Surely you remember that bit in “Conan the Barbarian” where the famous question “WHAT IS BEST IN LIFE” is posited to the muscle-bound Cimmerian, right? And then Conan intones “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women”–there’s a little corner of your brain that can call that to mind, of course.
In at least two cases, filmmakers opted to tackle the Speck murders directly–in 1967’s “Violated Angels” (by Japanese exploitation director Koji Wakamatsu) and in the 1976 film “Naked Massacre,” which I recently watched after a comment by Samuel Wilson of the exploitastic Mondo 70 piqued my interest. As one might expect from a film with a title like “Naked Massacre,” this is one nasty bit of business, with a grimmer-than-grim outlook on the kind of evil men perpetrate on their fellow human beings. This film goes past being simply misogynistic and winds up as a study in misanthropy. Following a majority of the details of the Speck case (even including a riff on the tattoo that led to Speck’s eventual identification and arrest), this film ratchets up the societal anxiety by making its killer an American Vietnam veteran living in a “Troubles”-era Belfast. There’s nothing fun nor lighthearted in this movie–its oppressive atmosphere is akin to that of lurid grindhouse revenge flicks like “I Spit on Your Grave,” but to those familiar with the Speck case, it will come as no surprise to learn that there’s no Girl Power coda on this story. In fact, the film forces the viewer to dwell inside the psyche of its murderous main character and at times there are even twitches of sympathy for this deeply damaged man.
Much like H. Rider Haggard’s Ayesha, my will is powerful and unbendable by mere mortals. However, I like to think of myself as a benevolent ruler, and when an appropriately flattering request is made of me, I try my best to play nicely with others. There is no way on this earth or any other that I’m going to be sharing twenty-five facts about myself, per the phrasing of the inexplicably popular meme that’s been making the social-networking rounds, but I certainly have time for six, especially when the request is made by interpal and Official Tenebrous Prison Guard Darius Whiteplume (he brings the nekkidity over on Dirty & Nerdy so it only seems fair to acquiesce to such a modest meme).
- Link to the person who tagged you [check!]
- Post the rules on your blog [check!]
- Write six random things about yourself [no check–nothing is random in the Empire]
- Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them [no check–I always feel like I am imposing, so I will graciously suggest that if you follow this meme you let me know so I can get a sick voyeuristic kick out of reading about your life]
- Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on his or her blog [see above]
- Let the tagger know when your entry is up [check!]
- Sometimes, if I’m thinking about nothing at all, I will start thinking about a chimpanzee riding on a Segway. Now you can think about it, too:
- I am a member of Phi Beta Kappa, which pretty much means you have to defer to my opinions as A RECOGNIZED SCHOLAR. And yes, I have thought about attaching the key to a body piercing.
- I love taking photographs of street art, especially when monsters are involved. Which leads me to wonder, do skeletons count as monsters? I’m coming down on “yes,” due to early exposure to “Jason and the Argonauts” and “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.” Here are a few of my pictures (Baron XIII included for scale):
- Illegitimate Sports are the only sports I care for. Please to see: lumberjack competitions, the World’s Strongest Man, and Ninja Warrior. I have never been to a live or televised sporting event ever in my entire life, although Women’s Beach Volleyball in the Olympics has some things to recommend it.
- I don’t play video games that are more complicated than Brick Breaker and Solitaire. I figure if I’m going to learn complicated software, there better be a direct financial payoff for me.
- I’m pretty clueless when it comes to music and I rely on my friends to keep me in the loop. That having been said, I know I’m late to the party, but I think I’m hopelessly in love with Amanda Palmer.
It is a TRUE FACT that I can’t turn down an invitation from the estimable Duke of DVD and the equally-estimable Vicar of VHS at Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies, so when they announced that they were preparing a tag-team review (not as dirty as it sounds, or exactly as dirty as it sounds, depending on what you read into that) of one of the finest entries into the nunsploitation subgenre and wanted me to lend my expertise to their discourse, the only answer I could offer was “But Of Course, Gentlemen.” Apparently this is a doozy of a review, so the boys have divided it up into three segments to be posted this week. Here are my thoughts on the film, and follow the link at the bottom of the page to be magically transported to a wonderland of filth.
Walerian Borowczyk’s 1978 film, “Behind Convent Walls,” walks a tightrope between earthy farce and tragedy that might seem more at home on a Sixteenth Century stage than captured on film. Unlike other titles in the nunsploitation canon, Borowczyk’s take on the Women In God’s Prison theme is a bawdy romp that is free from the depictions of Satanism and torture that texture other similar flicks. This is still a scathing indictment of the Catholic Church, but Borowczyk’s approach is to strip out the dark fantasy elements and force the viewer to confront the potential tragedy that results from the suppression of natural human sexual impulses. This vision is in contrast to the densely symbolic and dream-like world of a director like Jean Rollin, or the compulsive camera-eye of a Jess Franco.
Borowczyk’s literality infuses every aspect of the film. The cinematography by Luciano Tovoli (veteran of Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” and “Tenebre”) combines a hand-held camera with sensual soft-focus that creates haloes of light around the faces of the nuns. A restrained color palette provides a sense of visual unity—as the title suggests, the film takes place entirely in one nunnery, and the colors are almost entirely limited to white, black, red and a woody neutral. It’s a stunning film to look at that emphasizes the beauty of its main players—the experience of watching this film is like seeing a fabulously naughty image painted by Vermeer and then brought to life.
But back to those “natural human sexual impulses” that are the focus of this tale. This movie brims with sex and all natures of couplings are explored, sometimes in graphic detail. Softcore hetero and lesbian scenes abound, from furtive girl-on-girl breast-groping in a confessional (bonus points for the fourth-wall-busting “oh no we’re too shy” response of the ladies to the voyeuristic camera’s gaze) to a passionate outdoor deflowering to a rough-and-tumble quickie over a crate of chickens. A surprisingly explicit close-up scene of a nun masturbating with a homemade wooden dildo rounds out the “something for everyone” on-screen sex report. There’s an effort to make the sex in this film look real and erotic without verging onto the territory of plastickey pornography or a fetish fulfillment checklist. Elements like the hand-painted erotica that one nun uses to trade for forbidden food or the very sexual crush that another nun has developed on Jesus himself add a innocence and even sweetness to the proceedings.
This isn’t so much a work of the fantastique as it is one of magical realism. The story takes place in the real world, but there are inexplicable quirks throughout that one must accept rather than struggle to explain. It serves to reflect conditions and issues that exist in reality rather than to represent them directly.
In keeping with the bawdy nature of this film, I think it’s best if I get out from behind the lectern and turn this over to two gentlemen who can guide you through some of the weird and wonderful details of what goes on “Behind Convent Walls.” Duke and Vicar—have at!
Click here to read Part One of the Duke and the Vicar’s take on “Behind Convent Walls.” These dudes love the Meat Man (I am refraining from inserting any If You Know What I Mean content here–you’re welcome).
And the GRAND FINALE – Part Three of the Duke and the Vicar on “Behind Convent Walls” (wherein they lament the lack of Paul Naschy–yeah, I know, you lay a feast in front of these guys and all they want is beefy pectorals).
I’d like to think that we can all learn lessons from the generations that preceded us. Sure, we’re in what looks to be pretty dire economic straits, but cheer up, friends! This is far from unprecedented. Let’s take a lesson from the Weimar Republic and start making some kinky lemonade out of all those sour citrusy fruits that are piling up on our collective doorstep.
And–really–is there a finer subject for an artist than a lanky, top-hatted ghoul? Fuck the Pieta–THIS is the true embodiment of artistic skill. The tattered rags, the sunken cheeks, the zombie stare–brings a tear to your eye from the sheer magnificence. That, dear friends, is the art of D.W. Frydendall, and if you think THAT is cool, just check out this post-apocalyptic vision of madness:
If there’s an actress other than Pam Grier who better embodies the X Factor that elevates an attractive woman into a screen icon, I couldn’t name her. My favorite films of hers are “Foxy Brown” and “Coffy,” both directed by the incredible American exploitation filmmaker Jack Hill*. These roles balance a street-wise confidence with vulnerability and a desire to be loved and allow Grier to emote in a variety of extreme situations. Her performances in these films range from high camp to heartbreaking with plentiful ass-kicking in between. What Grier lacks as a nuanced thespian, she more than makes up for in charisma–her eyes can blaze with what feels like authentic passion, and her body language is larger than life whether attempting to seduce or threaten (or engage in some unspeakably alluring combination of the two). The fact that her characters are strong women who are inspired into action by their own sense of moral rightness puts forth a powerful message. Unlike the protagonists in many other revenge films, Foxy and Coffy are out to right what are actually societal wrongs, not personal ones. They’re action heroes of the first degree, and I find myself rooting for them as they use their intelligence, strength and beauty to their advantage.
Some folks would place the “Black Cobra” movies in the Blaxploitation subgenre, but I beg to differ. These movies are superb examples of a little something I’m going to go ahead and call Fredwilliamsonsploitation–a subgenre that highlights and magnifies the qualities intrinsic to actor Fred Williamson. What makes Fred Williamson’s performances so special is that he is utterly convinced that he’s the coolest cat in the room at any given moment. He’s an actor who has played his own idealized version of himself in virtually every film in which he’s appeared–he’s the best there is, the guy who comes through in the clutch, a cigar-smoking, judo-chopping, wise-cracking force for arrogant goodness. It could be argued that his performances are one-dimensional, but when the dimension you’re working with is this much fun to watch, why go for breadth and depth?
I have a habit of buying novels blindly–lured in by an appealing cover, a tantalizing blurb or some other X-Factor that makes it an alluring bit of paper to spend several hours with. There’s a level of commitment to the reading of a book that’s different from that of watching a movie, and in some ways a novel has to work harder to win my heart. Hell, I spent *years* after college reading nothing but non-fiction because I was stuffed past satiation with other people’s taste in novels.
Buying movies in bulk is fraught with peril. While there is a reassuring regularity in taking the thirty-first roll of Charmin out of the fifty-pack purchased at Costco, knowing that it will likely resemble roll seven as much as roll forty-eight, there are no such guarantees when dealing with public-domain box sets of films like Mill Creek’s “Chilling Classics 50 Movie Pack.” To continue the analogy, some rolls might be plush and bountiful (“Lady Frankenstein”), others might be several sheets short and abrasive to one’s sensitive parts (anything directed by Bill Rebane).