This is a cut-and-paste of a Facebook note I published on November 18, 2007. I soon will be embarking on a similar binge with $100 store credit at I Luv Video, a video store which puts Four Star Video to shame (as much as I adore Four Star).
Recently, Four Star Video Heaven, the best independent video rental store in the city, state, and possibly the country, held their 22nd anniversary. In celebration, the owner and employees put on a film trivia contest at the High Noon Saloon downtown. First place winners would each receive a $100 gift package to the store, $80 of which being Four Star gift certificates! Of course, my roommate Joe and I could hardly pass this up.
So we went and we won first place, thus officially naming us the biggest movie geeks in town (or so we like to brag). Anywho, we immediately drove over to the store and took a gander. Joe bought a few DVDs, including the newly released “Ratatouille” and the Criterion Collection edition of some Sam Fuller noir that I’m ashamed to say I’ve never heard of before. I, on the other hand, decided to knock some titles off of my “to see” list. Four Star only allows a maximum of six movies to be rented out at a time by any one customer, so I had to rent in shifts.
The following is a list of the films I rented and viewed over the course of about two weeks and what I thought of each of them. I refuse to issue star ratings for the titles, as I feel it skews what my true feelings are.
HOUSE OF WAX (1953) Dir. André De Toth
A decent oldie horror flick starring Vincent Price, who is by far the best and most entertaining part of the film. The film bows to a lot of different aspects of 50’s Hollywood filmmaking that I loathe with a passion, such as constant music through every scene even when it’s distracting, but overall, it was a fun story of a tormented genius gone insane. I was surprised how much it differed from the slasher-style 2005 remake.
THE FUNHOUSE (1981) Dir. Tobe Hooper
Just plain awful. Tobe Hooper didn’t at all capitalize on the scary elements of a carnival funhouse. He instead decided to more or less recreate the family of murderers from his far superior “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and put them in a funhouse setting. Believe me, it’s not as cool as I’m making it sound. It’s really dull, actually, with periods going on thirty minutes with no action… just really, really lame attempts at character development. Skip this one.
BAD TASTE (1987) Dir. Peter Jackson
The movie itself is a fun romp filled with gore and comedic violence, but without a doubt the best part of “Bad Taste” is the making-of documentary included on the DVD, titled “Good Taste Made Bad Taste”. In it, Peter Jackson demonstrates how he accomplished much of the movie’s special effects on a shoestring budget. “Bad Taste” comfortably sits right between Robert Rodriguez’s “El Mariachi” and Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” at the ideal low-budget classics film festival.
DEMONS (1985) Dir. Lamberto Bava
Presented by Dario Argento and directed by the son and long-time first assistant director of Mario Bava… sounds awesome, right? And it is. Don’t go into this movie expecting subtlety, however. “Demons” is all about right-up-in-your-face-gore, complete with a cheesy 80’s soundtrack and the setting of a closed-down movie palace in which all the protagonists are trapped. The theatre itself is the antagonist, taking over the minds of its patrons with powers projected through a horror film being projected on the screen.
THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) Dir. Wes Craven
There were two titles on my list that I was equally anticipating and dreading due to their intense reputation; “Last House” and “Cannibal Holocaust”. I think it’s safe to say that this is the better of the two. I thought I would hate “Last House”, to be honest with you, but believe it or not, when you get past the grotesque subject matter, it’s actually a pretty badass setup for a cheer-enducing revenge sequence in the end. Just to be clear, the gore is not as notorious as it’s made out to be.
SCANNERS (1981) Dir. David Cronenberg
I’d always heard this was a great movie, and to be honest, it was pretty sweet… until the very last shot. The last shot takes a ton of the wind out of the film’s sails, in my humble opinion. But Michael Ironside is just as badass as I’d always hoped he’d be, and the head exploding was just as cool as I’d hoped it would be. I wouldn’t go on saying it’s Cronenberg’s best film like a lot of people seem to think, but it’s probably his third best behind “The Fly” and “History of Violence”. Coulda used more exploding heads.
THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970) Dir. Dario Argento
The first in Argento’s so-called “animal trilogy” is a pretty cool Italian giallo, but that’s all it is… pretty cool. It has some really interesting elements, and Argento’s potential to be great was definitely evident even in 1970, but I found myself looking at the clock a lot during the film. But what do you expect? It’s pretty cool for his first feature. Ennio Morricone’s score is sublime, however.
THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS (1971) Dir. Dario Argento
Since I couldn’t rent Argento’s second film “Four Flies on Grey Velvet” because it’s out of print, I moved right on to his third film and the conclusion of his “animal trilogy”. This one felt much more thrown together as an experiment to see what would stick and what wouldn’t. I loved the characters of the blind man and his granddaughter attempting to solve the mystery, but other than that, it just felt kind of crudely crafted. It didn’t help that I was viewing it on a particular print of the DVD that cut down Argento’s signature 2:35:1 aspect ratio to a lame pan-and-scan, so maybe this one will require a second watch down the road.
DEEP RED (1975) Dir. Dario Argento
The cover art on the DVD for this film is very misleading. It makes it look like a gory Lucio Fulci film or something, and while it is gory, it’s actually another slow-paced giallo… and Argento’s second best after “Tenebre”, in my opinion. This movie is growing on me the more I think about it. It’s his first collaboration with Goblin for the music, and it’s just as unforgettable a score as they did for “Suspiria”. One of the most notable parts of this movie that I will take with me to my grave is the opening shot. It’s rare that a movie opens with such a genius opening image. Don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
KILL, BABY… KILL! (1966) Dir. Mario Bava
I’d never seen a Mario Bava film before this one, so in my researching about which one would be best for my introduction to the filmmaker, I discovered that many people including Martin Scorsese claim “Kill, Baby… Kill!” to be his masterpiece. I’ll agree that it was pretty badass, and has in it without a doubt the scariest evil little girl of all the evil little girls in horror cinema. Yes, even the ones in “The Shining”. The story is a classic haunted town story, complete with the “protagonist as fish out of water” setup.
CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) Dir. Ruggero Deodato
I don’t know if I can sum up my thoughts on this film in a few sentences. While I refuse to say that the movie is without artistic merit, I find it equally difficult to defend it’s purpose in the world. The film is particularly infamous for it’s depiction of real animal slaughter, and no, I’m not talking about documentary footage of real tribal rituals like in “Apocalypse Now”. I’m saying that Deodato and his crew killed six live animals on screen for your entertainment. Disgusting, I know. If you want to know my complete thoughts on the issue, check out this review I found and whole-heartedly agree with: http://www.braineater.com/cannibalholocaust.html.
INFERNO (1980) Dir. Dario Argento
The second entry in Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy, preceded by “Suspiria” and followed by this year’s “Mother of Tears”, “Inferno” is another acid trip down the Dario Argento rabbit hole. This is another supernatural horror film, not a giallo like “Deep Red”, and all the plot pieces don’t exactly fit together to form any logical story, but you don’t care. Argento’s use of the candy-colored cinematography he famously established in “Suspiria” makes this a movie you never get tired of looking at. Plus, it’s got some really cool murder sequences like his other films.
TENEBRE (1982) Dir. Dario Argento
My favorite of the Argento giallos, closely followed by “Deep Red”. This is Argento’s most comprehensible giallo, as well as his most entertaining. It’s shorter than “Deep Red”, thus is moves faster, keeping your attention better. Also, “Tenebre” really seemed to have a mission and a purpose that it was trying to get at, a trait missing from a lot of Argento’s earlier work, in my opinion. It’s a really cool story surrounding a string of murders meant to mimic those in an American crime novel in the film. The novel’s author then goes out to try and solve the mystery. Look for a great blood-soaked triple murder sequence toward the end of the film and a fun supporting role for John Saxon of “Black Christmas” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” fame.
THE BEYOND (1981) Dir. Lucio Fulci
This is the second entry in Fulci’s unofficial “Gates of Hell” trilogy, preceded by “City of the Living Dead” and followed by “The House by the Cemetery”. I’d only seen Fulci’s “Zombie” before this movie, and I have to say I enjoyed “Zombie” a little more. That’s not to say “The Beyond” isn’t a good movie. It’s thoroughly enjoyable as an 80’s Italian splatter flick, but I just could’ve used more. I don’t really know how else to express what I mean other than that… in a very general sense, the movie could’ve used more… more gore, more scares, just more. Also, I feel I must point out that from what I’ve seen in “Zombie” and “The Beyond”, Fulci zombies are just about the least threatening thing in the world. They move even slower than Romero zombies, and that’s saying something.
DJANGO (1966) Dir. Sergio Corbucci
I’ve wanted to see this spaghetti western for a long time, and it lived up to my expectations. I still prefer “Navajo Joe” to it when you’re discussing Corbucci, but it’s definitely superior to the other Corbucci/Nero collaboration “The Mercenary”. I have to point out how wonderful Luis Bacalov’s score is… just the right mixture of Ennio Morricone feel with, well, Bacalov. And who knew Franco Nero could be such a badass? I mean, I got a little taste with “The Mercenary”, but watching him in “Django” I’d have to say he might be Clint Eastwood’s match if they ever met in some desolate western town as their respective characters. I can’t wait to see what Takashi Miike does with his “Django” homage film when it gets released here in the US.
THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETARY (1981) Dir. Lucio Fulci
Part three of Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy, “House by the Cemetary” lacks in a completely different way than most of his other work. I maintain that “Zombie” is Fulci’s best movie that I’ve seen, if only for the fact that I understand what the hell is happening in that one. “The Beyond” is nearly laughable in terms of plot. “House” suffers in the opposite way, in that we know exactly what’s going on at all times because every scene is a ripoff of another movie, usually either “The Shining” or “The Amityville Horror”. It’s really remarkable how unoriginal and uninspired this film is. If you haven’t seen it, you’re not missing much.
LADY SNOWBLOOD (1973) Dir. Toshiya Fujita
“Lady Snowblood” is probably the best movie that I’ve seen thus far in the marathon. It’s a Japanese Chambara samurai movie that heavily influenced Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” (QT even lifted the film’s main theme song, “The Flower of Carnage” by Meiko Kaji, as the DVD cover art proudly proclaims). This flick is heads and heels superior to other Chambara movies like “Shogun Assassin” or its sequel, “Lightning Swords of Death”, which are pretty much devoid of plot. “Snowblood” has a thoroughly enjoyable and easily followable revenge storyline and lots and lots of blood spraying from wounds like garden hoses. If you’re into this kind of flick, “Lady Snowblood” you mustn’t miss!
BLACK SABBATH (1963) Dir. Mario Bava
This is the second Mario Bava movie I’ve seen after “Kill, Baby… Kill!”, and I have to say, he’s hit one majorly out of the park with “Black Sabbath”. This movie is the perfect realization of a movie I’ve wanted to make for years; a good horror anthology movie divided into three distinct parts. It’s even got a Walt Disney-esque personal introduction at the beginning from Boris Karloff! The segments definitely get better and scarier progressively from one to three, but none are bad by any means, and the third is downright terrifying. That woman’s corpse face at the end… if you’ve seen the flick, you know what I’m talking about and chills are running down your spine right now just from thinking of it. Those of you who haven’t seen it, do so immediately! You will not be disappointed!
DRESSED TO KILL (1980) Dir. Brian DePalma
“Dressed to Kill” was rocking my ass for most of the movie and I was really enjoying it. But as Donald Kaufman says in “Adaptation”, it all falls apart at the “third act denouement”. Nancy Allen was a fox in this flick, not to say she wasn’t in “Blow Out” and “Carrie”, but she was especially attractive in this role. I also love how DePalma has the habit of introducing a main character early on (usually a recognizable star) and killing them off in the first thirty minutes. It doesn’t happen very often in movies, but when it does, it’s a great way of letting the audience know that you’re prepared to do take them anywhere (he first experimented with this idea in “Sisters”). Michael Caine is also very good. Check it out.
THE GREAT SILENCE (1968) Dir. Sergio Corbucci
I have just seen Corbucci’s best work in this film, and quite possibly a candidate for my favorite spaghetti western ever. “The Great Silence” is unbelievably dramatic and rich and textured when compared to Corbucci’s other films. The only reason I can think of for this movie not reaching the mass audience that say “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” received, is that it is made with Corbucci’s usual messy camerawork and sloppy editing. But to a certain extent, the sloppiness of its creation is appropriate given the sloppy setting for the story. I know this may sound blasphemous and I know I am usually the first one to say no to remakes, but I’d kind of like to see an updated, cleaner version of this film. I think the ending would really impact audiences in today’s “endless, hopeless war” society.
THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE (1974) Dir. Bo Arne Vibenius
There’s a story in Hollywood about when Quentin Tarantino was in pre-production on “Kill Bill”. The story says that Quentin gave Darryl Hannah a copy of “Thriller: A Cruel Picture” in order to help her prepare for her role as the notorious Elle Driver, a character heavily influenced by the one-eyed femme fatale depicted in the film. Upon viewing the picture, Hannah immediately phoned Tarantino to say, “You gave me a porno!” to which he replied, “Yeah, but it’s a good porno!” The movie is a fun exploitation romp, and is probably the closest thing to what the general conception is of 70’s grindhouse movies is at the moment that I’ve seen. There is a lot of graphic hardcore pornographic sex in it (if you watch the original 107 minute unrated cut), but if you’re cool with that, it’s not a bad movie to watch just so you can say you’ve seen it.
BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964) Dir. Mario Bava
While it may not seem so original in today’s cinematic climate, “Blood and Black Lace” was an extraordinary genre breakthrough in its time. Not only was it surprisingly explicit in the depiction of its violent scenes, but “Blood” also laid the groundwork for what would eventually become the modern slasher film. It was the first movie to employ the “body count” story structure with the entire plot primarily revolving around a group of sexy supermodels as they get brutally murdered one by one by a mysterious killer. The film is also commonly categorized as an Italian giallo, which is the beauty of the film. While delivering the goods for the current giallo genre, it also practically invented a whole new subgenre. Without “Blood and Black Lace”, we may never have had the likes of Michael Myers, Freddy Kreuger or Jason Voorhees.
CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) Dir. Lucio Fulci
Ugh… I think this is the last Fulci movie I’ll be watching for a while. I’ve seen four of his movies now, and I think they all have major problems. His best is “Zombie” because it’s his most original work and seems to rely on more than just his gore effects. Everything else I’ve seen, however, is just the opposite. Instead of giving us engrossing, multi-layered characters whom we can identify with and become emotionally invested in, he gives us one-dimensional copycat characters from every single other horror movie we’ve ever seen, along with the same plots that we’ve seen a million times, and somehow expects his gore effects to hold up the film. The whole reason I watch lesser-known B horror fare is for their creativity, which is lost in much of the mainstream cinema world, but Fulci never seems to bring any originality to the table. Remarkably, there is a market of moviegoers out there who like this aspect of Fulci. I hate it, personally. I think he had the potential to be a really great director if only he could get his hands on that really great script. Alas, he never did.
THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1963) Dir. Mario Bava
This film is widely considered to be the first official Italian giallo film, and to be honest, it’s close to the best I’ve seen. There’s an old saying: Dario Argento may be the modern master of Italian horror, but that’s only because there’s no Mario Bava anymore. Very true. On a film to film basis, Mario Bava has impressed me far beyond Argento, a revelation I did not expect to have. Even Argento’s signature candy-colored cinematography originated with Bava. “The Girl Who Knew Too Much” is a wonderful black and white murder mystery with great performances from Leticia Roman and John Saxon. Also, the glorious, hum-enducing title song for the film, “Furore” by Adriano Celentano, is the very musical definition of the Italian giallo. This film comes highly recommended.
FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (1965) Dir. Russ Meyer
Another famous exploitation flick that I’d always heard about but never seen, “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” has become pretty much the general public’s immediate idea of what an exploitation movie is. And it is boatloads of fun. With crazy characters, incredibly colorful dialogue, and a badass title song by The Bostweeds, this movie is another one to check out next time you’re having difficulty picking something out at the rental store. The story involves three badass bitches on their periods, no doubt, as they murder a man and kidnap his girlfriend so she can’t run to the police. The queen bitch leader of the trio is Varla, played by the unbelievably voluptuous Tura Satana, and although you are extremely entertained by her bitchiness throughout the length of the flick, you are just as ready to see her get her just deserves in the end. This movie has gone on to inspire countless modern exploitation fare, including “The Devil’s Rejects” and “Death Proof”.
TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA (1970) Dir. Don Siegel
Another wonderful spaghetti western starring Clint Eastwood and Shirley MacLaine, directed by Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry”). I was amazed at how entertained this movie was, what with such a lack of violence. What keeps you entertained is the quick wit of the screenplay and the superb on-screen chemistry between Eastwood and MacLaine (As much as I adore them, I’m pressed to guess Eastwood has more witty one-liners in this film than in all three of Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” films). This is a revisionist western that came at the beginning of the end of the “lone hero” trend, and although Eastwood is just as badass as he is in everything else, the film concerns itself more with dissecting his character and bringing more real-life discussion into the idea as opposed to just having him beat the bad guy in the end. Confronting a lone gunman of the old west with the religious ideals of a Christian nun is pure genius. If you like spaghetti westerns, this is one you cannot afford to miss!
BLACK SUNDAY (aka THE MASK OF SATAN) (1960) Dir. Mario Bava
Mario Bava’s first film, “Black Sunday” is the one with the famous scene of the spiked mask being forced onto Barbara Steele’s face with a sledgehammer. That opening prologue is in fact so good that the rest of the movie lacks by comparison. But it’s still really good. This is apparently the movie that made Steele a star, and for good reason. She plays two separate roles, the role of the villain undead vampire and the role of the healthy, sexy, host body that the villain comes for. This film is black and white, and like Bava’s “The Girl Who Knew Too Much”, I was struck by his skills as his own cinematographer. His movies look every bit as good as early black and white Kubrick films. Lots of people argue that if Bava had been in America, he’d have always been considered neck and neck with Hitchcock for the throne of “master of suspense”, although I tend to feel Bava is more of an outright horror filmmaker than Hitchcock was. Still, the comparison is more than warranted.
OBSESSION (1976) Dir. Brian DePalma
Another wonderful suspense piece by DePalma, “Obsession” is a true re-imagining of themes explored in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” written by Paul Schrader. I really love the slow-told, yet quick-paced feel to the picture, and Cliff Robertson is sublime in the title role. The movie is arguably DePalma’s most underrated work because it was released the same year as his breakthrough horror masterpiece, “Carrie”. A lot of DePalma trademarks are on display here, including his unbelievable knack for amazingly dramatic and emotional climaxes. What I love so much about the way he does his climaxes is how little you care if you can see the strings. Even if you can totally call exactly how the story is going to end, you don’t want to see DePalma’s visual realization of that ending any less. I’m really starting to become a big fan of this guy.
MASSACRE TIME (1966) Dir. Lucio Fulci
It’s so funny to me to think that a supposed horror auteur and innovator the likes of Lucio Fulci would have his best film be a spaghetti western. Everyone shits themselves over the supposed cinematic mastery of “Zombie”, “City of the Living Dead”, “The Beyond”, and “The House by the Cemetary”, but I swear to Christ, “Massacre Time”, a lone gunman western starring Franco Nero and released the same year as “Django” and “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” is his honest-to-God best movie. Maybe it’s just the simple dramatic structure of the western, which Fulci follows to a T (which shouldn’t surprise anybody who agrees with me that the man has about as much creativity and originality as a wet beard), but nevertheless, I enjoyed “Massacre Time”. That’s something I cannot say for his other work except for “Zombie”, which I still think holds some artistic merit. I still plan to view his two most famous gialli at some time, “A Lizard In A Woman’s Skin” and “Don’t Torture A Duckling”, if for nothing else than their undeniably badass titles. Maybe my lack of interest in his work says more about me than it does about him, but I’m more than willing to live with that.
SABATA (1969) Dir. Gianfranco Parolini
Another spaghetti western classic! Man, this subgenre is batting with a stupendous record right now with me. It seems every spaghetti western I see these days has many wonderful qualities and is incredibly entertaining. Lee Van Cleef stars in a role very similar to that in his other classic, “The Grand Duel” (so close in fact, I believe it is almost the exact same wardrobe!). But Lee Van Cleef will always be spectacular. The pleasant surprise in “Sabata” for me was the character of Banjo, played by William Berger, star of other spaghetti western classics like “Face to Face” and Parolini’s “If You Meet Sartana Pray For Your Death”. He was a wonderfully developed antagonist, who takes so much time in character development that it is never revealed that he is the villain until the last thirty minutes or so. I highly recommend checking this one out. It was followed by two sequels, which I will be watching shortly.