Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Valley




Well this was an interesting little SHUDDER (U.S.) nugget. THE VALLEY (Weinberg) was a highly entertaining little tale. The six, subtitled, 56 minute long episodes are tight and lean.

I really don't want to say a whole lot about it, but I thought it might be on a few people's LIKE list if they gave it a chance. I wasn't going to at first, but another post similar to this one said that it had some cool things to offer and they were right.





We have a murder mystery set in a sleepy, little valley town. The main focus is wine making. When a man awakens in the vineyard staring up at the dead body of a young woman and not knowing who he is, he makes his way into town to seek help. However, when he returns with the small band of townsfolk, there is no body there.




I kinda looked at this as TWIN PEAKS meets COLOMBO with a dash of X-FILES flavoring here and there. It's a slow burn, but I really enjoyed the story.  You also have the mystery elements, town dramas, and a hint of the paranormal that really keeps things moving.

Well worth a viddy.







The Moose Head Over The Mantel



I got word that there was a chance to see and review this film and jumped at the chance. I had reviewed a previous production by these folks called THE BIG BAD and had enjoyed it, so I was excited to see their new offering. And - spoiler - I loved it.

The Moose Head Over The Mantel review comes with a main caveat: This isn't your standard horror film. It's not a simple watch that you half pay attention to while gulping down handfuls of popcorn. There are some complex goings on here that require thought. If you're wanting horror bashes like HATCHET or THE CONJURING, leave this one alone - you probably won't be happy.  

However, if you like fine acting and an excellent story presented in an absolutely interesting way, proceed!





Now, let's start with their awesome tagline:
One family. One hundred years. Countless victims. 
Love it. We have it all right there.



The Moose Head Over The Mantel tells the story of the Hoffhienze Family. A family with a past filled with tragic stories. As 1983's Lillian Hoffhienze-Bachman, her husband Jay, and their son move into the family home, the onionskin-like layers of family history unfold. We have six stories that go all the way back to 1881, all seen by the titular...moose head over the mantel.

I loved the concept. It's a fun and entertaining way to present things. While the gimmick of the moose head isn't 100% (We see several angles of the room, but I let it go after the first few minutes) the story is super solid and the use of the head as a central hub was very cool. People see the huge thing and all have questions about it. And, it seems to move as well. That combined with some very cool sound designs and music queues keep the flow and pace of all the stories super fluid and kinetic.


We jump around in time between 1983, 1966, 1945, 1922, 1904, and 1881 seeing how generations of Hoffhienze seem to be the center of horrors of various sorts - "a bloodline wrought with abuse, dysfunction and violence." As things move on, you see the patterns and understand that the family is doomed to be in this violent cycle.

All the stories are strong here, which can sometimes be an issue in multi-story line films. I've seen anthologies where you love one of the four stories and that's a sad thing, indeed. I found something special in each one of the tales and thought that the way they were presented was exceptional. It was like watching a fluid play that worked like a top notch time piece. The gears of the story spun along and you saw various time periods whirl before you, but I never felt lost or confused. I believe this is due to the strong writing style of Jessi Gotta who also played Lillian Hoffhienze-Bachma. She knows how to write characters you actually care about and are interested in. Combine that with and additional five, solid Directors that have a background in producing and performing live theater and you have gold.

Directors:
Rebecca Comtois     ...     (segment "1966") 
Bryan Enk     ...                (segment "1983") 
Jessi Gotta     ...                (segment "1945") 
Matthew Gray     ...          (segment "1904") 
Shannon K. Hall     ...      (segment "1922") 
Jane Rose     ...                 (segment "1881")





Now, this is a slow burn of a film. No MTV like cuts or music videos here. You need to think about it like we're setting in for an atmosphere filled,  gothic tale. Spooky tales told around the fireplace. Maybe a moose head peering down at you eerily in the firelight. :::grin::: Old tales of the past. Creepy tales spawned by real life stories. Yet another interesting layer the film. 


Statement:
The Hoffhienze family story is influenced and inspired by the notorious lives of H.H. Holmes, The Bender Family, Lizzie Borden, Carl Panzram and The Fox Sisters, as well as the Spiritualism movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the rise of psychiatric pharmacology in the 1970s and ‘80s.



I highly recommend  The Moose Head Over The Mantel. It's not just a film. It's an experience. An immersion into a series of spaces and time periods that adds a new and vibrant energy into a genre that can really use it!




TRAILER:

THE MOOSE HEAD OVER THE MANTEL | TRAILER from Inappropriate Films on Vimeo.




The Bird with the Crystal Plumage revisted





It's been about five years since I've reviewed The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, so I thought it was time to revisit the film. I've been in a bit of an UP WITH DARIO! mood of late after seeing Suspiria on the big screen in 4K. There is a sweet spot with his films, but his later films have merit as well. I'm going to hop around his catalogue and see what there is to see and what I'd like to review again now that I'm a bit older.









Bird is part of the Dario Argento "Animal Trilogy" of films that include Bird, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, and The Cat o' Nine Tails. Like many of these trilogy arrangements, I'm not sure Dario set out to make a series of animal based films at first, but it's a highly marketable aspect of the films and it was ripe to be exploited. Out of the three, Bird with the Crystal Plumage happens to be my favorite.


The film opens with the classic giallo trope of a man named Sam Dalmas who's on his way up and out. He's completed a writing job, he gets paid, and now it's time for him and his new girlfriend to fly back home. However, he's spots a potential murder in progress at an art gallery and, when he tried to get in to help, he's trapped between two glass doors and can't go in or out. The murderer flees. The woman stumbles towards him and collapses to the floor.  He's forced to wait for the police to arrive as the poor woman struggles to stay alive. What a fantastic and tense moment!

Sam gets swept up in looking for the killer. The police keep tabs on his as he investigates the players and the net grows wider and wider each day as more and more information comes to light. And, of course, as Sam moves through the web of intrigue, the killer makes threats to Sam and his girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall).


I just love the film on so many fronts. We get Argento's great camerawork and wild storylines. We get some really cool set pieces to view as well. But, we also get a laundry list of wacky characters as Sam inches closer to the killer. Folks like Mr. So Long - a man in prison that Sam questions about the goings on who happens to stutter, so he says "so long" after sentences to get himself to stop. His eyes bulge out and are spread apart and there are some cute little parts like where Sam gets confused by the "so long" and stands to leave.

"Hey! Where are you going?"
"You said 'so long', so I thought you were done talking.'

Good stuff.

The plot twists and turns and avenues are explored to multiple dead ends. Then the big third act gets really wild as things come to a conclusion. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a real thriller. I love it.

You can really see Dario starting to shine here. I mean, this is his first directing spot and he's already knocking it out of the park. The following year, he'll go on to make both The Cat o' Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet - both of which are fantastic films in their own right. He tries to escape the genre pictures by making Le cinque giornate , but it seems that people are not ready to have their Argento do historical fiction. So, he dives back into the horror world in 1975 with DEEP RED (Profondo rosso ) and kicks much arse until 1987, really. A fantastic run of films.


But, what I find to be fascinating is that it's all in The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. The plot twists, camera angles, style, and characterization were all strong and alive in Bird and just got better from there. It's a start akin to the start of people like M. Night Shyamalan or Orson Wells - coming out of the gate red hot and ready to make films the best they can make them.

Track down The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. You won't regret it. It gets better every time I watch it.








Monday, October 16, 2017

Crimes of the Black Cat








CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT from 1972 is an example of what happens when giallo tropes run a film RIGHT off the rails! hehehehe  Now, don't get me wrong - I actually liked the film and watched the whole of it, but it's just not a great film. It's goofy in many, many ways.


Our hero is blind pianist Peter Oliver played by Anthony Steffen of "Play Motel" and "The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave"'. He gets caught up in a series of murders and plays amateur detective with the help of his ex-girlfriend and personal assistant to try to solve the crimes. We get a lot of hand holding help from the ex while the personal assistant describes crime scenes and evidence to Peter. Genius Peter puts the pieces together - the shawls found at the crime scenes, the odd smell coming from the mysterious hooded figure that keeps passing him, and various other details that allow him to solve the crime. But....is there more to it all?

Damn right there is. heheheheh

The film is bonkers. The blind pianist angle is classic giallo - person out of their small pond into the ocean of crime. The way he sorts things out is hilarious. He happens to be around the hooded figure at random times. Massive leaps in logic everywhere. The police letting him enter crime scenes with his two helpers and pawing evidence.

And, I am going to spoil something here - be warned.

The main murder weapon? Remember those shawls I mentioned? Well, turns out they have been sprayed with a chemical that makes cats FREAK OUT! And, those cats? They have claws dipped in poison so that when they scratch you...you die. BAWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!  Elaborate.

It all makes for several "Wait.....WHAT?!" moments that I loved.

When the killer is found out and takes our hero out to kill him, he doesn't just shoot him, shove him into traffic, stab him, or push him into a huge hole that happens to be in the floor of the building he takes Peter to. Nope! He tries to hit him with a friggin' huge construction shovel that moves at the pace of a two legged dog.  Do they shove him into the hole after that? Noooooope. More Austin Powers style slow death trappings.



There's a fun little wrap up that makes the whole of it worthwhile, but this is definitely the B Team of gialli in my humble opinion. But, a B Team effort that's still a fun watch!









Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Blair Witch




Ok...I was one of the ones that was really bummed that THE WOODS from Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett - a team I love - wasn't really The Woods, but was The Blair Witch. Wingard and Barrett are grand. They have great ideas and are a cool team. But, I just saw this as a studio film that was going to be a disappointment in one way or another. Based on the 47% Metacritic score, it seems like they did miss the mark a bit. I was in no rush to see it at the time, but I finally circled back around and checked it out today. And, it didn't suck. :)

Nutshell - dude's going to look for his sister Heather from the first film. It's only been 18 years - she's probably fine. :::grin:::  He gets a lead from some shifty townies and gets his friends, a bunch of camera's, a drone, and the like and tromps off into the forest. Madness and heartache follow. :::spoiler:::

Now, the film itself passed my "AWWW! FUCK YOU, FOUND FOOTAGE! YOU BORING SHITE!" test. Things keep rolling and the story hums along nicely. But, it did have me chortling and growling out, "Jump scare bullshit," a few times. People keep creeping up on others in the group, then they make this loud noise of some type.

"HEY!!!!! W have to get out of here!"

"HEY!!!!! Did you hear that?"

"WHERE'S Paul?!"

"I'M BACK! Everything ok?"





I thought this was utter crap and it pissed me off. However, the film rallies and really comes back pretty strong in the third act. And, it had some fun and shocking moments that even had me giggling and saying, "Well...I didn't see THAT coming!" out loud.

The film had some set pieces that were friggin' upsetting and some cool woods scenes and "magical world" gags that I enjoyed. The addition of ear-cams took a bit of the "why are they still filming?" out of the mix, which was cool. 

So...the long and the short - I think this is a fun offering and a solid addition the the BLAIR WITCH franchise. But...I still wonder what Wingard and Barrett's THE WOODS would have been like.






Friday, October 13, 2017

Grave Encounters

Yup, Grave Encounters is found footage. Yup - night vision scenes. Yup - people loose it and yell at each other. Cameras shake. Ghost mouths open super wide with computer graphics. But, it's all highly entertaining.

Colin Minihan and Stuart Ortiz (as The Vicious Brothers) really know how to keep a film buzzing along. The concept is ultra conventional and simple - a paranormal investigator show's footage is found after they all go missing or are dead. Standard. However, I just watched another found footage film that I won't name here ("If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all.") and that thing was a total and complete hipster bore! To echo R. Ebert, it was a 12 minute short crammed into 101 minutes. However, GRAVE ENCOUNTERS keeps shaking things up and adding little nuggets to keep things interesting and new.

We have the usual setup where they are going to be locked in until someone lets them out. They did the same in 21 Days in 2014. They look around and don't really find anything. Things start to get a little slow, then we - the audience - starts to see things on the cameras they have set up. When that gets old, the crew starts to experience things themselves. Then, things continue to fly off the rails for them in horrid ways.

It's a fun watch and it has a lot of cool little set pieces. It was made in 2011 and I believe it was at the forefront of the computer graphics HUGE OPEN MOUTH gimmick that numerous movies drove into the ground. I want to say that these folks did it first.

It's odd. I thought THE VICIOUS BROTHERS had more under their belts. I'm only seeing GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 1 and 2,  EXTRATERRESTRIAL, and IT STAINS THE SANDS RED (2017)  in their credits.  I definitely want to check out SANDS - I've heard some good buzz about it. 

At any rate, if you want some fun, amusement park haunted house-like scares for a dark night, this will provide many a good BOO! for your amusement.











Death Double Feature: Death Walks at Midnight / Death Walks on High Heels




GIALLOCTOBERFEST 2017 continues! 

I did a Luciano Ercoli DEATH DOUBLE FEATURE this week - DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT (La morte accarezza a mezzanotte ) and DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS (La morte cammina con i tacchi alti ) . One I loved and one...not so much. This was particularly interesting to me because it's the same director and much of the same cast, but one resonated with me far more than the other. It might have been the writer lineup for the screenplay and story. MIDNIGHT had this grouping...

Sergio Corbucci     ...     (story)   
Ernesto Gastaldi     ...     (screenplay) 
Mahnahén Velasco     ...     (screenplay) (as May Velasco)

And HEELS had....

Ernesto Gastaldi (screenplay)
Mahnahén Velasco (screenplay) (as May Velasco)

I think the addition of Corbucci might have sweetened the spices Midnight offered. He wrote the wacky, super police officer story SUPER FUZZ back in the day and I loved it. Midnight had more flavor and buzz with a plot that I found to be more interesting and engaging. Let's talk about it.






Now, don't get me wrong - I liked DEATH WALKS IN HIGH HEELS well enough. The plot is relatively simple. A woman's Father is involved in a diamond heist. He's out of the picture, but the diamonds are missing. Does his daughter know where they are? Maybe. And someone - a masked killer with striking blue eyes....wants her to tell where they are...or DIE!

Classic.

So, all that's working for me here, but honestly, the characters bored me to tears and the pace made me shake with desire to fast forward....which I did.


The lovely Nieves Navarro (or...Susan Scott as she was known)  stars in both films. Here, she's a exotic dancer named Nicole Rochard with a penchant for wigs and elaborate costumes...including a "black face" nubian number that was truly cringe-worthy! hehehehe  The shot and line below....wow....


And, Ms. Nieves Navarro is NOT a good dancer, so the first part of the film was rather painful for me there as well - watching this woman jerk around like she's having a seizure.

We're treated to some good bully acting from Luciano Ercoli, the Director of both of these films AND Nieves' real life husband, as I found out. Rather cool.

Here he's the boyfriend of Navarro and not 100% sweetheart. Sweethearts don't toss knives at their girlfriends.




When the mysterious masked diamond hunter comes after Nicole and demands to know where the diamonds are, she decides that the advances of an admirer from the clubs she's performed in - a Dr. Robert Mathews (Frank Wolff) - seem pretty great and she runs off with him without a word to anyone.

They have a grand time and Nicole is treated like a Queen as the Doctor buys her dresses and dinners and the two seem like they are made for each other. The Doc whisks her away to a cottage he owns in a small town and Nicole pretends to be his wife as they live life to the fullest - happy and content.

Sure, the small village is filled with gossips and nutty people...including a strange man missing a hand, but I'm sure everything will work out for them.


Again, all of that was great for a story perspective, however the pace made me CRAZY. We see them shopping....eating....exchanging cute banter with a local fish seller....making love....saying they'll miss each other when the Doctor has to fly back to London for a while, but it all takes WAY TOO DAMN LONG to deal with. There's just not enough story to support the run time for me. I felt like I was being dragged behind a very slow pony.

Ercoli's direction is great and the film does manage to wrap very nicely in true giallo style, but it just took to long to get there for me. And the exposition at the end.....whew. Pretty funny, really. "Let me explain everything I did and why I did it...."   DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS might require me to re-watch at some point in the near future, but I'll start it in the middle for sure.







Now, DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT was a different viewing for me all together.

From IMDB:
Valentina, a beautiful fashion model, takes an experimental drug as part of a scientific experiment. While influenced by the drug, Valentina has a vision of a young woman being brutally murdered with a viciously spiked glove. It turns out that a woman was killed in exactly the same way not long ago and soon Valentina finds herself stalked by the same killer...





Now this film really hit the mark for me. The pace, character interactions, and visuals were interesting, engaging, and fun. Nieves Navarro as Valentina is strong, confident, and doesn't take any crap from anyone.  Simón Andreu is this magazine guy  (always get him and Luciano Ercoli mixed up!) who manages to get Valentina fired from her job and exposed to the murdered after backing out on his promise to keep her masked and anonymous for this wacky drug experiment that kicks this who plot off. Their chemistry is fun to watch as they snip at each other and fight. 


Suuuuuuure, the main catalyst for the plot - a vision of a killer while under the influence of a drug - falls right into the WTF?! gialli plot nuttiness for sure, but it's really just used to get things rolling and get us involved in this murder situation. After that, it's cat-and-mouse with the killer (who we see right away)  as he tries to silence Valentina.

And....we have J&B references! 



I loved watching this film. The banter was grand and natural, the characters were well rounded, and the pace was clipping right along from set piece to set piece. And, the mystery was interesting and really had me guessing. I'll watch this one again for sure.



So, I plan to watch Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion to break this Luciano Ercoli tie. :::grin:::   I loved one of his films and wasn't so happy with the other. We'll see what PHOTOS has to offer. (also on Shudder U.S. at the time of this posting)

Have you seen these? The SHUDDER reviews put HEELS in a far better light than I've placed it - hence the planned rewatch. I'd love to hear what other people have to say about these films.

Am I missing something? LET ME KNOW!