The Dead Travel Fast [Book] [2007]

Vampires. I’m pretty torn on the topic of vampires. I like badass Hammer Films monster vampires, I like Bela Lugosi buried-in-his-Dracula-outfit vampires, I like Eurotrash lesbian vampires, I even like Chinese hopping vampires. Entirely more problematic are Anne-Rice-style vampires… and the fans of Anne-Rice-style vampires. This hasn’t kept me from saying “yes” to watching a metric hell-ton of vampire movies over the course of my life (although I’ve gotten better at resisting the allure of most vampire novels, much to the benefit of my sanity).

When I first heard of “The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula,” a sociological study of vampires in history and fiction by Eric Nuzum, I resigned myself to the fact that those hours of reading were already spent. Event the title was alluringly snarky. I was sold.

It pleases me to report that the book does not disappoint. Sure, Mr. Nuzum and I disagree on some key points (his views of the films he watches, including Jean Rollin’s “Rape of the Vampire” and Murnau’s “Nosferatu,” for example), but his biting wit and unapologetic tone when discussing these matters quickly won me over. Early on in the book, the author sets up a narrative voice that is strictly editorial–these are *his* words and *his* opinions relating to *his* experiences, to be separated from tidbits he presents as historical fact.

The book is at its best when Mr. Nuzum is experiencing aspects of “vampire culture” firsthand, because he gets so damn much, so damn right, even with his outsider’s point of view. In order to fully understand the fascination with vampires, he works in a haunted house, goes on a “Dracula Tour” of Romania, attends a “Dark Shadows” convention and–in what is *doubtless* my favorite bit–goes to the “Court of Lazarus” in New York City where the realvampirevolk* gather. Gentle readers, I can report that I have been to the Court of Lazarus once (I have also been ejected from the Court of Lazarus once, the reason for which I can only surmise was that I was Having Too Much Fun), and Mr. Nuzum’s account is so deadly accurate that I won’t even bother to recount my own experience. Sorry, you’ll have to read his book–he actually interviews some of the “real vampires,” and namedrops a couple of personages of some note who I’ve had encounters with. It’s sweet, delicious internet-brand krazee at its finest.

As a light-hearted, fast, and enjoyable read on the topic of vampires, I highly recommend this book. As a thorough, fair-and-balanced, anthropological discussion on the topic of vampires, look elsewhere. And maybe lighten up, too…

*My word, not theirs. I’m pretty sure they call themselves something out of Poppy Z. Brite or a White Wolf game.

Exterminator City [2005]

Disclaimer: The opinions reflected in this article are mine and mine alone and don’t reflect the opinions of the fine, upstanding, and thoroughly delightful gentlepeople at “Ultra Violent Magazine.” Even though those bastards sent me this movie and expected me to review it for their publication without any appropriate warning.

Let’s get this out of the way right up front–“Exterminator City” is the worst movie I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of crap (believe it). I was sent a review DVD of this particular film with instructions to write up a short article for UV and maybe get a couple of quotes from the director. All I knew was that this was a low-budget movie about killer robots in the post-apocalyptic future. So far, so good. What I didn’t realize was that this movie would utterly destroy my mind in a way that was worse and more thorough than the time I watched “Achtung! Desert Tigers” and “Caligula Reincarnated as Hitler” in rapid succession.

At its core, “Exterminator City” is a movie for people who really get off on scenes of a robot puppet watching topless, internet-grade fetish models do everyday chores around their apartments. There are thirty-one sequences of a robot puppet watching topless, internet-grade fetish models do everyday chores (tooth-brushing, toenail painting, getting dressed, showering… shall I go on?), in fact, so if that’s your bag, baby, prepare for cinematic bliss. For the rest of us, however, “Exterminator City” rockets right past “disappointment” and heads squarely for “disaster” territory. It’s like watching a porno that is just the cut scenes of people ordering delivery pizzas they can’t pay for, without ever getting around to having any sex.

Nominally, it’s a movie about a robot whose programming has gone haywire and who stalks the city killing beautiful women. A pair of gritty robot cops are tracking him down while the body count continues to rise. There’s some weird Catholic subtext that motivates the rogue robot that I can’t quite figure out. I mean, in a world where the only humans left are internet-grade fetish models, is there really any evidence at all supporting the existence of God…?

This movie has some of the most bogglingly not-so-special effects work I’ve seen, with *puppets* in every non-internet-grade-fetish-model role. Not puppeteer-grade, artistic puppets, but rather talented-ninth-grader class presentation puppets, with flappy jaws and jabby arms. It sounds funny, and it *was* funny, for approximately five minutes. Problematically, “Exterminator City’s” run time is eighty-three minutes. It gets worse from here, because each puppet is given an inexplicable and poorly-realized accent. We have a Texan, a Cockney, and a Russian, all of whom speak only in tired cliches. I’m pretty sure even puppet robot characters would never say “Let’s rock and roll, baby,” “Send him to hell,” or “Take a walk on the wild side” in any conversation. Unless puppet robots were programmed by the “Makin’ Copies” guy from the old “Saturday Night Live” sketches, in which case, I stand corrected. Moving past the puppets and confronting the gore effects, the minds behind this film decided that showing a kitchen knife poking through a wig looks good enough to pass for a stabbing, and that once an internet-grade fetish model dies, her body turns into that of an unconvincing mannequin.

Did I mention that the *entire movie* is shot in close-up (when puppets talk) or mid-shot (when internet-grade fetish models do chores)? Well I did now.

I don’t even want to tell you that there’s a scene with a Hitler-devil puppet or that a dog puppet gets killed in a scene that looked much like the death of Triumph the Insult Comic dog, because you will just want to see how bad this is for yourself. Don’t do it. You’ve been warned. This shit is Dantean, yo.

So, after digesting the film and taking a few days off from human contact to recover, I figured I’d tackle the review and interview process from a lighthearted standpoint. I mean, come on–how could anyone who makes a movie with puppets be *at all serious*? I reached out to the director via email and one of the first questions I posited was regarding the decision to use puppets to stand in for the robots–did the idea to make a puppet movie come first, or did the idea to make a robot movie inspire the production? The response: “I prefer to call them ‘full-sized animatronics.'”

Dude was serious. And I had to stop the correspondence after that, because I had the adage about “not saying anything at all if you haven’t got anything nice to say” drilled into me from an early age.

Upon reflection, I realize that dubbing this the Worst Movie I Ever Watched is sort of an honor in its own way, so I feel guiltless and lighter in my heart as I write this today. Kudos to you, Clive Cohen, for being a much worse director than Bruno Mattei. I salute you.

The Blood Stained Butterfly [1971]

I am happy to report that last night, I had the pleasure of watching a movie that was *not* crap and was, in fact, an unexpected delight. “The Bloodstained Butterfly” is a well-crafted thriller that samples the cliches of the giallo, courtroom procedural, and tragic romance and combines these elements into a film that nods to traditions without feeling like a retread of “been there, seen that” territory. I was previously unfamiliar with director Duccio Tessari, and I will certainly be seeking out other films he’s directed.

The film opens with the murder of a beautiful French exchange student in a public park during the middle of the day, with several witnesses present. What seems like familar ground for an Italo-thriller takes a hard left when a well-known sportscaster, Alessandro Marchi, is accused of the crime by an eyewitness and brought to trial after the evidence rapidly stacks up against him. Within the first 15 minutes of the film, the accused is standing trial and much of the action is recounted in flashbacks and through courtroom scenes. I feared I was wading into “Matlock” territory at this point, but the manner in which the flashbacks are built into the structure of the film is such that one is left a little off-balance, wondering whether a particular scene is taking place in the present time on screen or at some point in the past.

What really marks the film as being outside of the ordinary scope of a movie of its subgenre is the relationship between the sportscaster’s daughter, Sarah, and Giovanni, the brooding musician she has admired from afar, played by Helmut Berger (I posit to you that *no human* broods as effectively as Mr. Berger). As portrayed by Wendy D’Olive, Sarah is 17 years old and *actually acts like a seventeen year old female*, poised on the brink of adulthood with budding sexuality, yet naively romantic as well egocentric in a way that only a teenager can be. Her nuanced performance is effective and refreshing in a world where teenaged female characters tend to be set-dressing and/or cannon-fodder. Sarah’s love scene with Giovanni is one of the more realistic I’ve seen, with a sense of discomfort and awkwardness that further informs the viewer of the dynamic between the couple.

The Italian city where this film takes place is not the same grimy locale portrayed in other gialli–the director chooses to focus on picturesque winding streets, historical churches, and lovely outdoor spaces, creating an atmosphere of beauty and poignancy. Adding to this atmosphere is a thoughtfully-crafted soundtrack which works off a theme from a Tchaikovsky concerto, blending jazz elements and sweeping moments that bring to mind the work of Ennio Morricone. Topping off the mise-en-scene is deft cinematography–a wonderful sense of depth-of-field, texture and angle combine to keep one’s interest during what would be otherwise bland scenes. This mastery of depth-of-field is particularly evident during the courtroom scenes, where a sense of dimension is created (prosecutor in foreground, bars around Alessandro Marchi are midground, and Marchi in the back of the shot); when the camera moves to another angle (closeup, reaction shots from the audience, etc.), there is a sense of *moving* in that particular direction, creating action even during what is essentially a dialogue sequence.

In spite of the fairly limited cast of significant characters (Marchi, his wife Maria, Sarah, Giovanni, Marchi’s lawyer Guilio Cordaro, police inspector Berardi), the plot has several twists and turns leading up to an ultimately satisfying finale. The material is handled with a restrained and elegant hand, focusing much more on character development and emotions than other films of this type, and employing a minimum of splattery effects work. Highly recommended for giallo fans.

For the curious: the copy I viewed is the R2 Spanish DVD as sold on Xploited Cinema. Sorry, Netflixers–I promise you can play along from home on my next review!

Kalmakoff: The Forgotten Visionary

Today’s eyecandy comes to us courtesy of the Joey Zone, finder of all things weird and wonderful.

Kalmakoff, the Forgotten Visionary

Surrealism and decadance with a distinct Russian art nouveau influence. These paintings have an amazing amount of detail and very fine sense of craftsmanship to them, and the story behind the revealing of the artist’s identity is quite interesting as well. Mythical themes, saturated colors, drama, theatricality… Do I have your interest yet? Curl up with a cup of Your Hot Beverage Of Choice and enjoy.

I’ll be back to sleaze-lording over the weekend, without a doubt.

Beast With a Gun [1977]

I learn a lot from the movies I watch. At an early age, I realized that I should *never* go into the basement alone (if at all), I knew that the blonde cavepeople were always the good cavepeople, that Hercules lived at the same time as the Incas, and that every flavor of foreigner has an English accent (except for Asians, who are just kind of… stilted… when dubbed).

The main thing I’ve learned from Italian crime dramas is that it takes very little to mount a successful crime spree in Italy. In the case of Sergio Grieco’s 1977 “Beast with a Gun,” a lone, swishy Austrian is enough to get the job done.

The movie begins with a daring jail break–Italian arch-criminal and all-around mad, sadistic bastard Nanni Vitali (the still-totally-not-Italian Berger) sort of walks rapidly out of prison with three henchmen in tow. They’ve taken one of the guards hostage and proceed to drive off in a small European car in search of revenge. Mainly “revenge,” but also “dough.”

What follows is a lot of punching, a smattering of rape, and a significant amount of hostage-taking and driving. What is notably *absent* is effective police-work and aggressive tactics on the part of the authorities. There are a few times during the film where the cops just sort of shrug and give up, allowing Nanni and his gang to escape (usually in a small European car, usually with hostages in tow, always with guns in-hand).

Nanni succeeds in exacting revenge on the informant who put him behind bars, he succeeds in taking the informant’s girlfriend (played by Marisa Mell, who had an entirely more consensual relationship with an arch-criminal in “Diabolik”) hostage, he succeeds in shooting a bunch of cops, but at the end of the day, the semi-ineffectual police commissioner is able to nab him mainly bu chance, since Nanni has decided to hole up in the lone building in a large stretch of countryside. [How’s THAT for an overly complex, run-on sentence, people?]

The acting is thoroughly outrageous and overwrought (as one might expect), the fashions are sometimes eye-bending (Benetton gets a credit at the end for providing the jeans in the film), and people behave in ways that are pretty much counter to anything any rational human has ever done. All-in-all, solid fare of this sort.

Because I love you, here’s a link to the completely NSFW trailer for the movie.

Originally posted in MySpace Blog 2/5/08

Dangerous Seductress [1992]

Ohhhh Indonesian horror, it is unpossible for me to count the ways in which I love you. What you lack in nudity you make up for in mind-bending absurdity. Forget National Geographic documentaries–I want to learn about other cultures through their weird genre entertainment.

The plot of “Dangerous Seductress” boils down to girl meets black magic, girl uses black magic and winds up possessed by some sort of evil and vaguely sexy witch, girl goes on sex-vampire rampage in Jakarta, wackiness ensues. This is not a film to be watched for its elegant plotting, or–really–elegant *anything*.

The strangeness starts as soon as the movie opens, with a bumbling bunch of jewel theives on the run from the cops. A note to all would-be robbers, as learned from this film: Don’t punch the getaway driver in the head while you’re fleeing as it may negatively impact your escape and cause you to get into a fatal car crash in an ancient and cursed cemetary. Whoops… The fresh blood spilled during the accident causes the buried body of the aforementioned evil and vaguely sexy witch to regenerate in a sequence that brings to mind the goopy stop-animation FX work in the first “Hellraiser” film. I admit–I am overly enthusiastic about this kind of home-grown special effect, so the movie could have peaked here. But no, such is not the case. Once reconstituted, the evil and vaguely sexy witch is nude–except for her bright white glowing nipples and mons. Yes, folks, welcome to the world of creative self-censorship. *bravo*

We then get to meet our protagonist, Susan, who flees to her sister Linda’s home in Jakarta after being assaulted by her creepy one-dimensional boyfriend. Note: “Creepy” and “one-dimensional” are character traits exhibited by pretty much everyone throughout the film, with occasional vapidness thrown in for flavor. Also of note: I am not convinced that anyone in this film speaks English as a primary language–we’re talking Way Past Stilted in terms of dialogue, as if we’re supposed to take the word of the people on the screen that they are actually feeling what they say they’re feeling. Once in Linda’s home, Susan promptly gets into deep doody after reading aloud from the ancient black magic tome she discovers (as you do, in such situations) and becomes possessed by the spirit of the evil and vaguely sexy witch. Applying her blondeness and breast implants to the task at hand, Susan stalks the nighttime streets feasting on the blood of men who truly believe in the triumph of hope over reason. The Gore Score here is middling, with weirdass editing and a rather light touch on the arterial spray making the horror scenes more silly than shocking or gross. But, dear readers, “silly” is why we’re here.
There is some kind of climactic showdown between the forces of good (in the personage of a Papua New Guinean Native Healer) and evil (in the personage of the witch) that involves strobe lights and film effects and chanting and stuff, but I’m not going to try to pretend that I understood what was going on here. Or, for that matter, at any point during the movie.

The overall sensation I was left with after watching “Dangerous Seductress” was not unlike being bopped repeatedly in the center of the forehead with a small rubber mallet. I can, therefore, recommend this film to other viewers.

Originally posted in MySpace blog 2/1/08

Faceless [1988]

It took me four attempts in order to see this film, and (for those of you who undoubtedly were waiting on the edge of your respective seats), I am happy to report that “Faceless” is what passes for an excellent Jess Franco cinematic experience. I had a parade of Netflix Fail in the form of three discs with identical damage (turns out the first pressing from Media Blasters was a dud), but finally received satisfaction from Xploited Cinema, a company near and dear to my heart and which should probably just get a portion of each of my paychecks deposited directly into its bank account.

“Faceless” is Franco’s reimagining of his 1962 “Awful Dr. Orloff” (which itself was a reasonably-dextrous-if-creaky reworking of Georges Franju’s brilliant 1960 work “Eyes Without a Face”) as seen through the sleazy lens of late 1980’s “Dynasty” fashion and glam culture. I can probably stop my recap here and say something along the lines of “if this sounds good to you, then you’ll enjoy the movie,” but I won’t leave you hanging. The plot boils down like this: Aesthetic surgeon Dr. Flammand (played by a still-fairly-yummy-if-you-squint Helmut Berger) and his partner Nathalie (played by a yummy-without-squinting Brigitte Lahaie) are attempting to graft a new face onto Flammand’s sister Ingrid, who has been hideously scarred during an assault by one of the good doctor’s disgruntled patients. Cue the kidnappings and subsequent discoveries of headless bodies throughout Paris… Alas, what makes one a good Mad Surgeon or Evil Henchlady does not make one good at managing the logistics of Mad Surgery, and soon Telly Savalas’ character sends a (truly arrogant and aggravating) private eye to track down his blow-addicted fashion-model daughter (played by Caroline Munro, Ms. Victoria Phibes herself).

The film is deliciously campy and filled with people behaving in ways no human being ever behaved. Once one gets over the fact that people are behaving in an utterly logic-free manner, the viewer can enjoy the absurdity of the proceedings. As soon as I started rolling with the ridiculousness, I was left rooting for Dr. Flammand and Nathalie to cut *more* of a swath through the various bubbleheads of the City of Lights. There were certainly some helpful pointers I could have provided to Ms. Lahaie’s character in terms of being a more effective Executive Assistant (step one: don’t pick famous women as your face-donors), but it’s probably for the best that I wasn’t available at the time to provide any corporate strategizing. Oh, and I think the ending *might* just be one of the best endings ever. I won’t spoil it for… erm… both of you who are going to DASH right the hell out and buy this title but it warms the cockles of my black little heart.

Originally posted in MySpace blog 12/31/07, with slight editorial panache added for flavor and all

Sweeney Todd [2007]

In the interests of Full Disclosure, I will admit that I do not have an incredible soft spot for Tim Burton, but that I *do* enjoy musicals now and again. This having been accounted for, I thought Burton’s “Sweeney Todd” was among that director’s best films as well as among the best stage-to-screen musical adaptations I’ve ever seen.

The look of the film is very stylized throughout, with a “Sin City” meets Charles Dickens mise en scene that also evoked the interior-for-exterior sets of “Sleepy Hollow.” I found this to be particularly effective since it honors the stage-theatrical source material while simultaneously taking advantage of the technologies offered by manipulating color and set on film. The consistency of the look and feel of the film make it an engrossing movie to watch.

A majority of the dialog and action is accomplished through song–the first and final lines of the film are sung, unapologetically creating a stagey, artificial alternate universe. However, Burton pulls no punches in showing on-screen violence, making this a most unsavory, uncomfortable, and ultimately tragic world characterized by bleakness and immorality.

Historically, I have found most of Burton’s movies to be overly cheery and adorable (which is probably a wise commercial, if not aesthetic, decision on his part), punctuated by moments of creative vision. “Sweeney Todd” isn’t merely t-shirt material for the cute crowd (in spite of Johnny Depp’s Dave Vanian lookalike getup and the fan-costume opportunities presented by Helena Bonham Carter’s gowns). It’s grim and violent and thoroughly well-realized.

Originally posted in MySpace Blog 12/26/07

Diabolik [1968]

I’d be hard-pressed to find a super-criminal movie I enjoy more than Mario Bava’s “Diabolik.” I watched this film again last Friday night, and have come to the conclusion that Diabolik is quite possibly the perfect man. He has the blessed trinity of desirable masculine qualities:

-Angular

-Villainous

-Frequently in leather

The film is an absolute delight to watch–filled with color, dextrous camera work, and a delightfully ridiculous plot. So Diabolik and his superhott girlfriend Eva bankrupt the entire nation of Italy* by destroying their tax records? It’s all in good fun. In fact, it looks like so much fun that I’m thinking of setting aside the whole Vampire Hunting plan and pursuing a career in being a Masked Criminal (though I would settle for being the superhott girlfriend of a Masked Criminal, if that’s the only avenue open to me as a person of my gender).

Personal digressions aside, the film works well both as a document of its time (check out that swingin’ hippie nightclub scene) and as an adaptation of the fumetti source material. There’s not a great deal of exposition, but the music, color and shot-framing quickly combine to create an alternate universe that helps create a sense that what is happening on-screen makes sense within the context of that comicbook world. Total eyecandy!

*My dear Domestic Partner, herein politely-and-mysteriously referred to as The Baron, claims that, much like the Eskimos have a thousand words for “snow,” the Italians have a thousand words for “fail.”

Originally posted in MySpace blog 12/26/07

Clovis Trouille [Painting/Art]

I have a really hard time picking favorites of any type–I make no secret of this fact. However, it’s pretty easy for me to identify my favorite painter in the personage of Clovis Trouille. For a number of years, I was unable to locate a proper web gallery of his work, but the above link leads to an absolutely drool-worthy collection of his paintings. Go forth and be amazed.

Yes, the website is in French, but the paintings are in the international language of sexploitation hottness. Note: I am willing to take bribes and offerings in the form of any item from the gift shop–particularly those collector plates. Consider yourselves officially notified well in advance of my Very Important Zero Ending Birthday occuring in October of 2008.

Originally posted in MySpace blog 12/6/07