Category Archives: Moody/Stylish

Last Tango in Paris (1972)

lasttango2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex without knowing names.

Paul (Marlon Brando) is a middle-aged American man living in Paris who’s despondent over his wife Rosa’s recent suicide. Feeling alone and without direction he meets up with Jeanne (Maria Schneider),a much younger woman, while both are looking to rent the same apartment. Jeanne is dating Thomas (Jean-Pierre Leaud) a filmmaker who wants to film her life and make it into a movie, which Jeanne is not so keen about. Despite not knowing Paul’s name, as he wants their identities to remain a mystery, she gets into a torrid sex affair with him and finds Paul’s evasive manner to be both frustrating and intriguing. However, after he rapes her he disappears and Jeanne considers their relationship over, but Paul meets her on the street a few days later, but this time he tells her all about himself, but hearing the sad details of his lonely life makes him less appealing to her. She tries to get away from him, but Paul continues to pursue her, which ultimately leads to tragedy.

The film is probably better known for the controversy and scandal it caused upon its release than anything else. While some of its sexual aspects will seem somewhat tame by today’s standards back in 1972 it became a hotly contested commodity where the government in Italy openly banned the film and ordered all copies of it seized and destroyed while also revoking director Bernardo Bertolucci’s right to vote for 5 years. Residents of Spain, where the film was also banned, would travel hundreds of miles to the French border just so they could see the film that everyone was talking about. In the US the controversy was no different with conservative pundits labeling it ‘pornography disguised as art’. In Montclair, New Jersey residents tried to physically block movie goers from going in to see the film by forming a human chain in front of the theater and those that were able to break through got labeled as being ‘perverts’.

Today the most controversial aspect are Maria Schneider’s accusations that the infamous ‘butter scene’ where Brando rapes her anally while using butter as a lubricant was not planned nor scripted and the she was taken by complete surprise. In a 2013 interview Bertolucci admits that Maria did not know the details of the scene ahead of time and this was intentional in order to capture the genuine look of shock on her face. While Bertolucci says he does not regret doing the scene he still felt bad for Maria, who maintained up until her death in 2011, that she had been both ‘violated’ and ‘humiliated’ and never spoke to Bernardo afterwards.

As for the film itself it’s interesting on a technical end, I particularly enjoyed its fragmented/dream-like narrative, but it also comes-off as being a bit overrated. It was based on Bertolucci’s own sexual fantasies regarding his desire of picking-up a young, beautiful woman off the streets and having a passionate sexual affair with her without ever knowing her name, or having any responsibilities or obligations attached to it, which is certainly an intriguing idea for a script, but the way the two come together seemed just a bit too rushed and unrealistic. Brando, who never bothered to memorize his lines and ad-libbed most of it, seems to be playing himself as he displays the same moody, self loathing quality that he also conveyed in every interview I’ve seen him in making it less about creating a character and more just him showing his true nature. Schneider is the best thing about the movie, as is the scene where the two disrupt a tango dance contest, but ultimately the film leaves one with a dark, depressed, and dismal feeling after it’s over.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 14, 1972

Runtime: 2 Hour 10 Minutes

Rated NC-17

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, Pluto TV, YouTube

Return to Oz (1985)

returnoz2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nobody believes Dorothy Gale.

Dorothy Gale (Fairuza Balk) has returned to Kansas and the home of Auntie Em (Piper Laurie) and Uncle Henry (Matt Clark), but she continues to talk about her adventures in the Land of Oz and can’t get any sleep. Both her aunt and uncle think she’s become delusional and decide to send her to a doctor (Nicol Williamson) who practices electro shock therapy. It’s there that she’s left under the care of Nurse Wilson (Jean Marsh) while also hooked-up to one of their machines only to be saved when a lightning storm knocks the power out. Dorothy then escapes out of the hospital and runs into a river where she climbs aboard a floating raft and makes friends with a talking chicken. She then gets whisked back to Oz, but this time finds everything in ruins including the citizens of the Emerald City who’ve been turned to stone.

The plot is loosely based on two of L. Frank Baum’s other novels: ‘The Marvelous Land of Oz’ and ‘Ozma of Oz’. The rights to the story had been purchased way back in 1954 by Walt Disney with plans to turn it into a film that would’ve starred Annette Funicello. It was to be a live action movie called Rainbow Road to Oz, but while filming had started and even preview segments aired on TV it was never completed as producers ultimately feared it would be compared unfavorably to the highly popular Wizard of Oz, so the production got scrapped. Then in 1980 film editor Walter Murch convinced Disney executives to give the idea another shot and since they were ready to lose the story rights anyways decided to green light the project with Murch acting as the director. Things though did not go smoothly as Murch had no directing experience and fell behind in the shooting schedule, which got him fired 5-weeks in only to be reinstated when his good friend George Lucas (the two had worked together on THX-1138) convinced Disney to give him another chance by promising that he personally would step-in to direct if Murch was unable to complete.

As a whole, at least in the beginning, I really liked the gothic look of the set design and while some critics complained about the dark tone I actually felt this made it more appealing. Despite being a children’s book the story does have, when you think about it, some very creepy aspects to it, so approaching it in a darker way made sense and the imagery especially during the first half is pretty cool. I particularly liked when Auntie Em takes Dorothy to the doctors via a horse carriage, in which you see a longshot of the carriage traveling across the flat brown prairie, which really brought the desolate quality of Kansas to life, (far better than the original film did, which was shot on an indoor soundstage) with the only irony being that was filmed in Salisbury Plain in the U.K., but the lay out of the land of the Sunflower State, of which I’ve been to many times, still gets replicated authentically.

Initially I liked the way the Land of Oz gets captured as well including the Wheelers, who come off like a punk street gang who have wheels in place of hands and feet. Unfortunately so much has changed here from the original that this ultimately doesn’t seem like a sequel, but a completely different movie instead. There’s no yellow brick road (only shown briefly in a decrepit state, no wicked witch or flying monkeys either.) There is the tin man, lion, and scarecrow, but their look has changed significantly including having the scarecrow appear more like a wide-eyed ventriloquist dummy and not the friendly, amusing character that we’re used to.

The story as it gets played-out is not as interesting. There’s no sense of plot progression, but instead just a constant flow of dangers that Dorothy and her newfound friends get into that are too loosely connected and become more redundant than tense. Dorothy never gets overly upset about anything, which impedes the viewer from becoming emotionally wrapped-up into her peril. After all if she’s taking the whole thing in stride, no matter how dangerous things may initially seem, then why should we. Jean Marsh creates a colorful villain, I enjoyed her closet full of different heads and how she can take one off and put on another one, but she ultimately gets too easily taken down.

The film received only a lukewarm reception and despite working off of a $28 million budget managed to recoup only $11 million. Many felt that director Murch, while showing great eye for visual detail, failed to match it with a riveting story and despite some good elements it’s a misfire.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 21, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Walter Murch

Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, 

Shirley Thompson Versus the Aliens (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lonely girl meets spaceship.

Shirley Thompson (Jane Harders) is an alienated young adult living in 1956 Australia who one day makes contact with a group of aliens. It happens while her and her biker gang sneak into Luna Park after dark, which is a amusement place for children and when they go into after it’s closed they can go on the rides for free. It’s while doing this that Shirley sees a spaceship and starts communicating with it while the rest of the gang gets scared and leaves. The aliens within the ship tell her that they plan on invading earth and it’s up to her to warn the others of their intent, but if she does it right they’ll reward her with ‘power’, which is what she’s always wanted as she’s felt insignificant otherwise. The aliens then produce a massive rain storm that creates much damage and then the next day they interrupt a radio broadcast to proclaim what they’ve done, but no one believes them especially Shirley’s parents (Marion Jones, John Llewellyn) who thinks it’s a joke. Everyone else responds to Shirley’s alien warnings like she’s a kook, which ends up getting her committed to the mental institution where she then recounts her tale to a cynical staff.

This is the first feature length movie directed by Jim Sharman better known to American audiences for having helmed Rocky Horror Picture Show and to Australians for his work in experimental theater of which he is highly regarded. This film works in line with many of his other Avant Garde efforts where the emphasis is more on the imagery than the story. For mainstream audiences though it may be considered inaccessible as it bucks all areas of conventional storytelling including having it alternate between black and white and color with each scene. There’s also very little dialogue with the focus more on mood. The film does have its share of interesting moments, but how much one appreciates it is completely up to one’s own temperament.

I was struck by how similar the theme was to Sharman’s later film The Night, The Prowler with both movies dealing with an alienated young adult woman still living at home with her parents who feels that no one can understand her and has inner anger/disdain at the world around her. It also has shades of Liquid Skywhich came out 11 years later and dealt with a young woman who befriends some aliens, but instead of being scared of them like everyone else she has a special connection to them and feels as much like a stranger on this planet as they do.

If you’re looking for a typical sci-fi flick then you’ll be sorely disappointed as you won’t even end up seeing any aliens or spaceships. I’m not sure if this was due to budgetary restraints, but in any event the camera stays fully locked on Shirley and becomes more of a satire on life in the burbs and in that regard it succeeds. While not a perfect movie it does have its share of memorable moments especially the ending where Shirley gets strapped to a spinning hospital bed while laughing maniacally.  Why I found this part to be so cool I don’t know, but that’s how the movie works. You either go with the flow or you don’t, but those who are game may find it a fun ride. It’s certainly different than anything you’ll find released today and could only have been made in the early 70’s.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 6, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 11 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jim Sharman

Studio: Kolossal Piktures

Available: None

The Night Digger (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Handyman holds dark secret.

Maura (Patricia Neal) is the repressed daughter of Edith (Pamela Brown) who both reside in a large gothic mansion. Maura has never married and completely controlled by her overbearing mother, but feels she has no way of getting out of it. One day Billy (Nicholas Clay) rides in on his motorcycle looking for work. He wants to be the resident handyman. Maura declines to hire him, but is overridden by her mother. Soon Billy is living at the mansion with the other two and helping out by fixing things when he can, but Billy is tormented by his tortuous past, which leads to a twisted conclusion.

The film is based on the novel ‘Nest in a Fallen Tree’ by Joy Crowley that was adapted into a screenplay by Roald Dahl who at the time was married to Neal. I’ve never read the novel, but feel it must assuredly have more context particularly with Billy, than what you get here. The plot certainly has some intriguing elements, but it all gets lost with the poorly defined characters. For instance there’s several flashbacks shot in black-and-white showing Billy being tormented by a group of women, but no explanation for who these women were or why they were doing it, or why Billy was got caught up in that situation to begin with. Without more of a backstory the plot and people in it don’t mean as much and the film becomes transparent.

I did though like the directing by Alastair Reid, which is the one thing that holds it together. He makes great use of shadows and darkness and the brief scenes of Billy’s attack on women have a chilly visual effect. I also loved the setting shot at Oakley Court, which is a large stately mansion built in 1859 and now used as a hotel. The scene where Maura goes searching for Billy in his room and opens up what you think is a closet door, but instead is just a gateway that leads to three other rooms shows just how immense the place was, which though does prove to be a bit problematic if you think about it. Why would these two lonely women live in such a large place and if they aren’t rich, which Edith states in the scene where Maura serves them steak dinner, which  she states they ‘can’t afford’ then where did they find the money to own such a large place and maintain it?

The acting by Brown and Clay is good and some interesting bits by Graham Crowden in a supporting role, but Neal seems miscast. I realize she got the part because she was married to the screenwriter, but she looks almost as old as Brown, who plays her adoptive mother, but in reality there was only a 9 year age difference. Her character, like with Billy’s, is not fleshed-out enough making her actions more confusing than revealing like when she despises Billy’s presence at one point only to suddenly throw herself at him the next.

The ending is disappointing. I sat through this wondering what the twist was going to be, but there really isn’t any and it just leaves more questions than answers. Apparently Bernard Herrmann, who was hired to do the music, disliked the ending immensely and this was the first thing out of his mouth when he sat in to screen the film. He even threatened not do the soundtrack unless it was changed, but after arguing with Dahl he eventually caved, but personally I wished he had gotten his way.

Alternate Title: The Road Builder

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 25, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alistair Reid

Studio: MGM-EMI

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

The Conformist (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to fit-in.

Marcello (Jean Louis Trintignant) is living in Italy during WWII and a member of the fascist secret police. He longs to be a part of acceptable society and partaking in the conventions of what he believes is a normal life including settling down and getting married even if it’s to a woman Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli) that he doesn’t really love. He gets ordered to assassinate Quadri (Enzo Tarascio) who was one of his professors back in college, but who has now been deemed an anti-fascist by the government.  Marcello uses the guise of his honeymoon as an excuse to travel with Giulia to Paris in order to carry out his mission. However, once there he begins to have feelings for the professor’s wife Anna (Dominique Sanda) and becomes unable to carry out the assignment despite being aware that Anna is only using him to get to Giulia, which is who she truly desires.

This film became a benchmark in Bernardo Bertullici’s career and was his first box office success that allowed him the ability to go on and direct even bigger  classics such as The Last Tango in Paris and 1900.  While the visuals are impressively stylistic I do agree with many critics that too much emphasis is placed on the sets, that gives it an almost over-the-top kitschy feel, while drowning out the story, which is handled in a more subtle way, in the process. The plot is still captivating, but a good movie should have a nice balance and as critic Gene Siskel stated in his review it’s more of a ‘show than a story’ and reviewer Keven Thomas labeled it a ‘bravura style Fellini’, which I consider to be a very accurate description.

The story is based on the 1951 novel of the same name by Alberto Moravia, but apparently Bertolucci had never read it when he pitched the idea to Paramount and managed to wow the studio execs into loving the idea simply by relying on the the description of the story giving to him by his then-girlfriend who had read it. When he finally did read it he did so while writing it into a screenplay at the same time.

There are many differences though between the source novel and the film with the movie leaving out a lot of Marcello’s childhood backstory that I felt was needed. The book examines Marcello’s penchant for killing lizards and even the neighbor’s cat as well as his witnessing his father’s abusing of his mother and the vandalization of a family photograph, which the film doesn’t touch on. The book also gets into more detail about why Marcello is tormented by his classmates where in the film we see Marcello being harassed, but it’s never made clear why.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending gets changed too. In the book Marcello has an interesting philosophical debate with Lino, a chauffer who sexually abused him as a child, but this conversation is left out of the movie. Marcello also, along with his wife and child, gets gunned down while driving in their car, but surprisingly the movie doesn’t have this part either. You would think that they would since action makes for a good visual, and I’m not sure for the reason why it was left out/revised except that Bertolucci may have feared it would be too similar to the finale in Bonnie and Clyde and didn’t want to seem like he was replicating that one.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall despite these deviations I still found it impactful particularly the ambush scene on a lonely road, which was the one thing that I remembered about the movie after having not seen in for several decades. The strong performances help too especially Trintignant’s brooding portrayal though being French born he spoke his lines phonetically without knowing what they meant and then later had them dubbed by Sergio Graziani in post production. The two lead actresses are splendid too and although the parts were originally offered to the more famous Brigitte Bardot and Anouk Aimee I felt it came off better with the then unknowns particularly Sandrelli who’s energetic and almost child-like at the beginning only to behave like jaded, middle-aged woman by the conclusion.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Death in Venice (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Man obsesses over boy.

Based on the Thomas Mann novel of the same name, the story centers around Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) a composer in the decline of his career and suffering from ill health. To recuperate he travels to the Grand Hotel des Bains in Venice, Italy, but finds his relaxation cut short when he becomes infatuated with Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen) a 15-year-old Polish boy who’s staying with his family. Gustav can’t seem to keep his eyes or mind off of him, but never physically approaches the teen or makes any attempt to communicate with him. While his fixation grows so does the cholera epidemic that is gripping the city, which may end up taking both of their lives.

Like with most of director Luchino Visconti’s films the pace may be too slow for some viewers, but I found it to be fascinating right from the get-go. One of the aspects that really stood out is Visconti’s ability to recreate a period atmosphere. Nothing seems stilted or rehearsed. Visconti wisely pulls the camera back and allows things to happen naturally. The people in the background don’t seem like film extras at all, but real people going about there lives that Bogarde just happens to be in. It’s also really cool that it was shot at the Grand Hotel des Bains where author Mann stayed in 1911 when the real incident that the story is based on occurred.

I liked too that Gustav does not play-out is mental fantasies and remains at a comfortable distance from the boy at all times. Too many other movies give off this impression that everyone who obsesses over somebody else immediately goes after the person they’re attracted to when in reality many don’t. For some they realize things would never work out with whoever they’re attracted to as well as the legal ramifications, or because of the fear of rejection they prefer to keep it at a fantasy level. While they may still figuratively stalk the person, or observe them intently, it never goes beyond this point. In fact the ones that do aggressively go after their target are more the exception than the rule although in the movie world you’d think the opposite was true, so it’s nice to have at least one film that takes this topic in a different direction.

The fact that its based on a true story that Mann eventually fictionalized in his novel makes it all the more interesting. According to Mann’s wife Katia in a 1974 memoir she describes how her husband kept staring at a young boy he saw at the hotel whom she described at being 13 and was portrayed in the movie as being 15, but in reality was only 11. She stated that he kept gazing at the boy the whole time and always thought about him during their vacation.

The actual source of Mann’s attraction was later discovered to be Baron Wladyslaw Moes who was on vacation with his three sisters and had no idea that he was being observed. In fact Moes only became aware that he’d been the inspiration for the book when he saw the film upon its released in 1971. The biggest irony is that Moes looked nothing like the Tadzio character in the movie as evidenced by the below photo of him (blue circle) taken in 1911 the same year as when Mann spotted him.

The biggest issue that I had was seeing Tadzio making eye contact with Gustav like he’s aware that he’s being watched. Initially when I saw this in the theaters many years ago I took this eye contact thing to being a point-of-view fantasy of Gustav, but upon second viewing it seems the intention was different. Personally I don’t like this idea because at the age of 15 I don’t believe the teen would’ve been able to handle this behavior from an older man and would’ve either confronted him about it, or told someone else. Maybe if Tadzio had been older, like in his 20’s, and use to being seen as an object then maybe, but since he was so young this would’ve been all new to him and thus making him very uncomfortable very quickly and causing him to ultimately unravel.

Andresen’s performance is rather poor to boot. There were other good looking young actors who could’ve easily played the part in a more interesting way, but apparently Visconti was looking for a very specific type of look, but Andresen  appears uncomfortable throughout and has stated in interviews that his experience on the set was not a happy one. Bogarde in turn does quite well as he’s able to create a riveting performance despite having very little dialogue.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 5, 1971

Runtime: 2 Hours 10 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Luchino Visconti

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

American Gigolo (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Male escort gets framed.

Julian (Richard Gere) works as a male escort in the Los Angeles area servicing affluent female clients, which allows him to drive expensive cars and live in a luxury apartment. He even gets into a relationship with Michelle (Lauren Hutton) a senator’s wife, but just as everything seems to be going his way it comes crashing down when he gets accused of murder, which he didn’t commit. His only alibi is Michelle who he was in bed with that night, but she is reluctant to come forward fearing it will tarnish both her reputation and that of her politically ambitious husband (Brian Davies).

The film’s chief asset is Gere’s performance who puts a gritty edge in a film that is otherwise quite shallow. His character though is blah as we learn little about him, which I found frustrating. Male prostitution is not a profession most men get into, so why does Julian? Having a backstory dealing with his upbringing and showing his relationship with his family could’ve helped us better understand his motivations, but none is ever shown leaving us with a character that may look sexy, but is otherwise an empty shell that is neither interesting nor memorable.

The film offers no insights into the sex profession either. I kept wondering how he was always able to ‘get-up for the occasion’ with all of his clients especially when a lot of them were older women who were not all that attractive. Many male actors working in the adult film business will admit to taking Viagra or some other drug to guarantee an erection on cue. They also have women working behind-the-scenes as ‘fluffers’ who will give male performers a hand-job/oral sex, so when it’s time for his scene he’s erect, but Julian doesn’t have any of these things, so what’s his secret? The film makes it look like he can get-it-up on demand, which in reality I don’t think would always be the case.

I was also disappointed when Julian is told by the husband (Tom Stewart) of one of his clients to get rough with her by slapping her and Julian turns around with a shocked expression, but then the scene immediately cuts away without seeing what happened. I felt this was a crucial moment that needed to be played-out and it would’ve helped us understand Julian better by seeing how he responds to demands that he’s uncomfortable with. The film most likely cutaway because seeing him slap a woman would’ve made him unlikable to the viewer, but if he’s the type of person who will compromise his ethics to make money then we need to know this, or if he returns the money and walks away we need to see this as well.

Julian’s relationship with Michelle is ridiculous and unbelievable. Why would a guy who’s been to bed with hundreds of different women suddenly decide to fall-in-love with this one and why would a woman, who’s otherwise living a comfortable lifestyle, allow herself to fall for a man whose profession won’t allow him to be faithful to her? It doesn’t help either that Hutton gives a horribly wooden performance and it would’ve been far better had Julie Christie, who was the original choice for the role, played the part

The mystery angle is somewhat intriguing, but the wrap-up gets botched by suddenly instituting long pauses between scenes in which the screen goes completely black and silent for several seconds, which is jarring since this was not done at any earlier time and only helps to cement how over-the-top Paul Schrader’s directing is. Had more effort been put into character development instead of flashy lighting/camera angles we would’ve had a more interesting movie.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Schrader

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Angst (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Madman attacks peaceful family.

A serial killer (Erwin Leder) gets released from prison despite still having the urge to kill. He initially tries to strangle a female cab driver (Renate Kastelik), but she throws him out of her car before he can do it. He then goes running through the woods until he comes upon an isolated home. He breaks into it and kills each of the three family members living there one-by-one before eventually taking their lifeless bodies with him in the trunk of his car while he drives aimlessly around Austria.

This film is based on the real-life Austrian case of Werner Kniesek who murdered a family of three in their home on January 16, 1980 shortly after being released from prison. In that case Werner had known one of the victims previously while the movie its portrayed as if the killer has no connection to the occupants at all. In the actual crime Werner also killed the family’s cat where in the movie the pet is a dog, which the killer not only allows to live, but eventually befriends.

I’ve spent years complaining how most horror films aren’t very realistic, so I suppose I really can’t complain when one finally does decide to go all-in with graphic realism and not spare anything. The film certainly succeeds in being like a grisly true-life crime, but in the process it’s not very scary either. You know right from the start where it’s going, which makes the eventual violence come off as agonizingly drawn out and pointless. It’s like footage caught on a closed-circuit camera where you have no emotional bond with the people or action and when it’s over you’re left feeling drained and ambivalent.

Many people have praised the innovative camera work, which is provocative and some have even compared this to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but that film was more compelling in the way the main character was able to entice regular people to help him with his crimes while here there is virtually no dialogue or character arcs. There’s basically no story either just a graphic dramatization of a random crime that gets excessively drawn-out.

Leder is excellent and I liked how he portrays his character as being nervous, anxious and perpetually frightened as opposed to the stereotypical way of showing psychos who are robotically cold and relentlessly evil.  His voice-over narration allows for moments of insight too particularly when, as he is killing his victims, his thoughts are instead focused on past wrongs that were inflicted onto him from years ago by others, which made me believe this could very well be the thought pattern of most killers who selfishly remain fixated on their own personal injustices even as they callously destroy others.

The acting by the supporting cast is impressive too not so much from what they emote since they’re given very little to say or do, but more with the way they sacrificed  their bodies for the project particularly when the killer drags their lifeless corpses over broken glass (no mannequins or dummies were used) and down several flights of stairs. I also loved the dog and in fact he’s the highlight that allows for moments of levity and even comic relief in an otherwise unrelentingly grim film that will appeal only to a select group of people.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 2, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes, 1Hour 15Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Not Rated

Director: Gerald Kargl

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Possession (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: His wife goes crazy.

Mark (Sam Neill) is shocked to learn that his happy marriage isn’t so happy when his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) asks for a divorce. He hires a detective (Carl Duering) where he learns that she is living in an apartment, but she is not alone as something else resides there with her and it’s not human.

This was sadly the only English language film directed by Ukrainian born Andrzej Zulawksi who did most of his movies in Poland. This one was made in Germany in 1980 and what struck me almost immediately is that it seems like it could’ve been done just yesterday as it institutes much of the hand-held camerawork that is so prevalent in films today, but still quite rare back then. Sometimes I find this technique annoying and overdone, but here it helps build the plot’s kinetic energy and accentuates the material’s off-kilter tone.

The gifted Adjani is the main attraction particularly the drawn out scene where she becomes possessed while inside an underground subway, which has to be seen to be believed and quite frankly a landmark moment in cinema.  I also loved how the director focuses in on her expressive blue eyes where in one scene they convey a fiery evil and then quickly cuts to them exposing a pleading emotion that remains just as captivating.

Sam Neill makes the viewer feel almost exhausted as he manifests the feelings of his character to the point that he looks both physically and emotionally drained and his acting becomes indistinguishable from genuine raw emotions. I have seen him many films before, but here he’s like a different person and not connected to the man we’ve seen or known before.

There’s definitely some over-the-top moments, but what I really liked is how it never forgets about the little details either. I’ve complained before about how blood in most movies looks fake, but here it has just the right reddish hue, which looks more authentic as does the scene where Neill slaps Adjani violently. I also appreciated how the child character (Michael Hogben) is never forgotten. Too many other films dealing with a fighting couple introduce the child up front, but then he essentially disappears as it becomes all about the adults, but parenthood is a 24-hour job that parents can’t just forget about even when it’s inconvenient and this film nicely reminds both the viewer and characters of that.

The more the film went on the more convinced I became of how it could never have been made in the US as there’s too much of an emphasis on making movies ‘marketable’ and genre specific while this film defies all the preconceived formulas, which is why it’s so cool as you have absolutely no idea where it’s going and each new twist is a genuine surprise. Despite being almost 40 years old it remains fresh and inventive and far more original than 99 % of the other movies out there. It’s like a drug trip where after it’s over you feel like you’ve lived through an actual event.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 25, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours 7Minutes

Rated R

Director: Andrzej Zulawski

Studio: Gaumont

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2)

Clownhouse (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Clowns terrorize three kids.

Three brothers (Nathan Forrest Winters, Brian McHugh, Sam Rockwell) find themselves alone late one night in their big house when their parents are away on business. They try to scare each other by telling spooky stories involving clowns, but little do they know that three mental patients (Michael Jerome West, Byron Weible, David C. Reinecker) have escaped from a nearby insane asylum. They kill some men working as clowns at a local circus and then disguised as clowns themselves sneak inside the home where the boys reside and try to kill them.

This film has become better known for what went on behind-the-scenes as writer/director Victor Salva was convicted of having sex with the 12-year-old star Winters (no relation) during the production and ended up serving 15 months of his 3-year prison sentence at which point he was then released and has since gone back to filmmaking. To some extent even without having known this one could almost suspect that idea because, like in the movie Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom where the director featured a lot of underage nudity only to later be convicted of a similar charge, this filmmaker does the same thing by opening the movie with the boys walking around in their underwear and at one brief point capturing the young star’s naked behind, which was not needed and comes off as intentional voyeurism.

If you can get beyond the production’s notorious backstory then as a horror movie it’s not too bad as Salva shows a good ability at building a creepy, surreal-like atmosphere particularly the scenes done at the circus and then later at the large, ominous house. The only problem is that the setting is supposed to be a couple of weeks before Halloween even though all the leaves on the trees are green, which doesn’t exactly resemble fall.

The plot though is weak and it would’ve worked better had it not given away who these men in the clown costumes were until the very end, or maybe not at all. Having lunatic characters escape from a mental hospital is generic and it would’ve been more intriguing had the viewer suspected these clown as being a part of the child’s imagination instead.

Despite the short runtime the pace still bogs down with a premise that builds too slowly and drags out the suspense longer than need be. The mental patients behave more like professional clown performers and never even say anything once their make-up is applied, which is not believable and all the more reason for the film to have taken a surreal turn by portraying the clowns as figments of the boy’s imagination who have inexplicably come to life.

Ultimately it plays itself out too soon and lacks any type of final twist. Winters appears to be the same age as McHugh who was playing his older brother and at age 12 behaved more like a 6-year-old making me feel the the part should’ve been given to a younger performer. It is however fun seeing Sam Rockwell in his film debut and still looking very much like an adolescent.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 28, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 21Minutes

Rated R

Director: Victor Salva

Studio: Zoetrope Studios

Available: DVD