during his post-Jedi, pre-Joker interregnum), who was working with the late Dr. Segawa to investigate Chronos.  Reed joins Sean / The Guyver to rescue Mizky when she is kidnapped as a hostage by head Zoanoid Oswald Lisker (played with his trademark google-eyed baldness by Michael Berryman of The Hills Have Eyes [Wes Craven, 1977] fame), the killer of Mizky's father who can transform at will into a seven-foot tall befanged and beclawed reptilian nightmare.  In charge of the Corporation's plans to convert humankind into alien hybrids and conquer the Earth (as you do) is the evil Fulton Balcus, played with villainous relish and garnish on the side by the late David Gale (best known to genre fans as the malevolent telepathic head of Dr Carl Hill in Re-Animator [Stuart Gordon, 1985] and its sequel), who walks the captive Mizky down the "Growth Corridor": a passage lined with glass cabinets containing the growing and mutating forms of neophyte Zoanoids in a sequence reminiscent Boris Karloff in Paul Kohner's The Black Cat (1934) - although unlike that film, these crysilline coffins are ocupied not by the embalmed dead but are replete with pulsating, fulminating life.

In what other film, though, can one expect to see Mark Hamill - Luke Skywalker himself! - transforming, Gregor Samsa-style, into a giant cockroach?

Bizarrely, this film - featuring as it does the heroic lead of the Star Wars saga - features some incidental characters who bear characteristics in common with the space saga's inhabitants of the Galaxy Far Far Away.  Jimmie Walker's Striker transmutes into a Zoanoid form replete with piscine fishlike features and flappy webbed ears horrifyingly reminiscent of outer space's most feared, loathed and hated scourge Jar Jar Binks (carrying with him the same questionable and troubling racial stereotypical exaggerations that Lucas failed to see in his creation of eight years later, and likewise being physically performed by a black actor.  Striker manages to push things further though, by busting into the occasional rap, replete with Flava Flav's trademark "Boyyyeeee!!!"  Perhaps had Lucas possessed the visionary acumen with which his followers credit him, we could have had Binks performed in a similar manner?  Wait - WTF am i SAYING?!!?)

Also, Striker's Zoanoid compatriot Ramsey (Peter Spellos) transforms into a mutronic form that is blue-skinned and with a prehensile trunk, rendering him the spitting image of Return of the Jedi songstress Sy Snootles on steroids.

This film may be of dubious canonicity among Guyver fandom, but i think we've firmly established that Star Wars-wise, it's as canon as hell.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Kier's Fears: Frankenstein, Dracula and Hyde (1973-1981)

The German cinema over the last four or five decades has produced many great Teutonic titans of terror: Ulli Lommel, Udo Kier and Uwe Boll to name just three.  Spot the deliberate mistake?
The beguilingly handsome and charismatic Udo Kier has starred in a great number of genre movies over the years, from Michael Armstrong and Adrian Hoven's 'The Mark of the Devil' (1970), through James Kenelm Clarke's controversial 'video nasty' 'Expose' (aka 'Trauma', 1976), Dario Argento's masterful sepuchral fearfest 'Suspiria' (1977) and Stephen Norrington's 'Blade' (1998) to Timo Vuorensola's 2012 space-Nazi SF romp 'Iron Sky'.  He will always be synonomous to many, though, for his gruesome twosome of 1973's 'Flesh for Frankenstein' and 1974's 'Blood for Dracula', a twin-spin (if you'll pardon the John Peel invocation) of ghoulish delights decried by Alan Frank in his '77 tome 'Horror Films' as "an appalling mixture of sex, sadism, silliness and quite awful acting and direction"1.
Released under the titles of 'Andy Warhol's Frankenstein' and 'Andy Warhol's Dracula' respectively, the actual auteur-ship of the movies was in doubt for a while, not only due to the famed Pop Artist's name being attached to the titles but also due to the fact that there has been a great deal of dispute about how much of the movies was the handicraft of credited director Paul Morrissey ('Chelsea Girls', 1966, 'Flesh', 1968, 'Trash', 1970), and how much was the input of Italian exploitation maven Antonio Margheriti ('Castle of Blood' aka 'Danza Macabra', 1963, 'Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye', 1973), the second unit director attached to the features by producer Carlo Ponti - though the very idea of Mr Sophia Loren, producer behind King Vidor's 'War and Peace' (1956) and Michelangelo Antonini's 'Blow Up' (1966) being the emininence grise behind this kind of ghoulish nonsense is slightly more hysterical (in the humourous sense) than the films themselves (more in the uterine sense, especially viz: 'Flesh for Frankenstein').
This internecine web of confusion contnued to the actual credits, with Morrissey being given directorial credit in the English-language prints, but Margheriti being credited on the versions that, like Bananarama, were 'talking Italian'.  Margheriti is grudgingly, at least , given acknowledgement of one scene of 'Flesh for Frankenstein' by Morrisey: "Carlo Ponti required an entire Italian crew to be eligible for tax write-offs.  Margheriti, whose sole scene was the murder of the housekeeper in 'Flesh for Frankenstein', was given the director's credit by Ponti.  The Italian taxmen were not so easily fooled and these modifications led to Ponti and wife Sophia Loren being charged with tax evasion"2, though his role as supervisory / second unit director is sorely undersold.
The non-participation of Warhol himself on the movies has never been in any doubt, with Morrissey stating "not only did Andy Warhol not make [them], he couldn't have made [them]", and that "Bryanston [the movie's US distributor, who had released not only Bruce Lee's 1972 spaghetti kung fu epic 'The Way of the Dragon', but also the, uh... seminal porn classic 'Deep Throat'] thought it would help bring in an audience [to have Warhol's name attached], which is ludicrous since his name was on plenty of movies that nobody went to see"3.
'Flesh for Frankenstein' (its very name redolent of the '68 Warhol / Morrissey collaroration 'Flesh', which also starred the Noo Yoik actor / mannequin Joe Dallesandro [Dallesandro... Dalle-Dalle-sandro...]) is an intriguing movie, released in 3-D (which explains the roving, circular camera movements when watched today) and filmed at the famed Cinecitta studios and has a fascinatintg pretty bit of flesh in Dallesandro himself, doubtless a bit out of place amongst the cognoscenti and trying to fuck everything that moves.  Hey, if all else fails, revert to stereotype..  And yet 'Flesh for Frankenstein' actually displays some themes of interest, such as Kier's Baron's quest for the "perfect" Serbian nose for his incipient male "zombie" (or rather "zahmbi" as he pronounces it) and his insistence to his assistant Otto (Arno Juerging) that "the Serbian race comes in direct descent of the glory from the Ancient Greeks!" [sic] lends a Hitlerian-Aryan 'creation of the perfect pure-blooded master race' undertone to Frankenstein's experiments - the sight of naked and scarred bodies piled against the stark white tiles of his laboratory and the the barbaric butchery performed upon bare-breasted beauties reminiscent of the tales of the hideous 'experimentation' (torture) of Dr Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death of Auschwitz, given added emphasis by Udo Kier's nationality and accent.
The preservation of the purity of the bloodline extends to the incestuous marriage between Victor Frankenstein and his sister-wife, the Baroness Katrin (Monique van Vooren, the striking Belgian actress who had appeared is everything from her titular role as the Lord of the Apes' nemesis in 'Tarzan and the She-Devil' [1953], camping it up alongside Adam West's Caped Crusader and Burgess Meredith's Penguin in TV's 'Batman' [1966] to Pier Paolo Pasolin's 'Decameron' [1971]).  With their arguments about their parents - who were also obviously siblings - to the casting of a dark-haired boy and a red-headed girl as their two children boubling Kier and van Vooren, the Frankenstein dynasty is set up as the Eastern European equivalent of the Egypian Pharaonic dynasties such as the Ptolemies and Cleopatras, brothers and sisters marrying in succession to sire siblings to do the same.  The purity of the blood of course gives way to congenital deficiencies of all kinds to be found at the shallow end of the gene pool, including the inbred madness all too evident in this chaotic clan.
Filmed in 3-D (the process being made obvious by the roving, circulat camera moves around objects and the delibearate waving of viscera towards the camera), the movie has generally been seen by audiences in possibly more palatable for those who've just eaten 2-D version.  Still, the ironic and satirical overkill of guts 'n' gore piled into the film by Morrissey (including of course the infamous scene of the Baron lying atop his newly sewn-together female creation [Dalila Di Lazzaro] on the operating slab in a sequence reminiscent of Jorg Buttgereit's graphic 1987 shocker 'Nekromantik' and pawing her scars whilst whispering sensually "Soon i will give you life... would you like that?") earned 'Flesh for Frankenstein' a place on the Director of Public Prosecutions' list of 69 (what a serendipitous number for such a reactionary and censorious piece of legislation!) banned 'Video Nasties', ensuring that it went unseen in the United Kingdom for decades until a cut by almost a minute VHS release in 1996, and -finally - being cleared for a fully uncut DVD release a decade later.  The 1974 companion piece 'Blood for Dracula', Udo Kier's next film with Paul Morrissey, would thankfully suffer a less scissor-happy fate...

Following their 1973 'Flesh for Frankenstein' collaboration, American director Paul Morrissey ('Women in Revolt' [1971], 'Heat' [1972]) and German actor Udo Kier reunited for another exploration of exploitation in the unholy and sepulchral form of 1974's nest of nosferatu nastiness 'Blood for Dracula'.  Wheras Kier's frail, translucent beauty had proven a stark contrast to the grindhouse gore and evisceral human disjecta membra of the Frankenstein film, his ethereal waifishness was absolutely perfect for the role of the vampire Count wandering the Earth in search of a nourishment constantly denied him, like sanguineous fruits in the eternal punishment of an undead Tantalus.
Already hardly a man of any great bulk, Kier went on a strict diet to lose weight for the part.  "Paul Morrissey came in and said 'Well, I guess we have a German Dracula'", said Kier in an interview with Dazed and Confused.  "I said, 'Who?'  He said 'You!  But you have to lose 10 kilos.'  I didn't eat any more.  I just had salad leaves and water."4  Kier's crash diet of nothing but rabbit food and council juice led to a drastic weight loss that gave him the perfect gaunt and emaciated appearance but left him severely debilitated, to the extent that he was rendered so weak that the Count's use of a wheelchair for mobility was given emphasis in the film.  "That's why i was in a wheelchair for so many of my scenes", Kier continued.  "I had no power to stand up any more.  It's not only Robert De Niro who prepares himself in this way."5
The lingering question as to the authorship (or auteur-ship) of the Warhol-produced Frankenstein film has been extended to the second picture, but Kier himself was adamant this, this time round, Italian genre director Antonio Margheriti had nothing to do with the hands-on direcing of the movie.  "Morrissey directed the film from the beginning to the end.  Margheriti was on the set, he came to the studio from time to time, but he never directed the actors.  Never!"6, he stated in a Video Watchdog interview with David Del Valle, adding that "Morrissey directed the pictures... certainly all the scenes with myself, that's all i know."7  Margheriti himself is happy to acknowledge much less involvement in the second film, saying of 'Blood for Dracula': "that was much more organised because, after 'Frankenstein', Carlo Ponti convinced Paul Morrissey to write a real screenplay and not just a treatment."8
Beginning with a spectacularly haunting sequence, over which the blood-red credits roll, that sees the thin white Count - a spectral albino - assiduously applying make-up to give his translucent features the sembance of life, the film creates a superb atmosphere conveying the crushing weariness of unending life.  Dracula goes through this routine, the endless ablutions of eternity, with mechanistic motions as he paints his pale lips red and his white hair black - the red of blood and black of ebony contrasting against his ice-pale skin in a haunting faerie (in the dangerous, daemonic sense) inversion of the Snow White - Rose Red of fairytale.  This evocative opening was a contribution (the film's sole one, it seems, apart from the name in the US release title) from Andy Warhol.  "The scene [...] was actually Andy Warhol's idea, which goes very much to his silkscreens", Kier told Movieline.9  "'Just paint your face', the shadows smile", Robert Smith of The Cure sang in Burn, as Dracula shades his cheekbones and darkens around his spellbinding blue-green eyes, 'painting on his sadness', and creating "a painted shell" of himself, as film historian Maurice Yacowar phrases it, to present to the world.10  Claudio Gizzi provides an absolutely sublime, heart-wrenchingly melancholic and spellbinding score that draws us into this sad yet beguiling world of languorous longing.
The Count and his manservant Anton (Arno Juerging, another returnee from 'Flesh for Frankenstein'), find themselves having to leave a Transylvania which is now thoroughly depleted of the blood of "wirgins" [sic], which in this mythology the vampire needs to continue his phantasmagorical existence.  The subtext of the aristocracy feeding off the lower classes, Dracula having preyed upon the peons and peasantry of Romania, is hammered hom like the proverbial hawthorn stake - Dracula's decaying family home  (and the family who have retreated still further from the real world into their coffins in the family crypt) are left behind as he and Anton leave their used-up homeland in their hearse, complete with the Count's coffin on the roof rack, to head to fresh pastures and suck the lifeblood of another country.
Travelling to Italy, in the belief that a Roman Catholic country will provide an endless supply of pure of heart, virtuous virgins, choosing as their prey the once-powerful and important but now in decline Di Fiore family, and especially their daughters ('fiore' being Italian for 'flower', the Count has arrived with the intent of a through plucking).  The Titian-haired and beautiful Di Fiore sisters Perla (Silvia Dionisio), Saphiria (Dominique Darel) and Rubinia (Stefania Casini, later to star in Dario Argento's 'Suspiria') work their family's land doing the work of peasants, while the camera tracks back to show them being idly watched from the veranda of their grand but going to seed home by their virtuous sister Esmeralda (Milena Vutokotic).  The aging Marquis Di Fiore, played by former screen idol Vittorio De Sica, is an ailing relic lost in his own comfortable world of poetry and family history, his own retreat from the realities of the world beyonfd the cloistered confines of his comfortable home leaving his wife and daughters vulnerable to the preyings of the vampire, as one ailing brnch of aristocracy literally feeds off another for its own parasitic continuance. "That [Count's] really got it sussed", to paraphrase Luke haines of the Auteurs in The Upper Classes.
As an antidote to the incestuousness of the ossified upper echelons we have the revolutionary force of Joe Dallesandro's gardener Mario - his New York accent a stark contrast to the Teutonic cadences of Dracula and Anton, the Italian of the Marquis and his daughters and the clipped English of the Marquesa - bringing a revolutionary fire burning upward from his proletarian stratum through the worn and rotting painted veil of the Di Fiores and Dracula, with his exhortations of Marxism and the righteousness of the Russian Revolution in between his regular carnal threesomes with the less-than-pure Saphiria and Rubinia leading to the iconic (in both the filmic and religious sense) of the Count's gaunt form, stripped to the waist, his thin ivory skin daubed in crimson blood as he vomits the rejected blood of the sisters into the bath and cries to Anton, "The blood of these whores is killing me!"
'Blood for Dracula' is a biting (arf!) satire of the snobery and elitism of the defunct and decrepit upper classes, wrapped in the horror genre's night-black cloak and bedecked with blood and gore.  Morrissey and Kier crafted a quintessential Count Dracula to fit this film, ending as he does sans arms and sans legs, like the Pythin's Black Knight, but still snapping and hungry to continue his predatory existence.
Kier had finished his devilish diptych with Paul Morrissey, but would later incarnate another legendary horror character for another enfant terrible of cinema...
Dr Jekyll et les Femmes', or - as it's more usually known to the Anglophone world - 'Dr Jekyll and the Women', 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne' (the director's preferred title) or 'Bloodbath of Dr Jekyll' is a foray into the wild, weird and whacked out world of Walerian Borowczyk.  Described variously as "a genius who also happened to be a pornographer" and a "Master craftsman, Dadaist prankster and unrepentant sensualist"11, Borowczyk - like Werner Herzog - began his filmic career with a number of short (less than ten minute) pieces, ranging from animations like the 1958 'Requited Feelings'  and 'Les Astronautes' (1959, a collaboration with French auteur Chris Marker, who would later go on to helm 'Le Jetee' [the 1962 short that would inspire Terry Gilliam's 1995 'Twelve Monkeys'] and 'Sans Soleil' [1983]) to 1964's concentration camp allegory (a perhaps unsurprising theme given Borowczyk's Polish background) 'The Games of Angels', named as one of the best animated films of all time12.
Borowczyk graduated to full length features with the dreamlike and allegorical 'Goto, Island of Love' (1968), a dystopian fantasy set in a Mervyn Peake-like enclosed and entropic society in which the Steerpike stand-in of Grozo climbs his way up the social strata from lowly fly-catcher to ruler of the island; his Machiavellian manoeuvres fuelled by an all-consuming lust for the beautiful but unreachable wife of the realm's despot.  The theme of unrequited lust was revisited in the director's 1971 tragedy 'Blanche', in which a mediaeval castle becomes a pressure cooker environment of hatred borne of frustration as three men compete for the affections of a fair lady who remains steadfastly loyal to her husband.  Sex and sensuality are never far from the surface in these movies, but they would come out roaring unbridled and unbound like animalistic passion - like the warm jets of lust - in the deviant diptych of 'Immoral Tales' (1973) and 'The Beast' (1975), leaving viewers and reviewers rattled by the rush of the gush of their wake.  The former picture consists of four vignettes of sexual exploration and deviancy, including Paloma Picasso as the Bloody Countess Erzsebet Bathory and Florence Bellamy as the incestuous and murderous Lucrezia Borgia, and the latter evolved from a mooted fifth instalment of the same movie ('The True Story of the Beast of Gevaudan') into its own perversely lyrical exploration of sexuality, sensuality and bestiality that presented the unwitting world with a confrontational depiction of the raw animal instinct.
The theme of the repressed primaeval passions of the unfettered id would be revisited in Borowczyk's 1981 take on Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 classic novella of split personality shenanigans 'The Strange Tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde', a tale already interwoven with the darkest undercurrents of the human psyche and the evil that humans are capable of doing that grew out of Stevenson's interest in the dual life of the notorious Edinburgh figure Deacon Brodie13.  Cast as the urbane Dr Henry Jekyll was Udo Kier, adding another classic horror character to his CV after his turns as Baron Frankesntein and Count Dracula in the duology of produced by Andy Warhol and directed by Paul Morrissey (and a bit by Antonio Margheriti, probably) films of the '70s, as well as having already portrayed another dark spectre of Victorian England as Jack the Ripper in Borowczyk's 'Lulu' the previous year (an adaptation of the Frank Wedekind plays that had been adapted in 1929 by G. W. Pabst as 'Pandora's Box', starring the luminous Louise Brooks in the titular role).
The movie deals with the theme of dualism from the outset, the credits rolling over a photographic negative image of London's Palace of Westminster - suggestive of the darker sides of the 'great and good' of the moral authoritarianism of the 19th century.  The aforesaid bastions of Victorian rectitude are well represented in the film as the array of guests in the home of Kier's Jekyll, attending the celebration of his engagement to Miss Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro, who had starred in Borwczyk's 1979 'Immoral Women', and would go on to play the lead role in Jean Rollin's 'The Living Dead Girl' in 1982).  The name of Jekyll's fiancee is an interesting addition to the original tale by Borowczyk's screenplay, utilising the real life pre-marital name of Robert Louis Stevenson's wife - who  played a key role in the novella's creation - and giving her prominent co-lead billing in the original title.  The party guests include Jekyll's more conventional scientific rival Dr Lanyon (played by genre stalwart Howard Vernon, star of many Jess Franco films including 'The Awful Dr Orlof' [1962], 'The Bloody Judge' [1970] and 'A Virgin Among the Living Dead' [1973] among many others) who scoffs at Jekyll's professions of transcendental medicine, and the seemingly starched and upright military man General Danvers Carew (Patrick Magee, who had featured in Francis Ford Coppola's 1963 debut 'Dementia 13', Fredie Francis' 1965 'The Skull and the Steve Roberts-directed, Viv Stanshall-scripted 1980 oddity 'Sir Henry at Rawlinson End'), whose patrician veneer barely covers his behind-closed-doors debauchery as he makes lecherous advances towards Fanny on the day of her engagement, and sadistically whips his nubile young daughter seconds after giving his "word of honour" not to raise his hand to her - the living embodiment of the hypocrisy entrenched in 'Victorian values'.
The night of the engagement is swiftly invaded by violence and horror as Jekyll's oncoming wedding is overtaken by his chemical wedding to his dark side, unleashed by his alchemical experimentation.  In a twist on the usual adaptation of the tale Hyde is achieved not through Jekyll drinking a potion, but by filling a bath and infusing the bathwater with his formula - the powder turning the water a blood red - before immersing himself in it Bathory-style (one wonders if, after the Warhol 'Dracula', Kier felt an affinity wit white tiled bathrooms filled with blood...).  Another innovation unique to this iteration is that it eschews the tradition of Jekyll and Hyde being played by the same actor, as Kier's handsome Jekyll goes benath the surface of the crimson waters to emerge in the form of Gerard Zalcberg's ugly, brutish Hyde.  This uncaged and unhinged inner self is not only supercharged with all of Henry Jekyll's manifold unfulfilled desires, but also bestowed with a barbed penis 6 centimetres in diameter and 35 centimetres in length - measurements pronounced by a startled Dr Lanyon as he examines the body of a young ballerina whose brutal rape by Hyde and his monstrous organ have resulted in her death from massive internal injuries.  Hyde's rampage of lust does not draw a line at the females of the house (including General Carew's daughter, whom he takes savagely from behind in front of her father, forced to watch apoplectic from the chair Hyde has lashed him to), but also the handsome houseguest Mr Maw.  "I've never seen anything like it," wails the Reverend Guest, "another sexual crime - this time a homosexual assault!" - the perpetrator being described as "an individual of no morality, only an overwhelming capacity for evil".
Fascinatingly, Kier's Jekyll is played against the usual Hollywood and television portrayals in that instead of feeling angst and remorse about his alter ego's actions, he is actively using Hyde as a persona under which he can revel in all of his inner carnality without any recompense or retribution; knowing that the actions of his animal animus will never be ascribed to the suave and gentlemanly doctor of medicine taking a respectable bride from high society.  More than any other version of the story, this film shows Hyde as his true self, the real man over which Jekyll is the disguise - a painted and pretty veneer over the beast within.  "Both of my faces are me," he confesses to his fiancee, "and each of them is perfectly sincere [...] I throw off pretence and leap, wallowing in an ocean of freedom and pleasure!".  Jekyll says this as he prepares his final transformative blood bath, knowing that his next chanhe into Hyde will be final, and suddenly his bride to be throws herself into the fluid and gives herself over - in the words of richard O' Brien - to absolute pleasure and release her own unbridled anima, Pierro's performance managing an instant sexual switch from reserved English rose to a carnal creature of sensuality and passion.
This fascinating film is a perfect admixture of Udo Kier and Marina Pierro's performances and Walerian Borowczyk's by turns surreal and dreamlike, yet biting and sexual direction.  The enigmatic ending is perfect, as Hyde and his Bride burn the worldly possessions of their past selves and ride off together in a horse drawn carriage, thier limbs intertwineed in an erotic frenzy of locking lips, biting teeth, blood and lust and sex and death as they leave Victorian London behind for a new life in the realm of the senses.

Bibliography / References for all three pieces:
1. Alan Frank, 'Horror Films' (Methuen, 1977)
2. Paul Morrissey interview by Tom Rainone, 'Fangoria' Magazine.
3. Ibid.
4. 'Dazed & Confused' 20th Anniversary issue, interviewed by Caroline Ryder.
5. Ibid.
6. Udo Kier interviewed by David Del Valle in 'Video Watchdog'.
7. Kier to Rainone, 'Fangoria'.
8. Interviewed by Peter Blumenstock, 'Video Watchdog' #28.
9. Kier interviewed by Seth Abramovitch, December 28th 2009.
10. Kier and Maurice Yacovar, on the Criterion Collection DVD commentary.
11. Film Society Lincoln Center, on 'Obscure Pleasures, the Films of Walerian Borowczyk'.
12. Terry Gilliam, 'The Best 10 Animated Films Of All Time', The Guardian 27th April 2001.
13. Roger G. Swearingen, 'The Prose Writings of Robert Louis Stevenson' (Macmillan, 1980).

This was originally published in three pieces at We Are Cult, in a slightly redacted version.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Ninja Strikes Back (Bruce Le and Joseph Kong, 1982)

Bruce Lee vs. Oddjob!  Well, sort of...

Amidst the plethora of Bruce Lee clones and imitators to have emerged upon the Asian action scene in the wake of the Little Dragon's death - including Bruce Li (real name Ho Chung Tao), Bruce Lai (Chang Yi-Tao) and Dragon Lee (Moon Kyoung-seok) - perhaps the king of the Bruceploitation scene was the cheerfully indomitable Bruce Le (born Kin Lung Huang and unleashed upon an unsuspecting and ungrateful world on the 5th of June 1950).

Having previously denigrated paid homage to the memory of Bruce Lee in such z-grade cinematic disasterpieces as Bruce's Deadly Fingers (Joseph Kong, 1976), the amazingly-titled My Name Called Bruce (Kong again, 1978) and Bruce's Fists of Vengeance (Bill James, 1980), Le comprehensively staked out his manifesto for idol desecration firmly with this artifact in 1982, with a script (a script?!?) credited to the hard-to-credit 'Bruce Le Writer's Group' which must have been an infinite monkey cage periodically hosed with psychoactive hallucinogenics.

Bruce here essays the challenging role of a martial arts expert called Bruce - in what can be left to the individual viewer to decide to be either a brilliantly meta fourth-wall breaking piece of self-referencing, the usual bandwagon-jumping hanging on to the coattails of the late departed Lee, a stunning lack of imagination or all of the above.  Bruce is partners with Ron (played by the superlative Tae Kwon Do expert Hwang Jang Lee, whose high-kicking skills and flying feet of fury have graced films as diverse as Jackie Chan's breakout duology of Snake in the Eagle's Shadow and The Drunken Master [both helmed by Yuen Woo-Ping, 1978], probably the best and most competent of the Bruceploitation movies Game of Death II aka Tower of Death [Ng See-Yuen, 1981], and Godfrey Ho's 1985 cut 'n' splice chopsocky collage Ninja Terminator) in the employ of Al, a shady low-rent Caucasian Bond villain whose lair comprising of a menagerie of wild animals such as tigers and swimming pool bedecked with topless girls while martial artists practice on his lawn are a testament to his Flemingian ambitions that belie his grotty drug dealing setup.

The title sequence of the movie plays fast and loose with international copyright as per usual in the grey area of Asian cinema of the period (my own personal favourite is still the simultaneously totally inapposite and yet bizarrely right usage of Pink Floyd's "Time" in Bruce Lee's debut feature The Big Boss [Lo Wei, 1971]), as a photo montage of Le high-kicking against a cardboard Colosseum  backdrop plays out to seemingly random samplings of Lalo Schifrin's main theme from Enter the Dragon (Robert Clouse, 1973).  During this sensory assault we are not only informed that Bruce Le was the action director on the film (and therefore we know exactly to whom we can apportion blame for that) but also that the co-producer credit is shared by the legendary / shady (delete as applicable) Dick Randall, the man behind such psychotronic exploitation fare as Around the World with Nothing On (Arthur Knight, 1963), The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield (Charles W. Broun Jr., Joel Holt and Arthur Knight, 1968), The Erotic Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (Ken Dixon, 1975) and Eighties splatter classics Pieces (Juan Piquer Simon, 1982) and Slaughter High (George Dugdale, Peter Litten and Mark Ezra, 1986).  The credits also assail our eyes with the acting credit of 'Chick Norris' (in fact the producer's wife, Corliss Randall) - no doubt the perfect partner to Bruce Le(e).

The plot, such as it is, unfolds as the ambassador to Italy (a cameo from Randall himself) from an unknown country - presumably the USA and yet its so difficult to tell as it's probably not Dick's voice on the dubbed Anglophone soundtrack, and the voice tracks and sound effects are unanimously out of sync anyway - breaks off his dodgy business dealings with Al, which prompts the easy-going Honest Businessman to order the distressed dignitary's pretty young daughter kidnapped as leverage ('Mister Ambassador, with this nubile girl you are spoiling us!', said no Ferrero Rocher advert ever.  Incidentally, the kidnapper is a burly bearded man in drag for maximum devastating WTF?!? effect).  Bruce decides that a line had been crossed at this point and informs Al that he's quitting the organisation, prompting his erstwhile partner Ron Wong to Go Wrong and turn on him, in a harrowing sequence that doubtlessly influenced George Lucas to write the scenario of Captain Cody turning heel on Obi-Wan Kenobi in Revenge of the Sith (2005).  Just kidding: this is much better than that.

As Bruce recovers in a Rome hospital from his attempted assassination by Ron to the strains of a cover version of 'Bridge Over Troubled Water', aided no doubt by the ministrations of his pretty but dim girlfriend Laura (or Lara?  The sound sync is so bad who knows?), he's visited by a pair of C.I.A. agents (or Interpol, or someone, i dunno) who ask for his aid in tracking down Ron Wong Gone Wrong, and the damsel in distress / dignitary's daughter Sophie (Sophia?  Shrug).  Acquiescing eventually, Bruce goes with Agent C.I.A. to Paris on the trail of the villains, treating us to long tracking shots of the Champs Elysses and Eiffel Tower to compliment the 'let's get as much of our money's worth in the can as possible' holiday footage of Roman locales such as the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps from earlier in the movie, wherein our dynamic duo raid first a French discotheque and then the film set of a girl-on-girl porn movie in their dogged pursuit of their quarry.

Bruce, discovering that Sophie / Sophia has been "shipped out to Macau" jets off to his homeland to rescue her from a cruel fate at the hands of villainous Japanese ninja Sakata (played in yet another genius slice of fried-gold character naming by Harold Sakata of Goldfinger [Guy Hamilton, 1964] fame).  Sakata is indeed a worthy adversary and one of the greatest villains in screen history, wearing his signature bowler hat with his traditional kimono in a fearlessly mismatched costume and having snatches of Monty Norman's James Bond theme played whenever he walks into shot.  As well as his trusty lethal steel-rimmed throwing headgear, Oddjob Sakata also has a golden hand (a Midas touch?) replete with metallic talons like a Bond version of Shih Kien's Han from Enter the Dragon (he also has all of his female kidnap victims addicted to drugs and corralled into an enforced harem, just like the aforesaid Bruce Lee foe).  Sakata's deadly hulking henchman is portrayed by kung fu flick mainstay Bolo Yeung (born Yang Tse, and henchman and villain in numerous action flicks from the aforementioned Enter the Dragon and Drunken Master to Bruce Le's Enter the Game of Death and facing Jean-Claude Van Damme in Newt Arnold's 1988 opus Bloodsport), the 'Chinese Hercules' who provides his usual threatening physical presence.

After dispatching these nefarious Nipponese nemeses, Bruce rescues What's Her Face with a cursory "Your father hired me to rescue you.  Ready to go back?", before we're back in Rome travelling First Class via airplane stock footage.  It is here, back at the place of the beginning, that Bruce must face the man who was once his best friend and is now his best fiend.  This epic confrontation with Ron takes place in the Colosseum, as the film decides to flip its prime source of shamefaced thievery cinematic homage from Enter the Dragon to Lee's 1972 The Way of the Dragon and ape the Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris battle pretty much shot for shot in the build up to the fight.  At last, our infinitely tested patience is rewarded with a competently choreographed acion sequence as Bruce battles against the lethal spinning kicks of Hwang Jang Lee's Ron, with a final 'nicked from a better movie' touch as the x-ray inserts of broken bones that added impact to the visceral violence of Sonny Chiba's The Street Fighter (Shigehiro Ozawa, 1974) are replicated with animated (hand-drawn) shots of Ron's leg being shattered and his poor cartoon heart stopping as he falls at the feet of Bruce.

Quite how the makers of this spectacle managed to take an obviously decent sized production budget, varied and exotic Rome, Paris, Hong Kong and Macau locations, and a cast including very competent martial artists and yet still manage to make a film almost unwatchable in its ineptitude is truly a feat of wonder that should ensure this piece of celluloid mastery a pride of place in the canon of any true lover of hilariously 'so bad it's great' movies.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Invasion (1966, Alan Bridges)

Emerging from Britain's Merton Park Studios towards the end of their hallowed halls' tenure (after being in use from 1930 and producing a string of B-pictures - including the Edgar Wallace Mysteries series - and government-backed information films, Merton Park would produce it's last film a mere two years later in 1967), Invasion is an interesting little curio that long occupied a part of the back of my mind - having caught around half an hour of it many years ago caught by accident at the end of a videotape when recording whatever-film-it-was that had preceded it on broadcast back in the 1990s - and it was strangely satisfying to finally see the complete movie a mere two decades (give or take) later.

Directed by Alan Bridges (who had previously helmed some television policier series such as Z Cars and Maigret and an Edgar Wallace thriller [1964's Act of Murder], and would go on to direct the 1985 film The Shooting Party and the original 1987 Nicol Williamson-starring adaptation of Stephen King's Apt Pupil) from a screenplay by Roger Marshall (who had a huge background of writing credits, including six Edgar Wallaces, fifteen credits on The Avengers [a number of which are up there on my favourite episodes list for that series, being the slight pro-early years anti-Peel hipster that I am], nerve-jangling 1968 Hayley Mills-starring thriller Twisted Nerve, and the 1973 adaptation of David Case's "Fengriffen" And Now the Screaming Starts), based upon an original story by Robert Holmes (whose famed TV SF scribing career was soon to launch itself into the writing of the earliest of what would become an unprecedented seventy-three episodes of Doctor Who, and that's without mentioning his contributions to such small-screen sci-fi / fantasy classics as Doomwatch [1971], Blake's 7 [four episodes between 1979 and 1981], Douglas Camfield-directed SF horror The Nightmare Man [1981] and Into the Labyrinth [1981 and 1982]) the film certainly has a fine and intriguing pedigree.

The film's opening shots of a clouded sky followed by a crashing 'space rocket' are very redolent of Hammer Films / Exclusive Releasing's 1955 cinematic adaptation of Nigel Kneale's The Quatermass Xperiment, a parallel that continues with the domestic 'soap opera' sequences of an older middle-aged couple engaged in an extra-marital affair - the 1950s / '60s social realism aesthetic permeating into the genre: "You're the one who would always get scared that your wife would find out!" - who hit the alien being (played by Ric [nee Eric] Young: The Face of Fu Manchu Don Sharp, 1965], Lord Jim [Richard Brooks, 1965], Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom [Steven Spielberg, 1984]) with their car, leading to the stranger being taken to the nearest hospital.

We have the true-to-the-period requisite Cold War paranoia among the locally-stationed soldiers, with dialogue such as "If the Russians decide to invade, you'll be sitting on this radar telling me it's a car ferry!" and "The Russians haven't sent anything up, have they?" as the autonomic responses to the evidence of a crashed spacecraft.  The shots of the military radar scanner are reminiscent of both the opening shots of the BBC's Quatermass II serial (Rudolph Cartier, 1955) and screenwriter Robert Holmes' later Doctor Who offering 'Spearhead From Space' (Derek Martinus, 1970), and the character of Major Muncaster is portrayed by actor Barrie Ingham (Alydon the Thal in the Amicus / Aaru Dr Who and the Daleks [Gordon Flemyng, 1965] and the eponymous hero in Hammer's A Challenge for Robin Hood [C. M. Pennington-Richards, 1967).  This recycling of imagery and ideas brings to mind the famed Robert Holmes quotation "All you need is a strong, original idea.  It doesn't have to be your own strong, original idea".

The film stars Edward Judd (The Day the Earth Caught Fire [Val Guest, 1961], First Men in the Moon [Nathan Juran, 1964], Island of Terror [Terence Fisher, 1966]) as Dr Mike Vernon, Valerie Gearon (Nine Hours to Rama [Mark Robson, 1963], Anne of the Thousand Days [Charles Jarrott, 1969]) as Dr Claire Harland, Tsai Chin (lately of such things's as television's Marvel-ous Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. [2014] and big screen Bond bonanza Casino Royale [Martin Campbell, 2006], but known to most genre aficionado's as the calculating Lin Tang, daughter of Fu Manchu, in five fiendish flicks between 1965 and 1969) as Nurse Lim, and - as credited on the DVD box and presumably the contemporary publicity, explaining the slightly problematic nature of the phraseology - 'Oriental beauty Yoko Tani' as the Lystrian leader.

Our crashed spaceman arrives at the local hospital (the building and surrounding environs familiar from sundry Merton park productions, from installments of The Edgar Wallace Mysteries to such features as Sidney J. Furie's 1964 The Leather Boys and the 1966 Ian Curteis / John Croydon monstrosity The Projected Man), and Dr Harland (the enchanting Valerie Gearon) finds herself in the same quandary that the irate Dr Lomax was to find himself in a few years later in 'Spearhead from Space' - cross matching a blood sample from the unearthly patient and not recognising it as human with a frustrated "Is this your idea of a joke?".  There are alien signifiers in the X-rays, too, not a binary cardiovascular system but an opaque disc inside the speech centre of the brain which turns out to be a Universal Translator as the visitor finds himself able to speak and understand human language (English of course - this is the 1960s after all!) after touching a nurse (not like that, this isn't a Carry On) - "a direct electronic pathway" having been established.

While the alien has his body temperature regulated and brought down with ice, the old eerie and mysterious standby of 'freak weather conditions' cause patches of localised fog to coalesce around the area as the hospital is isolated from the outside by sinister forces and communication is severed ("All outside lines are out of order!") and the temperature, both dramatic and thermal, begins to rise.  Officious hospital official Carter (Lyndon Brook) tries to barter with the alien visitor to set up an exclusive exchange of information, prompting Dr Vernon's boiling frustration to overspill with a cri de coeur of "Three hundred patients' lives are more important than any glory!", before the departing Carter crashes his car at full speed into the invisible force barrier placed around the hospital by the alien's pursuers and ends his days dashed upon the dashboard.  The army troops guarding / investigating the space vehicle's crash site are tres Quatermass and the Pit , and tension builds as Geiger counter readings detect large amounts of radioactivity around the site.  "We think it crashed here... Atomic powered"; there are definite undertones of atomic age nuclear paranoia - a fear that runs like a transuranic seam through many 1950s and '60s SF and horror movies.

The leader of the pursuit squadron from the planet Lystria (Tani) infiltrates the hospital by changing places with Chin's Nurse Lim, a substitution that seemingly goes unnoticed by the nurse's co-workers including the ward sister as the imposter homes in on her bed-ridden target, evoking the awful and parochial Western attitude that people of East Asian appearance "all look the same".  We learn that Young's character is the prisoner of the female Lystrians who was en route to a prison planet when an accident caused the crash landing, and the Lystrian socity is broadly painted as the old pulp SF cliche of the 'inverted' society of a 'planet ruled by women', a hoary trope that was still being trotted out contemporaneously on BBC television with Doctor Who: 'Galaxy 4' and its belligerent Drahvins - and in a serendipitous co-incidence of casting Stephanie Bidmead who played the Drahvin's ruthless leader-queen Maaga is featured here as the character of Elaine.

"Our justice is a poor thing - often conducted by women" say the gals from the gynocentric globe, playing a poor-me ploy and painting a picture of a female-led society as weaker, perhaps illogical and ruled by instinct - a curiously anti feminist message that clashes with the strong and capable portrayal of Dr Harland who responds to Judd's wavering ("Maybe we can reason with them - maybe they're not as savage as he says") with moral certainty ("They still have prisoners").  The uncertainty as to which Lystrian is telling the truth - is Young's character a dangerous criminal or a victim? - ceases to waver when the patient takes Dr Harland hostage in a bid to get through the force barrier and stabs Major Muncaster, and the old tableau of the strange, strange creature carrying off the beautiful woman (as seen in movies such as  Universal's The Creature from the Black Lagoon [Jack Arnold, 1954] and Hammer's The Mummy [Terence Fisher, 1959]) is played out once again.  Our sympathy for the visitor, which has grown over the course of the film, begins to waver and the cold and remote Lystrians become more plausible in their tale - his story "the product of an immature mind", as Tani's lead Lystrian says.  As the patient / prisoner gets to the ship and takes off, only to be shot down by the Lystrian pursuit ship, we are left with the contemplation of "I think i preferred the idea of space peopled by three-eyed monsters... Now we've got them killing each other just like us."

Invasion is a well-crafted little slice of Cold War era science fiction, which uses the 'Reds Under the Bed' metaphor employed with the subtlety of a sledgehammer in such films as William Cameron Menzies' 1953 Invaders from Mars in a more nuanced fashion and transcends its limited budget with an intelligent script, well-performed characters and a pervasively claustrophobic atmosphere that takes full advantage of the restricted locations.  I would certainly recommend any fans of genre movies to check it out, as well as anyone interested in the capabilities of the smaller studios in 1960s UK filmmaking.

B-movies could really be movies.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Waxwork II: Lost in Time (Anthony Hickox, 1992)

 Of all the unholy crepuscular kinematic cuts that flashed and flickered upon my adolescent self's television screen, the original 1988 Waxwork was long considered to be (in the words of Chelsea Peretti) 'One Of The Greats' - at least in my bedroom it was - and i loved it so much and yearned for so much more whenever the end credits rolled to the toe-tapping yet heartwrenching strain's of Lesley Gore's "It's My Party" that i would gladly have offered up a sacrifice to the eldritch gods of Vestron Pictures to make a follow-up happen.  Had my nine to twelve year old self had a firstborn son (growing up in the North-East, this possibly wasn't as inconceivable as it might seem) it would have been passed gladly through the fires to Moloch to conjure a sequel to a low budget horror movie.  I mean, priorities, right?  Thankfully, this genre-addled youth didn't need to go that far, as little did i know that all i had to do was wait for but a few scant and fleeting years to pass and my wish would come true - by which time i'd probably forgotten all about it of course, affection being a fickle thing, and i think i was slightly baffled to lift the VHS box from the shelf in the local video store and realise that the artifact that i held in my hands was ACTUALLY WAXWORK II.  Oh, how could i have forgotten you?  Oh my Judas-like heart.

Oddly, sitting down to watch this recently was the first time that i'd seen the movie since that day back in the early '90s.  i think someone stole the sole copy from the video shop, or the tape was chewed up in some errant malfunctioning VCR or something, but it vanished anyway leaving my sole viewing experience of this film an ephemeral memory like breath fading from a window pane.  So, here i find myself with the R1 disc (this being one of those annoying cases where the original film has been widely available on R2 for ages, but the second one remains tantalisingly offshore and foreign on it's far-off format) in the Blu-Ray player, wondering what i'll make of this half-remembered follow-up to a film i've seen many, many times...

And so it begins exactly where the first film ends, with Mark (Zach Galligan from Gremlins [Joe Dante, 1984] and Gremlins II: The New Batch [Joe Dante, 1990] and other stuff too, probably) and Sarah (sadly not reprised by the lovely Deborah Foreman from the original, and now played by Monika Schnarre - Warlock: the Armageddon [Anthony Hickox, 1993] - who looks gorgeous but is very stiff and possesses none of the naive charm of Foreman) escaping from the fury of the inferno that is engulfing Mr Lincoln's wax museum and razing it and all its mysteries to the ground.  They return to their homes, pursued by the severed, disembodied hand of a zombie (trust me, it makes perfect sense if you watch the first film first) that kills Sarah's drunkard stepfather in a sequence obviously lifted from - sorry, 'inspired by' - Ash's handy antics in Evil Dead II (Sam Raimi, 1987), right down to the hand-on-person violence utilising kitchen implements.  Sarah finds herself up in court charged with caving in her stepdaddy's cranium,and for some reason the ladies and gentlemen of the jury aren't taking the defence 'a hand did it' all that seriously.  Worried about the prospect of facing the sit-down dance in Old Sparky, Sarah and Mark seek help at the home of the lat Sir Wilfred - a friend of Mark's grandfather who fell (from his wheelchair) in battle against the hordes of darkness in the first film's climax.

Proving that death is but a door, Mark triggers a recording that the late Sir Wilf (the sadly departed great Avenger himself, Patrick MacNee) had left for them in case of his departure from this realm, in which he informs our troubled twosome that just because the waxworks has been destroyed needn't mean that the portals through time and space are all closed, whereupon the mirror creaks open to reveal a temporal rift that takes our dynamic duo through the looking glass to find a couple of impossible things before breakfast.  First stop on this trip through the annals of the cinefantastique is Castle Frankenstein, home of the Baron played by Martin Kemp (The Krays [Peter Medak, 1990], Embrace of the Vampire [Anne Goursaud, 1995], Strippers vs Werewolves [Jonathan Glendening, 2012]), giving us the strange spectacle of an ex-Spandau Ballerina channeling Colin Clive and Peter Cushing on crack whilst employing an outrageous Mittel-European ex-hent.  Also in residence in this crumbling Gothic pile are a ludicrously mugging hunchbacked servant who makes Marty Feldman's performance as 'Eye-Gor' in Mel Brooks' 1974 Young Frankenstein seem positively Shakespearean, and of course dwelling in the dungeon is a cobbled-together golem, a man-mountain of stitched-together flesh created by this particular scion of the Frankenstein family.  When the mandatory horde of torch-bearing peasants are led up the hill to the castle by the Burgomaster dead set on destruction of the Monster, Mark and Sarah attempt to flee with Frankenstein's scientific journal, to take home as 'proof' of their story but find themselves separated from each other, lost in different time streams.

This takes us to a section of the movie with two parallel stories: a wonderfully shot monochrome sequence aping Robert Wise's classic 1963 chiller The Haunting (complete with stark chiaroscuro photography, Dutched camera angles and crash zooms on doors that bulge and warp as an eldritch force pushes behind them), which finds Mark cast in the Russ Tamblyn role from the movie - complete with blond wig - and joined by none other than b-movie megastar Bruce Campbell (of the aforementioned Evil Dead franchise, and many, many more), Star Trek's beautiful Betazoid Marina Sirtis, and Sophie Ward in the roles previously essayed by Richard Johnson, Claire Bloom and Julie Harris respectively; meanwhile, Sarah finds herself cast in the Ellen Ripley role upon a starship stranded in deep space and under siege from a rampaging xenomorph that is positively Giger-esque (and not entirely unlike the Dragon from the 1987 Doctor Who serial "Dragonfire").

The main section of the movie is a sort of Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe pastiche (with flavours of Corman's House of Usher [1960], The Pit and the Pendulum [1961] and The Masque of the Red Death [1964]), complete with deliberately poor matte painting of the villain's castle, with Sarah taking the part of a mediaeval princess at the mercy of the villainous Scarabus (a.k.a.: 'The Master') played with melodramatic relish by Alexander Godunov (Die Hard [John McTiernan, 1988], The Runestone [Willard Carroll, 1991]), who is spookily reminiscent of Vigo the Carpathian from Ivan Reitman's 1989 Ghostbusters II.  Mark finds himself Quantum Leap-ed into the life of a Princess Bride-style hero, who is gifted with an enchanted sword by a passing myserious beggar (essayed by David Carradine with the same kind of 'i need the money and it's a laugh' twinkle he employed slumming it in Fred Olen Ray's 1991 'opus' Evil Toons - a style also perfected by Rutger Hauer) and crosses the enchanted forest to enter the evil castle on his quest to free the captive princess and vanquish the black hearted - and black magic-wielding - villain before he can complete his diabolical plan to murder the King (John Ireland, whose career had included A Walk in the Sun [Lewis Milestone, 1945], Joan of Arc [Victor Fleming, 1948] and Spartacus [Stanley Kubrick, 1960], in his final screen role) and usurp the throne of England.

The movie climaxes in great swashbuckling style as Mark takes on the evil and deadly knave Scarabus in a sword duel that passes in and out of a series of portals, meaning that they thrust and parry their way through a Tokyo under attack from Godzilla (with badly-overdubbed dialogue for maximum devastating Toho effect), a suspiciously familiar 1970s shopping mall wherein the duellists are caught in the crossfire between a SWAT team of survivors and a horde of shambling flare-wearing zombies, a Victorian encounter with both Jack the Ripper and Mr Hyde, and a black and white silent clash with Graf Orlok the Nosferatu (spot the cameo by Drew Barrymore as one of the hairless revenant's intended victims).

In the end of course the dastardly Scarabus is vanquished, the hearts of horror and fantasy movie fans go all a-flutter at spotting all of the in-jokes and references, and Mark 'n' Sarah return to their own time with a replacement twitching zombie hand to give as evidence in her trial.  Justice is of course done - this not being sad reality - and our hero and heroine ride off into time and space for an infinity of surprises and never to be seen new adventures (presumably too broad and too deep for the large or small screen).

All in all, a fun film that may not have all of the gory glee of its predecessor but is never less than enjoyable happy hokum, with plenty of gags for the seasoned genre viewer to enjoy and some great grand guignol grotesquery: i'd quite forgotten how much my 13 year old self laughed at seeing Martin Kemp's head being squeezed by the Frankenstein Monster until all of his teeth pop out and his eyes explode from their sockets and his brain is crushed from his cranium and flies across the room (sans teeth, sans eyes, sans everything!).

It's still pretty funny in this time zone, too.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Dr Jekyll vs the Werewolf [Doctor Jekyll y El Hombre Lobo] (Leon Klimovsky, 1972)

A double dose of monsterdom, Iberian-style, as Paul Naschy (known to his parents as Jacinto Molina) reprises his iconic role as doomed Polish lycanthrope Waldemar Daninsky for the... what? (counts on fingers) either fifth or sixth time, depending upon whether the lost film El Noches de Hombre Lobo was ever actually extant in the first place.

This time around, our hairy hero descends from his black castle upon the hill (wherein the dwells, whispered about by the peasants in the village as a monster and a devil - in this particular principality the bogeyman to scare your children into behaving is a Spanish weightlifter dressed as the wolfman) and comes to the rescue of Justine (Shirley Corrigan) whom he rescues from an attempted gang rape by the thugs who just murdered her husband in front of her whilst attempting to jack their car. In gratitude, the freshly-widowed Justine offers to try and aid Waldemar in seeking a cure for his carnivorous lunar activities by taking him back to London with her to meet her friend Dr Henry Jekyll (Euro-horror stalwart Jack Taylor - Succubus [Jess Franco, 1968], Ghost Galleon / Horror of the Zombies [Amando de Ossorio, 1974], Conan the Barbarian John Milius, 1982 and many, many more), grandson of the original, who is something of an expert in treating these man-into-monster cases.

The location footage of Naschy as Daninsky wandering around London is sadly brief, but wonderfully jarring when the viewer is accustomed to seeing him in Hispanic or middle-European locales. Seeing the Spanish Wolfman (El Hombre Lobo) wander around Trafalgar Square before hailing and getting into a black cab is ever so slightly surreal that it actually seems like the strangest thing in the film. Waldemar takes said taxi to Dr Jekyll's clinic, arriving on time before an unfortunate power cut leads to him being trapped between floors in the lift with a beautiful nurse. What might be most mens' wildest fantasy is sadly a nightmare for Waldemar, as the full moon rises and he becomes a hairy howling beast and gets stuck into the nurse in a different way to that which he might have hoped in what could be a thumbs up scene for anyone who possesses both a uniform and furry fetish.

Eventually Jekyll decides to try and cure the carnivorous Count, although his spurning of his jealous ex-lover and laboratory assistant Sandra (Mirta Miller, Count Dracula's Great Love [Javier Aguirre, 1973], Vengeance of the Zombies [Leon Klimovsky, 1974]) leads to complications when she decides to stab him in the back both literally and metaphorically - knifing him before sabotaging the experiment by injecting Daninsky full of the original Dr Jekyll's Hyde formula. Turning from a man into a werewolf into Mr Hyde must be going for some kind of record, and boy Naschy goes for it with some relish wandering modern (1972) Soho under its neon lights wearing a cape, top hat and silver-handled cane. "I need pleasure... Women! Lots of women! Different women!" is his creed and cri de coeur as he goes about sexing, torturing and killing. In that order.

His reign of fun is brought to an end, sadly, when the potion runs out and he reverts to lupine form during the next lunar cycle, and the bereaved, battered and bleeding Justine tearfully riddles him with silver bullets, before expiring from her injuries. It's difficult to judge or gauge a performance hindered by dubbing, but Shirley Corrigan is good in a role that has her as a perpetual victim: widowed and sexually assaulted on her honeymoon before being dragged through the emotional wringer by falling in love with a doomed monster, whipped, tortured and suffering yet more sexual abuse before having her throat torn out by the man she loves. Yikes. She is also (if you can pardon the indulgence of my Male Gaze here) heartbreakingly beautiful, giving the thin role of Justine the air of a flower blossom amidst carnage and death like a rose growing in a graveyard. She's very different here to her role as the seductively wanton and bisexual Regine in Jean Brismee's 1971 The Devil's Nightmare, and i also doubt that her role as the titular heroine in Around the World with Fanny Hill (Mac Ahlberg, 1974) is quite this poignant.

I own two copies of this film, as the R2 DVDas the R2 DVD from Mondo is a nice print but is the Spanish dub. Whilst i have no problems at all watching subtitled movies (at least a third of my collection is comprised of such things), it does feel a little odd when the actors are clearly speaking their dialogue in English, but dubbed into Spanish with English subtitles. So the version i watched last night was the R1 English language one. Interesting to hear the actual dialogue but sadly the print is terrible and heavily cut - missing around the first five minutes, and missing the scene wherein the freshly transformed Daninsky-Hyde whips and tortures Justine (possibly also shorn of a couple of scenes of prostitute killing as well). Presumably this version (from the Pure Terror DVD set) was the US television print. I shall definitely be sticking with the R2 version - distracting dubbing and all - for any future watches.

Monday, 19 September 2016

London After Midnight (1927, Tod Browning)

"A cloudswept sky... trees moaned... owls hooted... a muffled shot... a groan... a scream pierced the midnight... Roger Balfour was found dead in his London home."

As a child, i thought, spake and got ill as a child.  One particular summer a long, low time ago i was laid down low with a particularly nasty case of the mumps - not that i suspect that there are any nice kinds, but my nine year old self prone on the couch barely able to speak (possibly to the relief of my beleaguered family) with glands all a-swollen wasn't having a very nice time.  To occupy me and keep me from feeling sorry for myself, my mother picked up a book she spotted in a second-hand bookshop's window that she knew i would like, and i spent the next few days on my sick bed (or sick settee) eagerly devouring the contents of this large hardback volume that would be a treasured possession to this day.  The book was Alan Frank's Horror Films, a chronological essaying of le cinema fantastique from the inception of the medium by the Lumiere Brothers to circa 1978.  I'd loved horror, science fiction and fantasy ever since i was a mite, and i delighted in being educated upon my favourite subject, learning all about these films and their plots and protagonists, and most of all being young i was entranced by the hundreds of images (stills, posters, lobby cards et al) from these movies.  One image that particularly caught my attention was Lon Chaney's vampiric visage leering from the page in a photograph from London After Midnight - all wide bulging eyes and bird's nest hair sprouting out from 'neath his hat and mocking taloned finger pointed accusingly toward me.

But, most of all, the teeth.

Not the wolfish canines i had seen displayed by Christopher Lee and Barbara Shelley in the colourful Gothic Hammer romps i'd been allowed to stay up and watch; these were the teeth of a shark - Chaney's grinning maw brimming with fangs, each and every gnasher a razor pointed weapon.  I was terrified.  I was intrigued.  I needed to see this, one day.

As i grew older i found myself seeing a great many of the films covered in that book, mentally ticking off each one, until now some 27 or 28 years later i'm sure i've seen the vast majority of them. But some seemed to perpetually remain elusive, including 'the one with the freaky looking vampire'.  I was quite saddened around ten years ago when i learned that London After Midnight was a Lost Film (in fact, the very notion of 'Lost Films' is one that saddles me with a heavy heart, as the realisation that not all art, including cinema, is preserved for the ages and can be ephemeral bites at my cineaste soul).  Growing up as a Doctor Who fan, the notion that we cannot simply access all of these delights that we've grown up reading and hearing about - a fair portion of 1960s monochrome Who having been 'junked' by the BBC in the 1970s - is a familiar but awful one, and learning that London After Midnight had survived as an extant print all the way to 1967 before being consumed in an MGM vault fire seemed to be putting me through the trials of Tantalus: it had reached out across fifty years of the void of time since its release, but then been cruelly snatched away.

But then i discovered that, much like the lost Doctor Who stories i was so familiar with, a reconstruction of the film had been made using photographic elements.  Much like, say, "Fury from the Deep", this was the only way i was ever going to 'see' the film - as close as i could ever get to experiencing it.  Good enough, i thought, it's better than nothing.  And so i finally sat down, almost three decades after first becoming aware of it, to see what i would make of London After Midnight.

After the mysterious murder that opens the movie, we are swiftly introduced to the intrepid Professor Edward Burke (Lon Chaney), private investigator liaising with Scotland Yard.  Burke, P. I. (which almost demands it's own Bellasario-style spinoff show) shows up at the scene of the crime surprisingly quickly - a mere 'fifteen minutes' after Balfour's death - to question the household and neighbours.  The rather pertinent question from Arthur Hibbs (Conrad Nagel) as to how the Professor-Inspector arrived so fast is deflected with an imperious "That's my business, young man!"

Five Years Later....

As with the later Universal horror movie cycle, what would a monster movie be without peasants? This time, they're merely passing a property in a cart rather than brandishing burning torches.

"'Oly 'Enry! The 'ouse is 'aunted!" exclaims the woman in the carriage, perhaps displaying the first ever cultural recognition of the Cockney peasant on film.  Chaney's befanged vampire has decided to rent this particular property after his spooky moonlight overlook of the premises.  For some reason unfathomable by the mind of man, the only thing the legal functionary can think to ask this shark-toothed boggle-eyed spectre of the macabre is "You understand that if you lease this house, the owner will not pay for the repairs?"

I think he's fine with that.

"Sir James, it's 'orrible!  The Balfour 'ouse is 'aunted!"  "Dead people from the grave!  Vampires is what they are!"  are some of the proclamations made.  At this point, Professor P. I. Burke returns, looking a bit older than a mere five year elapsing of time: Chaney's make up skills are evident here, white-haired and monocled was he.  The vampire in the beaver hat's signature on the lease for the Balfour house is signed 'Roger Balfour'.  Chills.  Scenes.  Lucille Balfour (portrayed by the absolutely lovely in a heart-stopping manner Marceline Day - i really must try to break this habit of falling in love with silent movie actresses one day) says that she has heard a voice calling to her from the garden.  "It sounded exactly like my father calling... Lucy!  Lucy!" - the parallels with Stoker's Dracula, which Browning would translate to the screen in a clunky and stagy rendition four years later, are obvious.

Then we have the discovery of an ancient tome of vampire lore - The Undead: The True History of Vampyrs Being a Compilation from Authentic Sources of Quaint and Curious Phenomena (Published London, 1721) - a la Murnau's earlier Nosferatu, prompting Burke's (probably quite valid) expectoration of "This is all ancient tommyrot!".

Hibbs says to Lucille "You turn to me first in danger - that proves love, Lucille" (or indeed instinct, you fool).  He then winds up in a steamy clinch with Smithson the Cockney peasant maid.  "Can't I sleep upstairs with you tonight, Mr Hibbs?" pleads the terrified menial.  I'm sure you can, dear - the man's an animal.  An ANIMAL.  "There isn't going to be any sleep about this house tonight..." he says. I'm quite sure, you dog, you.

Inspector Burke and Sir James explore the grounds of the Balfour house in a sequence highly reminiscent of the staging of Harker and Van Helsing's casing of Carfax in Dracula.  They see such sights as should never be seen - Sir Roger himself, sitting in a chair in a room with the vampire.  Burke then decides to protect Lucille's room from the undead, with a twist and lore-change in that two crossed swords of steel and a wreath of roses are utilised, instead of the more traditional crucifix, garlic and / or hawthorn.

Burke then decides to hypnotise Hibbs - forcing him to remember the night of Balfour's murder. While Hibbs remains in his Mesmerised state, Burke goes to Hibbs' bedroom and lies in the bed awaiting the coming of the footfalls of the murderer.  A hooded figure enters, and attempts to kill him...

Lucille goes missing from her room, lured to the Balfour house by the bat-girl vampiress Luna (Edna Tichenor - tres Gothy).  "Tell Luna, we are ready" instructs the late Sir Roger to an Irving Pichel-esque (in the sense of his role in Dracula's Daughter, rather than the more unpalatable rumours...) flunky, and Lucille is duly brought in.

"Remember, Lucille... you... are doing this... for your father".

Burke gives Sir James his gun, and takes him to the Balfour house, telling him to look whomever he may meet "straight in the eye - show no fear!".  The mysterious vampiric 'Man in the Beaver Hat' hypnotises Sir James, telling him to remember the night of Balfour's death.  Meanwhile, Luna has given Lucille the same white dress that she wore upon that fateful night, and as Sir James - thinking that it is five years ago - enters, Lucille is with "Sir Roger" re-enacting some disenchanted evening.

Burke: "Smithson, i'm all ready to prove that, when hypnotised, a criminal will re-enact his crime!"

The ersatz Sir Roger announces that he has signed his will, naming Sir James as the executor of his estate and Lucille's legal guardian.  Sir James announces his hopes that, Papa Lazaou-like, Lucille will one day be HIS WIFE.  "But... she's only a child, James!" exclaims Rog.  "I don't mean now," says reasonable paedophile Sir James, sounding for all the world like the basis for Brass Eye's 'Someday I Want To, But Not Today' song, "I mean in five or six years!"

Oh.  Well, that's alright, then.

At 1. 10 A.M. Sir James returns with two guns, telling Roger to write his own suicide note.  Then he shoots him.

"That's how Roger Balfour committed suicide, is it?" asks Burke of the Yard as he wraps up the case.  "Sorry i had to be so rough with you, Mr Hibbs, but i guess your reward was worth it!"

Oh.  He's objectifying the radiant Marceline Day. Still, i suppose i did a bit.

Another case, another collar for Burke, P. I..

I'm not quite sure what to make of that.  I'm not sure anyone can give an actual opinion on a film based solely upon an after-the-fact reconstruction to begin with, but that was...  Well, i enjoyed it.  I would have preferred another way than the "cheat" ending, and for the legendary Lon Chaney to have actually played a vampire rather than some kind of Fake Shemp for a maverick detective.  But, in this life, you can't always get what you want.