Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Blood Tide (1982)
--- horror

Dir: Richard Jefferies

Yeah, here we have a film that looks like a rich movie producer was vacationing in the Greek islands and found some other actors and actresses also vacationing there in a hotel and decided to put something together. There are a lot of films done like that, that in Hollywood are called “in-between projects” from major stars that have some time and money want to keep their skills up. The really sad part is, the idea of the story is pretty straight forward and actually would be better in better director’s hands, like say Steven Speilberg. Let’s face it, it’s a Jaws rip-off, right along with a slew of films at the time like Orca, and Piranha.

The story involves Neil Grice (played by a post Last House on the Left Martin Kove and pre Kobra Kai sensei John Kreese from the Karate Kid) and his newlywed wife visiting Greece to search for his wayward sister Madeline. They come to an island wary of strangers, and an older villager (played by venerable Jose Ferrer) reluctant to help the couple, but only advise them to leave and search other islands. They by chance find Madeline with a selfish boozy expatriate American treasure hunter named Frye (portrayed by James Earl Jones) and his sun-kissed flighty blonde girlfriend Barbara. Madeline has taken refuge at the local monastery where she paints, makes archeological discoveries, and appears to be somewhat mentally distant.

When Frye goes diving one night, he accidentally unearths a centuries old fathomable beast and as you can guess, the villagers know all too well about it. They begin to ritualistically sacrifice young virgin girls into the sea for the creature. When Barbara comes up missing on a swim, and is soon found later in pieces along the beach shore by Frye and some children, the gang attempt to figure out what’s going on. Little do they know, it is Madeline who has a connection with the dark secret of this islands legendary monster.

This is one of those movies I used to enjoy wasting time on a sleepy summer afternoon, or on USA’s Up All Night block. It is mindless entertainment, though the entertainment value of Blood Tide is few and far between.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

E tu vivrai nel terrore – L’aldila (The Beyond aka Seven Doors of Death) (1981)
ITALY --- horror

Dir: Lucio Fulci

If you love gore, “The Beyond” will be right up your alley. It literally goes from one sequence of buckets of blood gore to another, cause the plot and the characters are nothing but accessories for this grind house flick. The late great Italian horror director, Lucio Fulci, helmed this horrific tale of the macabre set in the U.S. – New Orleans, Louisiana to be exact. It’s said to be his best film as he weaves a metaphysical yet surreal exploration into horror the likes that no other film I’ve seen has attempted to achieve. But studying film, and researching Fulci’s explanation for it, I found he had a method to this madness. He claims the film is meant to have no logic but simply is to convey a series of images. It’s also said that the works of surrealist artist Antonin Artaud inspired Fulci, and it’s clear he achieved this too.

The film opens in 1927, where we are witness to the sepia toned account of a lynch mob about to hang a warlock. Honestly though, in New Orleans, this isn’t far-fetched. A young woman named Emily finds the 4000-year-old Book of Eibon. They storm into a hotel, where the warlock is holed up in room 36 painting bodies strewn out over a desolate landscape. The mob takes the guy to the basement where they beat him within an inch of his life, crucify him to the wall, and just to make sure he’s dead, douse him with some quicklime.

In the present (circa 1980‘s), a blonde New Yorker named Liza Merril is in town to fix up her inherited hotel, with the help of two shady innkeepers on board. Things almost immediately go awry, as the first of many strange incidents in the film happens with a painter falling off scaffolding, from seeing a woman with opaque eyes. He goes off to the hospital, and soon a plumber joins the dead (or soon to be undead) as he goes off to the swampy basement to fix piping and is attacked by a zombie within the walls. He gets off easy in his death sequence, with a simple tearing out of the eye. Later, at the hospital, Dr. John McCabe and his partner examine the bodies of he and the zombie, and realize, something unnatural is going on.

Meanwhile, Liza runs into the mysterious Emily on the famous elongated Ponchatrain Bridge. She has strange opaque pupils, a Seeing Eye dog (named Dickie), and looking not a day over 28. Emily takes Liza to her house, where she warns her give up the hotel and leave for her own good. She later reveals to Liza the whole truth of the hotel, the fact that the hotel was built over one of the seven gateways to hell. This leads Liza and Dr. McCabe to investigate as they discover Emily was no liar, and the strange deaths are no coincidence, when the undead begin to rise.

The film just features awesome special effects in that department. The final hospital sequence (which was only put in the film to appease German audiences for their love of zombies) is pretty impressive and worth the watch. Complete with a nice mix of action, suspense, gore, and snail-paced decrepit stalking zombies. But Fulci peppers the entire film with the FX, from a man being eaten alive by tarantulas, to a widow being burned away from acid. Fulci really is an Italian master filmmaker, utilizing, it seems aesthetics and trademarks of the country’s best directors. Bava’s use of color cinematography is in here. There’s also young redheaded girl who could easily be a part of the Irish clan killed in Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. Director pet, Catriona MacColl seems a blonde double for Argento’s use of Suspiria star Jill Harper. David Warbeck quickly comes off as a wincey Eastwood impressionist, but certainly favors 70’s B-movie actor Robert Forrester more than Eastwood. All in all, Fulci’s “The Beyond” is a pretty good B-grade horror flick, much better than the stuff out nowadays, though it is a predecessor for the gore-porn genre. Giallo maestro, Fulci seems to be a pure Italian filmmaker, as he once stated that Italy’s films attempt pure themes without plot, and judging most spaghetti westerns and such, this can be seen as truth. “The Beyond” is atmospheric, ambiguous, and much gorier than anyone can imagine.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Thief of Bagdad (1940)
UK --- fantasy

Dir: Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, Tim Whelan, William Cameron Menzies, Alexander Korda, Zoltan Korda

Myth and folklore is part of what is ingrained in every human psyche. The storytelling process to explain how the sun came to be, to analyze animals instinctive behavior, and to marvel at human nature’s timeless desires and fears. All of our cultures have and always will attempt to explain the curiosities of the world and the universe, and many of them will overlap from time to time.

Many centuries ago, dated approximately 9th century, the Middle East would record their own myths, many of which derived from the ancient scrolls of the Mesopotamia and early writings of the Hebrew Bible. The Arabic world which included Egypt and India, did collect stories that have been passed down from time to time, what many nowadays might call fables or even urban legends. These tales eventually became collected in a groundbreaking hodgepodge collection by French author Antoine Galland in 1704 in what we call The Thousand and One Nights or sometimes 1001 Arabian Nights, translated to English language by Sir Richard Francis Burton. I actually did read this book, but never finished it. It is highly voluminous, and deep, because there are different editions out there and most are not complete but abridged. These stories told by a captive maiden named Scheherazade for her own survival included the classic adventures of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp, and The Seven Voyages of Sinbad.

The 1940 film 'The Thief of Bagdad' is a grand remake of the Hollywood silent film of the same name which starred Douglas Fairbanks Jr. produced by Alexander Korda. The story borrows a page (or couple of pages) from Ali Baba and Aladdin with young king Ahmad and his thief sidekick Abu (played by Jungle Book’s Sabu). The king is coerced by his grand vizier to go out in disguise as a commoner to know his people. Jaffar has him arrested and thrown in jail. There Ahmad meets the thief Abu, as they escape and cavort around Bagdad stealing scraps of food, until the king falls for the beautiful princess of the Sultan of Basra. When they infiltrate the Sultan’s palace and caught by the nefarious wizard Jaffar (played excellently by legendary silent film star Conrad Veidt), the prince is struck with blindness and Abu is transformed into a scruffy dog. After the Sultan is murdered, and Jafar cast as spell on the unknowing princess to wed her, Ahmad and Abu must rescue the princess from the clutches of the Sultan’s evil grand vizier, Jaffar.

This version was filmed in glorious Technicolor and is credited with several directors which included Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, William Cameron Menzies, and even had a contribution from the producer himself Alexander Korda. Korda also elevated the visual effects in the film with early blue screen processes, trick photography, and mesmerizing set designs. The film also features many spectacular action sequences with a giant spider, a flying horse, and the inspired performance of Rex Ingram (an African American actor known from Cabin in the Sky who would also star in another Arabian Nights fantasy film A Thousand and One Nights) as a cunning Djinni in a bottle discovered by Abu. It is not difficult to see this film has had a impression on some of our great directors of today, including Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Francis Ford Coppola to say the least. The Thief of Bagdad will take anyone on a fantasy adventure suitable for everyone in the family.