"Oh Yeah–I’m a Dirtbag": My Struggles with Internet Context

A friend of Baron XIII’s tells the following story about himself:
So I was walking home from work the other night, and I passed by this whole bunch of schoolkids–maybe eight, nine years old. And out of nowhere, they start booing me. Like, hissing and really reacting bad to my being in their line of sight. This kinda bothers me–makes me think. So I keep walking, getting pissed off, and I turn the corner, and this bunch of bikers passes by me. Looking up, I can see them waving at me and I realize they’re a bunch of dudes I know from an old DJ’ing gig. So I smile–wave back. I’m still a little pissed off about the kids having booed me, but it was nice to see some familiar, smiling faces to lift my mood.
And that’s when I realize–“oh yeah–I’m a dirtbag.”
I think I’ve only recently internalized that I’m a dirtbag–or at least that I seem to play one on the internet. Take a look at my Tumblr page, if you will. It’s a wasteland of nun smut, hot rods, macabre art, and what I’ll politely call “erotic militaria.” This represents a portion of what I’m interested in*, but it paints A Very Particular Image for the casual viewer. It’s not that it’s an inaccurate image, it’s just that it doesn’t display, say, my love of adorable cat pictures or my quest for recipes that involve artichokes**.
*Help–I’ve been working Corporate for too long! I’m visualizing everything in the form of pie charts.
**I won’t brook any disagreement on the topic of artichokes. There are two kinds of people: Those who like artichokes, and those who are WRONG.

Tumblr is full of weird crap, only some of which I know anything about.
The Dirtbag Moment*** occurs when someone I know (who is likely a much nicer person than I am, and probably not a dirtbag at all) re-blogs a stranger’s photo of a kitten doing something particularly heartwarming, and my clicky-finger goes directly to the heart-shaped LIKE THIS button. But I hesitate–the original, unknown-to-me poster will be able to see that Tenebrous Kate, this Queen Dirtbag who posts nothing but kink and occult weirdness all day long, is enjoying his or her kitten picture. If I click that LIKE button, a connection will be formed, and I’ll have unintentionally made someone’s day a little squickier even though my interest in the aforementioned kitten picture is really entirely innocent.
***That shit is COINED, bitches.
I guess the takeaway is multi-fold:
  1. Just the act of placing an image/link/thought near other images/links/thoughts gives them new meaning. Frequently, this new context adds fascinating layers of significance to those images/links/thoughts. And sometimes those meanings just wind up being kinda weird and distasteful to other people.
  2. My interest in your kitten photos is entirely innocent.
  3. Oh yeah–I’m a dirtbag.

Shakma [1990]

You’d think that a movie about Roddy McDowell tampering in God’s domain while LARP’ing med students are stalked by a chemically-altered baboon would be a midnight movie slam dunk. I know *I* thought that, right up until the third act of “Shakma,” which is when I realized that movie was an irredeemable mess that committed that most unforgivable of genre film sins: that of BEING BORING. The best I can say for this flick is that there will never be a more thorough cinematic statement on people hiding from a baboon behind a startling variety of office building doors.

Ordinarily, this is where I’d say I was getting ahead of myself, but I’m not getting ahead of myself. That’s really all there is to this movie.
Except for seemingly endless scenes of people on walkie-talkies.
You see, the most popular students in Dr. Sorenson’s (Roddy McDowell) Monkey Torture 101 class have been playing a Dungeons and Dragons-inspired game called (logically enough) The Game. The Game takes place after hours in the Polytech Institute where medical classes are held* and consists of a bunch of students wandering the halls with walkie-talkies while Sorenson gives direction from his office. All this walkie-talkie-ing makes “Shakma” an extremely efficient drinking game vehicle–you would die if you took a shot every time someone says “over” into a hand-held device.
*Do they even have medical classes at polytechnic institutes? I mean, I guess they could be bioengineering students, but I think medical school was specifically mentioned. Honestly, this is least of my questions about this film, but it obsesses me nevertheless.
You get a bunch of this:


Followed by some lengthy seconds of this:


And a little bit of this for flavor:


Which makes you feel like this:


But then you see this:


And you’re just like this:


Of course, life isn’t all walkie-talkie conversations and bad computer game graphics! There’s danger afoot in the form of Shakma, a baboon who has been made ultra-aggressive after some sort of failed brain experiment. This leads us to why I sought out this movie in the first place–our titular monkey is played by none other than Typhoon, who played Mr. Boon in “Unmasking the Idol” and “Order of the Black Eagle.” Having seen the full range of Typhoon’s acting abilities, I felt that he was tragically under-used in his role here. Hell, he doesn’t even get to wear any pants–that’s messed up! What Typhoon does get to do is hurl himself against a series of doors. Hard. Like, to the point where I was kinda worried for the furry little dude. Typhoon does make some amazing facial expressions throughout, which have more of a comedic effect than anything. Oh, and he’s sporting… let’s call it… Red Rocket throughout. Makes you miss the pants, doesn’t it?
All of this means that the REST of the movie looks like this:


Or this:


As fully as Typhoon commits to his ultra-violent role, his supporting cast plays characters that range from “Fairly Annoying” to “Embarrassing” to “OH MY GOD I’LL KILL YOU MYSELF.” Christopher Atkins’ portrayal of male lead Sam is particularly grating, but I don’t fault the “Blue Lagoon” star. The script calls for him to get bitchy with his girlfriend for wanting to have a career instead of bearing him a legion of “Little Sams,” all while he creepily flirts with the underage sister of one of his classmates. He also does a lot of screaming, whining, and slamming of female characters into walls. I know, Sam–bitches just won’t listen, will they?
We play jerks in this movie!
I love monkeys in movies–be they chimps, gorillas, men in monkey suits, capuchins–whatev’. I really don’t ask a lot from my monkey-related movies. It’s easy for me to analyze *how* “Shakma” went so very, very wrong, but it’s impossible for me to understand *why* it got made into such a boring waste of time. Seriously–just having a monkey puts you halfway to excellent. Maybe watching Typhoon throw himself bodily into doors is a little like watching Lon Chaney, Jr. in “Dracula vs. Frankenstein”–you loved his earlier efforts and associate him with better days, so watching him be exploited is just a little tummy-churney.
I’m trying to find a silver lining to this particular little black raincloud of an opinion, but I’m coming up empty. Perhaps one could view “Shakma” as a critique on the way technology drives us further apart. Or a statement on how the breakdown of communication–and therefore culture–makes us no better than beasts. But I’m pretty sure it’s just a not-good thriller about a very angry baboon and a bunch of 30-something-year-old kids with walkie-talkies.

Eurotrash or American Apparel: THE ANSWERS!

I’ve got to say, interpals, that as much as I love you all, you were alarmingly silent on last week’s Eurotrash Cinema or American Apparel Ad post. For a bunch of trivia-knowing folks who can tell me Enzo G. Castellari’s shoe size or give me the phone number of Dario Argento’s gastroenterologist, you were so shy on this particular challenge! P8 was brave enough to venture her guesses, and I DID get at least one public declaration of undying love (back atcha, Cathy), but otherwise it was Radio Silence. Well, fortunately for you all, I’ve decided to take pity on the group and reveal the sources of the images.

Let’s discuss!



EUROTRASH! Source: “Murder Rock”


EUROTRASH! Source: “Jack the Ripper”
EUROTRASH! Source: “Eugenie de Sade”
EUROTRASH! Source: “Faceless”




Tallying up the results, that puts P8 at an impressive ELEVEN correct, with DJ Capybara coming in second with one correct (I’ll give a bonus point since he identified the film source–nicely done, sir!). As her prize, P8 gets to come to my place, drink the Baron’s absinthe, and crash on our premium-brand air mattress. I’ll even make sure the sheets are clean! Bet you guys would’ve tried harder if you knew about the luxurious vacation reward I’d be doling out. Better luck next time!

In other, much sadder news, tonight marks the very last installment of what’s become a highlight of the Tenebrous Month, Kevin Geeks Out at 92YTribeca. Now I guess I can reveal to you guys what my topic for an upcoming show was going to be. Imagine my delight when Kevin approached me about doing a presentation on WWII movies! There are LOTS of great WWII movies, like “Salon Kitty” and “Ilsa She Wolf of the SS”–I had this bitch in the BAG. Much like a nerdy sensei training the grasshopper to perform outside of her comfortable routine, however, he set the difficulty level at “Patriots.” Daaaaamn! I guess I should keep cooking up something on “Kelly’s Heroes” and post it here, right? In honor of Kevin and his Geek Outs, I will continue to ruminate on “Kelly’s Heroes” and fix up something special to share with the internet at some point in the not-too-distant future. It’ll be a refreshing change to talk about an Actually Good film that Actual People have seen, won’t it?

The Horrors of "Food Party"

I start my morning in frustration, because I could have sworn that Curt over at Groovy Age of Horror had posted a rumination on why he’s avoiding Italian cannibal films (including a flick that tops my Must-Avoid List, “Cannibal Holocaust”), and now I can’t find his post. You’ll have to take it as an article of faith that Curt did, indeed, write such an essay, and that I’ve found myself knocking his ideas around in my head ever since I encountered it.* Curt wrote that he was particularly repulsed by cannibal films because they take something that is so essential to human existence–eating–and invert it, making it scatological and repulsive. This kind of bio-horror is especially grotesque because the audience can’t escape its connection to the acts being committed on-screen. Where a zombie film provides a comfortable distance between the audience and the flesh-eater (it looks like a person, but it’s a ghoul, and therefore Other-ed enough to provide a comfortable amount of mental space), cannibal films allow for no such buffer. The flesh-eater is a fellow human being, one who is portrayed as abased, primal, and dangerous.
*Let’s keep in mind while reading this that I live with a man who is exists somewhere between “Extremely Fastidious” and “Posthuman” in his relationship with his biological functions, so I spend a lot of time NOT making shit jokes–biology is top-of-mind as a result of this avoidance. That “Human Centipede” movie that everybody’s buzzing about is a strictly verboten subject in the Tenebrous Household. Although it is pretty funny to watch Baron XIII get so upset at the very idea of a film. I kind of want to shake Tom Six’s hand.
As deeply personal as this kind of horror-reaction might be–I’ve heard of folks watching splatter films while eating pizza, which is something I consciously avoid–I believe that finding material funny is equally as personal and equally deep-seated in the psyche of the viewer. Slapstick is a source of laughs because human beings all have bodies, and watching those bodies perform wild pratfalls is meant to elicit laughter. This “body weirdness” is the same axis on which the horror of the cannibal film turns. The jury’s out on whether or not a bit of comedy succeeds in making a specific viewer laugh–that humor may not resonate with that individual. What’s curious to me is how viewers *do* tend to recognize material as “trying to be funny” (even if it’s not, to him or her) in the same way a viewer recognizes a horror movie as “trying to be scary.”
Two paragraphs (three if you read the footnote), and you’re probably wondering what I’m on about, and why I opened this post with a photo of comedian with knife-wielding puppets. There’s a point to this, I assure thee! All that babble brings me to the topic at hand: I want to talk about the genius of “Food Party,” a comedy show on IFC that is the most perfect distillation of Dadaist anti-art currently on television. Billed as a “non-reality cooking show,” “Food Party” is hosted by the show’s creator Thu Tran (pictured throughout this post), who adopts a children’s show host’s perky naivete as she interacts with costumed characters and puppets in a low-fi kitchen set. The show’s humor is drawn from somewhere deeper, darker, and stickier than a simple parody of kids’ teevee–it’s derived from an instinct-level reaction to food and not-food. That’s right–Curt’s horror of cannibalism is at the center of a bizarrely hilarious comedy show. The premise is incredibly simple: each 15-minute episode revolves around Thu making a meal by combining easily-recognizable edible items (pizza, turkey, chips) with far more disturbing ingredients.
How disturbing, could these other ingredients be? This week’s episodes revolved around the eating of blood (“Nosferathu”) and the eating of shit (“Poopisode”). Rather than existing just to repulse, “Food Party” forces its audience to consider its cavalcade of disgusting images in the context of goofy, dream-like humor. In the “Turkey’s” episode, Thu blithely kills one of her companion puppets and uses his body as turkey stuffing–it’s a scene that manages to be both hilarious and gross.
There’s more going on in “Food Party” than the interplay between cute and icky. Thu Tran navigates the murky waters of the post-hipster culture (one in which “irony” has locked “satire” in a closet, where it’s slowly starving to death) by creating a show whose subversive humor primarly hinges on the act of eating, not on the sending up of children’s teevee shows. There’s also some sly commentary on what different cultures view as acceptable food. Ms. Tran is of Vietnamese descent, and having been raised in Cleveland, the tension between the food of her native culture and the food of her adopted culture likely had an impact on her childhood. If eating is a biological act that all humans must engage in to keep body and soul together, then judgements surrounding food hit close to the core of one’s personhood.**
**This is why I’m infuriated to what’s probably an unreasonably tooth-gnashing degree by fussy motherfuckers in the office who bitch about the very presence of certain foods in their proximity. Seriously–grow the fuck up. You don’t live in a bubble, you precious goddamn snowflake.
Food is a driving force of the id. While artists in the surrealist tradition and its many offshoots have explored primal sexual urges in a spectrum of manners ranging from plushy inviting to squishily repugnant to jaggedly dangerous, food and eating are far less popular subjects. Well-known works like Kenny Scharf’s glossy donuts and Claes Oldenburg’s “Pastry Case” cast a humorous eye on the fetishization of food, and “Food Party” is the next outrageous step in this tradition of shameless id-sploration.
“Food Party” airs on Tuesday nights at 10:00pm ET on IFC. Click here for selected episodes of “Food Party” on Thu Tran’s YouTube Channel.

Best Worst Movie [2009]

Even before re-engaging with the sensation that 1990’s “Troll 2” has become, I heard about the production of a film called “Best Worst Movie” that would document the cultification of this oddball flick, from the perspective of “Troll 2”‘s child star Michael Stephenson. Right up front, I have to say that “Best Worst Movie” would have had to do a lot of wrong in order to alienate me, and I’m not at all surprised to have found it a totally engaging, funny, and sometimes even poignant movie-watching experience. Much in the way that “Troll 2” very much earns its reputation at the top of the so-bad-it’s-good pantheon, and as such has a relatively small but rabid following, “Best Worst Movie” will be adored by fans of the cult film experience, while its appeal may fly right over the heads of more general audiences.

“Best Worst Movie” portrays the making of “Troll 2” in a manner not dissimilar to the depiction of community theatre in Christopher Guest’s “Waiting for Guffman”–there’s the visionary-to-the-point-of-delusion director, the eccentric cast, and the heartbreakingly terribly final production. In 1989, Claudio Fragasso, director of such camp classics as “Rats: Nights of Terror” and the 1984 Alice Cooper vehicle “Monster Dog”*, came to Utah and cast a bunch of unknown locals in a movie scripted by his long-time girlfriend Rosella Drudi that was intended to satirize the fanaticism of vegetarians. Months went by, and eventually the cast became aware that their movie, “Goblins,” was being played during off hours on HBO. One by one, the cast members saw the movie and one by one, the cast members were horrified at the awfulness of the finished product. During this period, I too saw the movie, deemed it dreadful**, and all but forgot about it–yes, this is a case for my brother being a LOT cooler than me, since he recognized the magic of “Troll 2” even at a very young age.
*I saw this on video in the mid-90s. It’s fucking terrible and makes one yearn for Cooper’s appearances in “Freddy’s Dead,” “Prince of Darkness,” and even “Sextette.” Life sucks for completists, I assure thee.
**I grew a sense of humor in intervening years, thank heavens.
In the years that followed, the cast members had gone on to lead the rest of their lives. In-movie dad George Hardy continued to pursue his career in dentistry, in-movie sis Connie McFarland went on to get married and continued her acting career with bit parts, and Fragasso kept on churning out schlock. Almost two decades later, something very strange began to happen–fans of trash cinema began to vocally embrace “Troll 2.” It’s crucial to note that the fandom of “Troll 2” is a relatively recent development–it’s not a continuation of a group founded in the early 1990s, but rather a sensation fueled by social networking and the rise in prominence of “So Bad It’s Good” cinema in the post-“Mystery Science Theatre 3000” landscape. Upon discovering that their shameful secret had been unearthed, the cast members reacted with surprise, ultimately embracing their strange variety of fame. It’s fascinating to see the varied reactions of the actors, from George Hardy’s delight (it’s he who actively seeks out the first vocal “Troll 2” fans at New York City’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade comedy theater) to the genuine bafflement of Don Packard, who played the general store owner.
The film starts to explore some fascinating elements of the “Bad Movie” fandom when the documentarians visit Claudio Fragasso in Rome. Fragasso speaks in high-minded terms of the pride he feels at fans embracing his film in spite of the cruel words of critics. It’s clear that he doesn’t understand that people love “Troll 2” because of it’s balls-out weirdness, and watching footage of him attend American screenings of his film is both hilarious and deeply uncomfortable. It’s an interesting commentary on creative projects and the manner in which audiences claim them as their own. Is it better to have one’s work be appreciated widely, if not for the reasons one set out to create that art? Or is it better to go unappreciated entirely?
Further aspects of rabid fandom are touched upon when Hardy and Stephenson attend fan conventions to promote “Troll 2.” At the “Troll 2” screenings, they are superstars, mobbed by fans, appearing on t-shirts and at the center of the goings-on. At the fan conventions, they are but a blip on the radar of the larger portion of the attendees. It’s interesting to watch Hardy, in particular, struggle with the horror convention experience–he’s pretty grossed-out by the con-goers (who can blame him?!) and begins to question his own legacy. After interacting with several actors from sequels in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series, he starts to wonder what it would be like to hang his entire selfhood on what’s really such a small moment in his life. It’s a poignant and authentic moment.
“Best Worst Movie” is full of great moments that get to the geeky heart of what it means to be a capital-F FAN. At the end of the day, is it really so different for a “Troll 2” enthusiast to talk about the movie’s “magicalness” than it is for Fragasso’s colleagues to claim that the movie inspired “Harry Potter?” And is the joy so very different for members of either fandom?
“Best Worst Movie” is playing this week at Village East Cinema in New York City though March 20th. The film is independently released and not available on DVD–check this out festival-style while you can! More screening info is available on the “Best Worst Movie” website here.

Eugenie… the Story of Her Journey Into Perversion [1970]

This could be the shortest film review I’ve ever written if I chose to blurb Jess Franco’s 1970 “Eugenie… the Story of Her Journey Into Perversion” thusly:

If you see only one Franco-directed “Eugenie” film, don’t make it this one.
While that’s pithy, and this movie is not Franco’s strongest effort, it’s also needlessly dismissive of a film that provides the kind of delightful nudity, tingly girl-girl seduction, and revealing fashions that fans of early-70s Euro-softcore find so delightful. Based on episodes from the Marquis de Sade’s La Philosophie dans le boudoir (just like Franco’s superior Soledad Miranda vehicle “Eugenie”), this sex tragedy (I’m coining that shit RIGHT NOW–it’s the more awesome opposite of the sex comedy) offers plenty of redeemingly mean-spirited BDSM to spice things up. Then there’s the small matter of Christopher Lee having essentially been tricked (much like our hapless heroine!) into appearing such a kinky little flick. At least fellow character actor and Great Face of Cinema Herbert Fux, who also appears here, never pulled such dubiously truthy two-facery!

Eugenie... the Story of Her Journey Into Perversion
The film starts promisingly enough, with a red-lit scene of occult weirdness involving stocking-masked cultists and the sacrifice of a nude woman. We cut to young Eugenie (played by Swedish starlet Marie Liljedahl), who has been invited to spend the weekend at the Mediterranean island villa of her new friend and fellow Person of High Society, Madame St. Ange. Little does Eugenie know that her father has traded her innocence for sex with the icily seductive St. Ange, and that there are very wicked plans afoot that involve his daughter. Shortly after Eugenie’s arrival on the island, St. Ange puts the lesbonic moves on the girl (bathing together: CHECK! Sunscreen application: CHECK! Girl-kissing: Double-motherfucking-CHECK!). St. Ange’s brother Mirval looks on while all this innocent play takes place, and things take a turn for the dark after the pair (who are involved in a typically Sadean affair) drug Eugenie’s drink and molest her. When she wakes up, Eugenie has hazy memories of the event, believing it to be a not-entirely-unpleasant dream. Picking up on the girl’s willingness to participate in hijinks of a fetishey nature, St. Ange and Mirval offer her some Turkish cigarettes (rolled in colorful paper, no less!), and then junk gets really weird. Christopher Lee and his bedraggled steampunk brigade show up–they’re supposed to be members of the cult from the beginning of the film–and there’s a hallucinatory episode in which St. Ange and Mirval hideously abuse Eugenie. After this turned out to be a dream, I just stopped following the plot entirely, figuring the movie had gone off the rails. It did, and it continued to do so for the next half hour as Eugenie is seduced into increasingly bizarre acts that escalate to murder and madness.

Eugenie... the Story of Her Journey Into Perversion
Let’s address the good stuff first, because the bad is well documented (as is generally the case with Jess Franco’s filmography). There’s a psychedelic jazz-inspired soundtrack that combines sitar ramblings with bump and grind burlesque, adding alternately dreamlike and lurid flavor to each scene. Madame St. Ange dons a variety of skimpy, pantsless, and/or see-through outfits that she carries with a haughty dignity. I’ve got to doff my cap to any woman who can wear black stockings, no pants, a white crochet serape, and a sombrero and still look sexy. Attempt THAT, Urban Outfitters catalog! Maria Rohm’s portrayal of Madame St. Ange is deliciously amoral, and it’s easy to believe in her scheming power.

Eugenie... the Story of Her Journey Into Perversion
The obviously intercuts in which Christopher Lee and the supernatural Pearlies are watching the sex scenes between St. Ange, Mirval and Eugenie are unintentionally hilarious–one could easily cut Lee’s reactions into any montage, be it one of baby animals romping, scenes of Civil War destruction, or extreme sports mishaps. I want someone to turn “Christopher Lee’s ‘Eugenie Reaction Shots” into the next Keyboard Cat. I also want to know how Mr. Lee could’ve thought that a movie based on the works of the Marquis de Sade could be anything other than Eurotrash softcore. But that’s a story for another day, I’m sure.
Eugenie... the Story of Her Journey Into Perversion
The negatives are a bit overwhelming, however, and are ultimately what make this movie into one for completists, rather than for anything approaching a general audience. While Marie Liljedahl is undoubtedly beautiful, plush, and erotic and she sells her portrayal of the untouched innocent well enough she doesn’t make Eugenie’s titular Journey Into Perversion at all believable. Paul Muller reprises his role as Eugenie’s dad (seriously, see “Eugenie de Sade” again instead–that’s a fabulous flick), but here he plays a less central role as the sex-starved businessman who will sacrifice his daughter’s well-being for a piece of (admittedly great-looking) tail. The cinematography is very strange here, with several scenes appearing to have been shot out of focus. I’m not sure if this is print deterioration or a gaffe (or bad aesthetic decision, for that matter) made at the time, but it does distract from the on-screen events. For a director as careful to use depth-of-field in his other works, it’s surprising to see this kind of camerawork.
Eugenie... the Story of Her Journey Into Perversion
While “Eugenie… the Story of Her Journey Into Perversion” isn’t at the top of Franco’s body of work, it’s got enough spice to attract fans of the director’s work. For those who enjoyed seeing Marie Liljedahl in other softcore efforts, that actress’ ample charms are on full display. Watcher be warned, however, that this can be a bit of a slog to get to the sexy, amusing, or melodramatic bits!

Eurotrash Cinema or American Apparel Ad–YOU Be the Judge!

While watching Jess Franco’s “Eugenie: the Story of Her Journey Into Perversion” the other night, I was struck by the similarity between images in this film and images from American Apparel’s notoriously sexualized ad campaigns. Say what you will about American Apparel’s controversial founder and CEO Dov Charney, the man has a consistency of vision that involves a svelte, diaphanous pantslessness that many Eurotrash cinema auteurs would appreciate. In fact, I remember visiting an AA storefront on Broadway some number of years ago and being impressed by the floor-to-ceiling display of Lui and Oui magazine covers (these have since been dispensed with, what with the company’s expansion into shopping malls in Square States).

In honor of pantslessness-advocate and erotic cinema director Jess Franco’s 80th birthday today, I’ve cooked up a little photo identification game I like to call “Eurotrash or American Apparel.” Take a look at the sweet sixteen images below–eight are culled from American Apparel campaigns and eight are snipped from European cult and sleaze films. Can you tell what image is from which source?

Guess away… NOW!

Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key [1972]

“Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key”that, lieblings, is a pickup line that might actually work, depending on the crowd you run with. I will not deny that my curiosity would be piqued–it hits just the right notes of confidence and kink blended with admirably poetic phrase-turning. Of course, since that phrase was attached to an eerily threatening floral arrangement in “The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh” and is also the title of a Sergio Martino-helmed giallo, that window of opportunity has closed, never to be opened again. Sorry, would-be wooers–it’s back to the drawing board for you!

A tricky bit of business that could easily have been a hot mess of a movie, “Your Vice…” juggles a twisty plot, despicable characters, and heaps of sex to create a gleefully misanthropic film that seizes the viewer’s attention and doesn’t let up through the final frame. Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat,” a grisly story of murder and fixation, “Your Vice…” giallo-fies the tale in a manner that’s over-the-top enough to delight the most jaded fans of Italo-thrillers. OH–and the story actually makes sense, so PLUS TEN for that!
"Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key"

Frustrated author Oliviero Rouvigny (Luigi Pistilli) is living in his decaying familial mansion with his fragile wife Irina (Anita Stridberg). Obsessed with the memory of his dead mother, an actress known as much for her portrayals of Shakespearean villainesses as for her hearty sexual appetites, Oliviero tries to dull the pain of his writer’s block by inviting the hippies that camp near his villa to drug-and-alcohol-fueled orgies. In addition to nurturing a dubious J&B habit (seriously–the shit is delivered by the case to his home), Oliviero is a misogynist and a racist* who emotionally and physically torments his wife and carries on a not-entirely-consensual relationship with his maid. Honestly, the only good thing I can say about Oliviero is that he has an affectionate relationship with his mother’s plot point–erm, CAT, Satan. When women linked to Oliviero start turning up butchered, it’s not a real leap o’ logic to assume he’s responsible, and the police do exactly that. The movie would have been interesting enough if it judt followed Irina, the terrified wife, trying to uncover the truth behind the murders. But, much like a Ginsu Knife spokesman, this film urges you to WAIT! Because there is, indeed, more–“more” in the form of Floriana, played by Edwige Fenech, a woman so beautiful that it’s actually kind of boring to discuss how beautiful she is. Floriana is the sexually rapacious niece of Oliviero, and she wastes no time in hooking up with… well, with everyone except for the cat, really. Is Floriana just a free-spirited hippie, or are there other motives behind her seemingly indiscriminate liaisons?

*Everyone in this movie is a flaming racist, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that there’s some very uncomfortable dialogue in which the maid is repeatedly described as “dirty.” While Oliviero’s character clearly has power issues and his racism underscores this trait, I found it profoundly unnecessary to have each and every character utter some sort of racial slur. Sure, they’re all assholes in one way or another, but they didn’t need to share that particular assholic trait. That having been addressed, there are folks far more equipped than I am to discuss the issue of race in European genre cinema in more detail, and I encourage those authors to write those examinations.

"Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key"

“Your Vice…” is a mean-spirited stunner of a film. Much in the same way that the Price/Corman Poe adaptations are documents of the era in which they were made, this thriller views Poe’s work through a lens unique to its time and place. By placing the tale in the context of the counterculture revolution, it allows the filmmaker to explore themes of shifting morality, social tension, free love, and… frankly, not-so-free love. The film is skillfully structured from the opening scene, which finds Oliviero and Irina in the thick of a hippie bacchanal. The once-pristine dining room is littered with bottles and the linens are pushed askew, and Irina is shrinking from her husband’s ranting. The hippies are whispering about Oliviero’s obsession with his mother, and thus the entire backstory is established and the viewer is smack in the middle of the mystery. It’s a brilliant way of establishing the story without clunky exposition or visual cliches.

"Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key"
The mise en scene isn’t the flashiest from this era, but as was the case with “What Have You Done to Solange?,” the subdued color palate and style suit the story and add a different flavor to the film. The cinematography is less frenetic than it is in other Martino gialli, lacking the fisheye madness of “All the Colors of the Dark” or the psychedelica of “Strange Vice,” but there is some elegant cross-fading in the lesbian scene shared by Floriana and Irina, and some occasional POV enhances the murder scenes. The costuming here is thoughtful, with Floriana’s schoolgirl style, Oliviero’s array of patterned sweaters, and Irina’s pink wrap dresses providing visual cues that sketch each character accordingly–the flirty student, the troubled author, the delicate woman. The Rouvigny estate is authentically decayed, from the worm-eaten wood to what looks like traces of mold along the baseboards. Between this dilapidation and the intimations of incest between Mom and Son Rouvigny, perhaps there’s a sly nod to Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” present, as well.
"Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key"
While this is a limited-cast giallo (as close as the Italians can bear to get to a Locked Room Mystery), there are some cameo characters who appear to add texture and weirdness. There’s the madame and her ingenue whore who arrive at the train station where Oliviero and Irina wait for Floriana. En-hot-pantsed and bewigged, these outrageous women would not seem out of place in a John Waters film. In his too-brief appearance, Ivan Rassimov looks suitably sinister in a leather trench coat and a white wig that would look absurd on anyone less striking. Consider yourselves warned–you better be Dirk Bogarde hott to even attempt to pull off a white wig.
"Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key"
This is a Rorshach Test: Pussy joke or LOLcat?
A film with that wears its dubious morality on its sleeve, “Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key” is a tasty bit of giallo goodness. Kinky and cruel, it lives up to its purple prose title and will surely satisfy the appetites of Eurotrash fans.

The Order of the Black Eagle [1987]

I really felt as if I’d unlocked a treasure trove of excellent, heretofore unknown krazee when I watched “Unmasking the Idol,” but my joy was bittersweet. Its ninety-minute run time was packed to the gills with inspired lunacy, but it felt like there was so much more to know about asshole ninja super-spy Duncan Jax and his karate-trained sidekick Boon the Baboon. What would have been truly wonderful is if the movie was twice as long and brought the Nazi subplot to the forefront. Imagine my thong-dampening glee upon realizing that “Unmasking the Idol” spawned a sequel called “The Order of the Black Eagle,” in which Duncan Jax infiltrates a Nazi secret society…!

Our story opens with Dr. George Brinkmann, Jr. receiving the International Science Award in the Field of Lasers in Switzerland when machine-gun-toting ninjas bust in to kidnap him. From there, it’s a jump cut to Washington, DC, where a trio of evil sheikhs* is at their ranch-home-cum-secret-compound where they are hiding priceless gems stolen from the Smithsonian. Leave it to our hero Duncan Jax to rescue the stones through sheer audacity and back-punching, only to make his escape via prop plane piloted by Boon the Baboon, as the head sheikh screams gibberish at them. All this happens in the first ten minutes of film–I defy you NOT to call this “art.” After he returns the jewels to his boss Star (after landing the prop plane on his lawn during a chic cocktail party), Jax is assigned to a new case where he needs to infiltrate a neo-Nazi group called the Order of the Black Eagle. The Order is responsible for the kidnapping of Dr. Brinkmann and plans to use his laser-ey know-how to blow up communications satellites. It’s explained that the evil Baron von Tepish** leads the Order and has set up shop in an ancient temple in the jungles of South America. Fortunately for the good guys, Jax looks JUST LIKE Order member Conrad Bladen. Donning a false moustache, Jax takes his partner Tiffany Youngblood (with whom he has a typically-for-this-kind-of-movie contentious relationship) and heads to the jungles of South America*** to thwart the Order. It just so happens that shit is MUCH heavier than what the good guys had anticipated, as the Order has Hitler’s body in cryogenic freeze. Through means unknown to the audience and to contemporary science, the Order apparently has the means to revive him, presumably since they spent all their R&D time on this problem and not on the “lasers” one.
*This movie is very sheikh-heavy; I counted FIVE headdressed Middle Eastern men before the opening credits rolled.
**Played by the same dude who played The Whale in “Unmasking the Idol,” a fact that led to no small measure of confusion as I tried to figure out why the Whale joined such a despicable organization.
***A country much like Africa, as shown through a shot of a map overlaid with Tarzan-style foley work
"Order of the Black Eagle"

The amount of cheesy goodness on display in this movie is downright overwhelming, but I’ll explain a handful of standout moments:
  • Boon has ever-changing wardrobe that includes a tuxedo, fatigues, and a Mister Rogers cardigan
    "Order of the Black Eagle"
  • I’m guessing as a cost-cutting measure, members of the Order of the Black Eagle don’t have peaked caps, but instead prefer embroidered beige baseball caps
  • The ancient South American jungle temple that serves as the Order’s HQ is made of painted cardboard and looks a lot like the interior of the much-lamented Castle Dracula dark ride in Wildwood, NJ
  • Tiffany Youngblood’s hatred of men turns inexplicably–nee, magically–into throbbing desire for Duncan Jax when the script says so
    "Order of the Black Eagle"
  • Not content with a mere swastika, the Order has devised its OWN logo with a black eagle INSIDE of a swastika, for maximum eviltude
  • A motorcycle chase ends abruptly with a trip-wire decapitation that manages to be both extremely telegraphed and yet entirely unexpected
    "Order of the Black Eagle"
  • You bet your fucking ass there’s a hovercraft
    "Order of the Black Eagle"
  • Jax impersonates a flaming gay stereotype in order to set off a Spaghetti Western shoot-out****
****Yes, those words, in that order, make a sentence that describes a thing that happens in this movie
"Order of the Black Eagle"
You may ask how the Spaghetti Western homage is worked into what seems like a James Bond homage flavored with a soupcon of “The Boys from Brazil,” and this would be an entirely reasonable line of inquiry. One of the fantastical things about “The Order of the Black Eagle” is that it manages to pay homage to about a thousand different genre films, ranging from the obvious “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to such adventure stories as “The African Queen,” “The Dirty Dozen,” and “The A Team.” The latter two titles lead me to another outstanding element of this film: mid-way through the film, Jax and Star team up with a sort of Not-So-Magnificent Seven team consisting of a nerdy demolitions expert, a strongman, a female assassin, a cowboy, a smart-mouthed drunk, an archer, and unfortunately-named Jungle Princess Maxie Ryder. For those of you keeping track, that puts us at TEN heroes. I am more convinced now than ever that this story was concocted by a grade-school boy, what with all the Axe Cop*****-ery going on here.
*****You’re going to want to click that link if you’re unfamiliar with Axe Cop.
"Order of the Black Eagle"
To speak more about “The Order of the Black Eagle” would be to strip it of its native majesty. Suffice to say that I’ve only spoken about maybe a third of this movie’s appeal, and that much like its predecessor, this film is a work of mad genius. I remain mind-boggled as to how these movies have escaped cult film apotheosis, as they so beautifully embody the cocaine-fueled excess that characterizes the 1980s action film.
"Order of the Black Eagle"
Oh, and there’s a baboon that flips people off. A LOT.
Dear powers that be, please issue a DVD release of the Duncan Jax movies. If the public doesn’t demand it now, be certain that they should.

Domino [1988]

During the Italian Actresses panel at last month’s Chiller Theatre convention, horror vet Geretta Geretta mentioned a film she’d acted in that aimed to be a 1980s near-future giallo with minimal dialogue and feminist themes. Intrigued by how these seemingly disparate ideas might gel into a single film, I got my hands on a copy of Ivana Massetti’s “Domino.” Exploring ideas of female physical pleasure, human emotional love, and the isolating coldness of contemporary society, the film embodies the New Wave era nihilism that seems to be overlooked in the neon spandex flurry of today’s 80s revival.

Music video director Domino (played by Brigitte Nielsen, an actress whose photo appears in the dictionary next to the word “Statuesque”) lives in the kind of high-fashion, neon-lit, sterile glass cityscape that looks like it should be populated entirely by Patrick Nagel drawings. Domino drifts from one sexual encounter to another, entertaining several lovers but finding satisfaction with none of them. After she begins to receive phone calls from a mysterious stranger promising protection and fulfillment, she becomes obsessed with tracking him down. The more she seeks this unknown suitor, the more Domino begins to question her life and even her identity.
All this having been said, I’m here to tell you that the ultimate feminist statement in the neo-giallo form has yet to be made. I suppose that’s great news for aspiring filmmakers, but it’s bad news for “Domino.” Unfortunately for this film, an interesting concept and a strong eye for visuals are undermined by Nielsen’s middling performance and a general lack of cohesion to the production. While Nielsen is undeniably striking in still photos–and recent reality television appearances show her to be one HELL of a character in person–she’s never resonated with me as an actress. Domino’s lack of affect is a crucial part of the story, and it’s a tricky task to reel viewers in to a movie about emotions whose heroine is icily distanced from her world. If Domino is struggling to feel passion, the viewer gives up in trying to empathize with her stern facade long before her character begins to show signs of life.
Several of the critiques on the IMDb page for “Domino” accuse the film of not making sense. While this assessment reflects the frustrating nature of this movie, this isn’t an accurate criticism–the movie does make sense, but the plot is paper thin and the overall poor acting makes the film unsatisfying as a character study.
It’s true that there’s a not-insignificant amount of “bad” going on here, but the film isn’t irredeemable for aficionados of 1980s retro-futurism. The film looks like a super-glossy music video with neon lighting, fashion shoots, and long sequences of moody, beautiful people brooding or fucking or talking on telephones. Textural details are handled well, from Domino’s blinged-out pet turtle (no, really!) to her love of Billie Holiday. I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine a movie that would be made WORSE by the inclusion of Billie Holiday songs. Domino’s passion for Billie Holiday reminded me a bit of “Point of No Return” (the 1993 “La Femme Nikita” redux) and Bridget Fonda’s character’s borderline-obsession with the music of Nina Simone. There is (naturally) a parade of ostentatious clothing and wigs on display, and Nielsen looks great in an array of looks that evoke such icons as Marlene Dietrich, Louise Brooks, and even Adam Ant. Motifs of womb-like circles inform the set design, leaving me with the distinct impression that there was a thoughtfulness that went into the visual design that could have made this a really cool flick, had that same amount of attention been paid to getting good performances out of the cast.
Geretta Geretta’s character, a tragic but sexually-empowered cabaret performer, provides an emotional counterpoint to Domino’s distant personality. The moments the two women share resonate more than any of Domino’s other encounters, and the erotic tension there is the best in the film. This may very well have been intentional, but it’s a too-short highlight in an otherwise unremarkable series of character interactions.
Watching “Domino” isn’t a dire experience, but it’s the very definition of “A Curiosity.” For those who want a unique perspective on the Italo-thriller, there are some good moments to be found, and this is certainly a one-of-a-kind document for scholars of feminist cinema. All others will be left puzzled and perhaps even angry at what might seem to be a softcore movie with artistic pretensions.