Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dead Eyes of London

For those unfamiliar with the subgenre of crime films from the 60s known as “krimi”, they basically came about as a result of the German public absolutely falling in love with the crime novels of Edgar Wallace, and making a frankly absurd number of movies based on them. Dead Eyes of London may not be one of the most graphic of them (the most violent of them I have so far seen would be The Bloody Dead, which was first known as Creature With the Blue Hand before extra shots of violence were clumsily added into it to make it more appealing to American audiences), but it’s still got enough horror elements to make it qualify for this collection.

The film involves a conspiracy of blind criminals that are going around killing rich foreign businessmen whenever London is overrun by fog (if you’ve never been to London they try to trick you and claim that it happens around forty days a year; in real life this means they’d be offing someone about every couple hours). Despite a lack of hard evidence, Scotland Yard begins to investigate a local church shelter for the blind, and their connection to a murderous blind man named Blind Jack.

The film has the traditional flashiness of all the best krimis, and also like many of the best krimis, it also features a supporting role by Klaus Kinski, who shows up looking so crazy guilty that we want to believe that he’s really the killer, even though the actual killer was the first character we saw. Don’t worry, I’m not giving anything away by that; not only is he on the cover of the DVD, he kills someone in the first scene of the film, so it’s not really all that ambiguous. Still, though, that Kinski, just as villainous as they come.

If you’ve never seen a krimi before, this would be a good place to start. The German film industry literally cranked out dozens of the damn things in the sixties, so there’s a lot to choose from, though most are not yet available on DVD in the US. Fret not, though, for if enough of you start buying up the ones that already exist, the studios won’t be able to resist releasing the other hundred or so in pristeen editions. Get to it already.

Rating: ***


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dark Waters

The term Lovecraftian often brings with it a sense of great foreboding, particularly in the realm of film, where most movies made based off of Lovecraft’s stories have tended to be horrible. Fortunately, this film manages to sidestep that problem, perhaps because it’s only stylistically similar to Lovecraft’s work, rather than being based on any specific work of his. Granted, that didn’t really work for Cthulhu Mansion, but you work with that you’ve got.

The film, by director Mariano Baino (I’m eagerly awaiting the day he decides to grace us with a second film, so I can see if this one wasn’t just a fluke), a girl travels to an island monastery connected to her family. According to the IMDB synopsis, she’s there following her father’s death to discover why he had been funding the place, but I must have missed the sudden burst of exposition within the film itself. Strange of me, both given that I've seen it twice and still had no real clue why she had originally decided to go there, and because there is such little dialogue in the film that I like to think I’d have heard it. Seriously, there’s maybe a hundred lines in the entire film. I’d say it verges on being a silent film were it not for the sound effects and surprisingly rousing music.

Regardless, the lack of much sound greatly adds to the overall creepiness of the film, which as you have no doubt guessed involves the monastery being a front for a murderous cult that is sacrificing women to help free a demonic figure trapped within the building. While it’s not a true Italian production – it was filmed in the Ukraine, co-financed by British and Russian companies – Baino gives it so much of the feel of the Italian horrors of the 70s and 80s that I feel it proper to label it as such. Sadly, the nuns don’t all get naked, or I could have cheerfully filed this one as nunsploitation as well, but the general mood and tension of the film make up for that tragic absence, I guess. Plus most of the nuns are a little too old to still be considered attractive, some even seeming to be in their mid-30s! It’s scandalous, really.

Rating: ***


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Dark Night of the Scarecrow

TV movies would be a hell of a lot better today if they made them like they made this early 80s effort. Ignoring the fact that I never watch them anyway, I can’t think of the last time a network premiered a horror movie (yes, I’m specifying networks here, I’m sadly aware of all the horror movies that premiere on the Sci-Fi Channel) instead of whatever the hell they make TV movies out of nowadays.

The film opens with a retarded man (played by Dr. Giggles himself, Larry Drake) being falsely accused of assaulting a young girl and getting hunted down by a group of men and murdered. After seeming to escape punishment for their crime, the men now find themselves stalked by the scarecrow the retarded man had tried to disguise himself as when they killed him. One by one, they are killed, but who could their killer be? Could it possibly be the undead form of the slain retarded man????

While it’s a fairly standard plot for a horror movie, the film does function pretty darn nicely within its contexts. For one, it’s actually pretty surprisingly racy for a TV movie from 1981. While most of the violence is off screen, they all but outright state that the leader of the men wanted the retarded guy dead because he (the leader) had the hots for the young girl he (the retarded guy) was friends with. A strong undercurrent of pedophilia is always a welcome addition to any network entertainment, right guys?

Additionally, the film does a pretty nice job of keeping it a mystery of who the killer actually is. While there’s a good deal of speculation by the characters that it might be the dead man back from the grave, there’s quite a few less supernatural suspects that it could be, from his wrathful grieving mother, to the idealistic lawyer that basically declared a war against them when their case was thrown out for lack of evidence. You don’t get to find out definitively who it is until pretty much the very last minute of the film, which is rather nice for a time when most killers took pride in announcing their existence through sequel after sequel.

Rating: ***

P.S. While it’s outright impossible to purchase this movie in any official manner, you can still watch the entire film on Youtube. It’s certainly not an ideal way of watching it, but if you click on the trailer below, the user that posted it has the entire film on his channel for you to watch. Interactivity!


Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Crazies

I don’t know why, but one of my biggest thrills in movies is to see a devastating viral outbreak that requires a government quarantine to save everyone outside of the hot zone. It’s why I’ve read the first hundred or so pages of the Stand many more times than the rest of the book, and it’s probably connected to my similar love for zombies. How good for me, then, that the creator of the modern zombie story, Mr. George Romero himself, made this little-seen classic viral outbreak tale in the early 70s.

The film, set in a rural town in western Pennsylvania (curiously like a lot of Romero’s films – from what I can tell, western Pennsylvania is one of the most dangerous places in the world), concerns an experimental government bio-weapon that is accidentally released into the town’s water supply, and the military’s efforts to blockade the town so that nobody outside can learn of it, or be infected by it. The virus, of course, has a seemingly 100% success rate (just once, I’d like to see a movie about a deadly virus that’s like the flu and only has a crappy 20% infection rate), and everyone who gets it either dies or goes irreversibly insane. We then focus on a small group of locals that decide to hide from the government quarantine so that they don’t all get boxed into the high school to die like the rest of the town, only to find that they may have already been infected anyway.

This was Romero’s fourth film, after Night of the Living Dead and the as-yet-unseen-by-me There’s Always Vanilla and Season of the Witch. While those two middle films were largely panned and seem to have fallen into obscurity, this one is absolutely due for people to discover. Like Night and Dawn, this is not a very polished film; the acting is all done by local unknowns, and is average at best (with the exception of the delightful Lynn Lowry, whose creepy self I’ve also seen in I Drink Your Blood and Shivers, two other 70s films where she went crazy). What it does have going for it is a frenzied energy, of things crumbling apart around everyone, of events having gotten way out of control before anyone even noticed things were wrong (cue Grant Morrison hyping up Final Crisis some more). It’s a strong, bleak film, from a great director that finally seems to have ended his hiatus from filmmaking (though it would be nice if he’d continue making films that didn’t have zombies in them too, considering his past two films and his next are all part of his Dead series). It’s not quite his best (that will probably always remain Dawn of the Dead), but it definitely hangs with his top efforts. Go give it a try.

Rating: *** ½