Tenebrae (1982)

Posted in reviews, Uncategorized on July 3, 2015 by ramey

Tenebrae, a title well-known to basically anyone familiar with Giallo, horror, slasher, or any euro-horror films. This is one of the big 10 of films that you find out about as part of your horror education, beyond what was available piece-meal in a video rental place in your youth. Maybe I’m universalizing my own experience, but still, this Dario Argento helmed piece is one of the seminal films in his ouevre and a key for anyone interested in Giallo as a genre. Point being, that this is a well-known quantity for horror fans.

Tenebrae has been talked about almost <i>ad nauseum</i>. While I doubt that I have much to add to any discussion on the film. I would like to discuss some recent thoughts that I’ve been entertaining on my Xth number recent viewing.

First, this is one of the first Giallos that I saw where the genre conventions became radically visible. This is the first film that I remember seeing and knowing that this is an entry in a <i>genre</i> (clearly not chronologically an *important* genre entry, nor even empirically early in the Giallo genre’s life-cycle). What I’m getting at is that this isĀ  merely that it is one of the clearly generic Giallo pictures that are now easily-visible in the ‘canon’. Tenebrae is almost at the point where the quality of the movie is almost overshadowed by the quality of the soundtrack, which is my favorite of the Goblin-era soundtracks, which is really saying something from someone who bought the 3 disc Suspira just because it came with the soundtrack disc…

Second, my interpretation is that this is actually a schizophrenic picture, Schizophrenic, here, is intended to convey its double-mind. Should I even bother to give a spoiler-warning?

This is a movie about the mystery, absences, silences, and hidden depths of a mind that ontologically cannot know itself. Tenebrae concerns the horror/mystery novelist whose fictional and aspirational world is both a representation of themselves as they are, but also as they wish to be.

Viewers, however, derive our mystery from the basic fact that we cannot know the active part of the author’s mind, In fact, we experience most of the film from a mix of perspectives, but we derive the primary tension from the way that the murderous part of Peter Neal’s world. Hints of our mixture of outsider and insider nature are apparent throughout. One that I have come to love is the well-loved shot that tracks the outside of the lesbian women’s house, moving over and around, a voyeur’s dream, but is punctuated by the eruptions of first-person murder. This mixture of voyeur, as a viewer, and the camera-as-murderer’s-eyes makes it clear that we are situated into the Peter Neal world reality. We are both that which causes the murder to happen, perhaps indicting us as viewers for (re)causing the murders with every viewing, and we are also powerless bystanders to the violence.

Tenebrae should stand out as a film that cements the trope that the viewer is both the cause of violence, and powerless to prevent its accomplishment. The split mind here is also the viewer’s interest in seeing the murders happen, the charge that one feels in watching the black gloves reap victims is also our interest in seeing the killer stopped, being the re-territorialized voyeurism that propels Giallos generally.

Highly recommended.


Forbidden Zone

Posted in reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2008 by ramey

Forbidden Zone (1980). Dir. Richard Elfman.

I had no idea. Having never heard of this film before I got the chance to see it was by far the best experience of my entire week. I still am not quite sure how to describe the experience of watching the movie, I mean it’s easy enough to cite some of the influences like Cab Calloway, early Fleischer cartoons, German Expressionism like Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, etc. But, that doesn’t convey the ways that this movie, in all its awkward fucked up splendor, caught ahold of my brain.

It’s like being tuned into a new reality, a totally new way of thinking. It’s the kind of place you’d love to visit, but not live. This is a film OBSESSED with the reality of artifice. From the flat cardboard sets to the semi-clad actresses, to the glaring fakeness of make-up, to the animated sequences that blend non-chalantly with the cartoonish ‘reality’.

This is the film that every ‘cult’ film wants to be, every off-kilter musical, every trashy gender-subversive John Waters wannabe, every syncretic pop-kitschual is just dying to inhabit this film’s vomit-bag.

I suggest if you’ve ever wanted MORE weirdness when watching Little Shop of Horrors, or the Rocky Horror Picture Show, or for the characters of Jodorowsky’s El Topo to break into song instead of into ritual, then this is your final destination.

Rent this film, ignore the detractors, ignore the cover art, ignore the OINGO BOINGO, ignore the Herve Villachez, ignore your taste, ignore that alarm bell ringing *racism*, *racism*, because these are beside the point. This is image, this is childhood shredded on the razors of adolescence, this is the disruption of difference by taking it into extremity. Why do you feel uncomfortable?


Posted in reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2008 by ramey

Society (1989). Dir. Brian Yuzna.

This film is vastly underrated and should be placed on the ‘to watch’ list of anyone who loves the over the top effects and general atmosphere of Re-Animator (Produced by Yuzna). Society is Yuzna’s directorial debut and apart from some pacing issues and an at times incomprehensible plot, this film is by far the best lesser known splattery ’80s horror goodie that you’ve never seen. I would put it above the recently re-released Street Trash as far as watchability goes.

The climax of the film is one of the best body-horror moments since Cronenberg’s Videodrome, and well worth at least a rental. That is if you can find it at your local video store at all.

Yuzna’s predeliction for bodily fluidity is again foregrounded, just check out his earlier work with Stuart Gordon like From Beyond, and in fact delivers more on-screen goo and weirdness than Re-Animator and From Beyond combined! And don’t forget the fracturing of sexuality that must accompany all of this dismemberment/dislocation of body boundaries, this film just leaves no staple of ’80s weird horror on the cutting room floor.

So, if you’ve ever thought that the rich were radically different than us poor media-sotted peons just wait until you see just how different they really are.

Terminal USA, Idi Amin Dada

Posted in reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2008 by ramey

Terminal USA (1993). Dir. Jon Moritsugu.

Fractured punkrock drug abusing Asian-American sitcom. That’s not actually a complete sentence, but somehow better captures the fragmentary insanity of the film than a well-composed grammatical sentence.

Moritsugu (director of a number of scuzzy, punk, degenerate, not to mention awesome, films like Hippy Porn and Mod Fuck Explosion) creates a world where musical cues are subverted, the tinny sitcom music and laugh track that accompany the familial encounters between drug addict mother, moral burn-out and degenerate younger son, closeted gay older son, all-american dad (complete with John Wayne-ish gunplay!), and slutty social climber sister.

The story (such as it is) takes place over what is most likely one day in the black hole lives of an Asian-American family. Wielding the building blocks of situational comedy like a bat with nails driven through it, dialogue is delivered stilted and unevenly. Devoid of positive emotion the family seethes with the terminal disease of american-ism: insane desire for success/pleasure, the approval of society at the expense of authentic emotion, and the propensity to implosive self-destruction in the guise of individuality.

This film is about flaws, flaws in life, expectations, sex, drugs, and relations between humans. Highly recommended.

General Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait (1974). Dir. Barbet Schroeder.

This documentary feels like 2/3 of a complete doc, but nonetheless incredibly artful and chillingly allows the General to make much of the case against himself. What is missing is a complete and contexted picture of Uganda, the critical voice of the filmmaker feels tacked on; incomplete and incapable of competing with the interview footage.

The music, performed at least partly by the General himself, is a standout aspect of the film.

This film would be a monolithic success at 50 minutes, or paired with another more traditional doc on Idi Amin.

All in all a crushingly emotive trip, even when the filmmakers cannot restrain themselves and let certain sequences play for far too long (see the scene of General Amin describing the wildlife on the river-boat). What I would have liked is a more complete critical and incisive eye towards the overall shape of the documentary on the part of the filmmakers. It would have made all the difference, along with creating a greater presence in their own subject… I felt like I could always see the shadow of the filmmakers themselves, but their voice is only present in the negative space; when truly their placement needed to be far more foregrounded. The voices that sometimes pass from beyond the edges of the frame deserves to be contextualized in just the same manner as the ostensible subject of the documentary itself.

Bullet Ballet

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on August 8, 2008 by ramey

Bullet Ballet (2008). Dir. Shinya Tsukamoto.

Bullet Ballet begins with a death with after-effects that reverberate throughout the rest of the film. Tsukamoto, who wrote, directed, and played the lead, has created a film about splits, breaks, and the hidden areas of personality. Goda’s (Tsukamoto) fiance commits suicide with a Chief’s Special revolver, the possession of which is a feat that Goda spends much of the middle act trying to recreate.

The film is filled with hollow spaces. Narratively speaking much of the backstory is omitted, glossed over, or unexplained. It is obvious that much has gone on between the punks, masochistic Chisato, and Goda, such that narrative emptiness is braced by thematic emptiness. There is also the space left by the bullet in the bathroom window, echoing void left by Goda’s fiance, and most of all the vacant imperatives by which the characters live their lives.

Beautifully shot and sonically well-developed, most especially in the first 30 minutes, I would highly recommend that this film make it onto a ‘to see’ list. Just don’t expect a Miike-style bloodbath. The film is not devoid of violence, but it just isn’t the focus. As the film implies there is a dance, an old kind of dance between a man who wants to die and the bullet that he imagines will grant him succor.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Posted in reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2008 by ramey

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008). Dir. Guillermo Del Toro.

So, for anyone with a super short attention span here’s the short version: I enjoyed the film enough to recommend it to everyone who likes any one of these things: Clockwork robots, fighting/fussin’/feudin’, Mignola (and a boat-load of other amazing designers) Monsters, well-choreographed fight scenes, Hellboy (the first movie), needlessly complex mechanical devices. It’s a great ride, with a extremely visual flare for design. Most, according to Guillermo Del Toro (who was in attendance at the opening here in Austin last night), of the effects were achieved with puppets/robots/physical effects. Only 10% digital? Fuck yeah.

I got the chance to go to the opening held in Austin’s own Alamo Drafthouse, Del Toro was there along with Mike Mignola and the affable physical actor Doug Jones. It was a stellar time, the movie was worth the wait (mainly sitting down while the guests volunteered to sign things for the audience), Universal did pay for all of the food for everyone in attendance (!?!) which was weird, but not unwelcome.

In any case, the film itself has all of the aspects which made me a fan of the original film, with the added benefit of being more naturally paced. There were some plot turns that were… not as interesting as they could have been, or a tad contrived, but on the whole the strong set-pieces and action scenes far out-weighed the clunkier sections.

It’s no art film, but it’s not intended to be, and so I suggest that everyone check it out this weekend when the crowds’ will make the experience all the better for laughing and ooh-ing and aah-ing at the right times. (all movies are better in a good crowd, obviously).

Indiana Jones and the something about a Crystal Skull

Posted in reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2008 by ramey

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Dir. Steven Spielberg.

So, this is going to be a critical discussion of the film. You might want to interpret that as an indicator that I didn’t like the film very much. And in that, you would be correct. However, before I start enumerating all of the aspects of the film that I didn’t like, I might as well mention that the film succeeds in its major purpose, i.e. keeping you in a seat until the end of the film, and taking your money.

It’s hard for me to choose a starting point, a point of purchase amongst the talus slope of the movie’s failings compared to what I expect from an adventure film. There’s a lot of lack here. The major problem that I have might be properly laid at the feet of the script, an utterly soulless piece of fluff if there ever was one. Although, knowing that awful scripts have been made into amazing films (or even just amazingly entertaining films) leads me to the conclusion that there were a number of factors contributing to the feeling that nagged me during most of the film’s runtime. That is, that every obvious part of the original series returns, but in trappings only. Whatever concatenation of pulp action-adventure, swashbuckling serial, and historical blender that made the earlier films so appealing (and unabashedly fun) to audiences is missing in Crystal Skull. In aping the earlier films this one has managed to lose the heart of the film, the humanly appealing aspects have been eclipsed by mediocre CG effects, ridiculous casting choices, and stupid plot-twists.

I am most offended, amongst these, with the casting. From Shia LeBouef, whose smug face and smarmy uninflected acting are a blight on good taste, to Cate Blanchett, accomplished but wrong for the part, at least half of the cast seems aggressively cast for their name. It’s always been sad that names and gimmicks have eclipsed good filmmaking, at this point it’s almost not worth mentioning, so common has it become.

Just briefly, I’d like to also point out how rushed the last part of the movie feels. The choice made to fill the first act with an extended contexting of the late 50s and the Cold War just feels tedious. And, the unintended consequence is that none of the rest of the film seems earned, just cribbed from the earlier movies without any regard as to why the ‘formula’ worked so well the first few times.

All this from someone who idolizes the insanity of Italian genre filmmakers, Hollywood you’re going to have to start trying harder. And not trying harder to get my money, but just make a good film and I’ll see it as many times as I can afford to, and then I’ll buy the DVD, and the 10th anniversary DVD, etc. I’m an easy mark, I just happen to have taste. Maybe some industry head will get bored and read this. Here’s to hoping.