Succubus [1968]

The name “Lorna” got attached to a special breed of sensual–some might say “sex crazed”–femme fatale during the 1960s. From Russ Meyers’ untamable hellcat in the film of the same name to the repeated use of that moniker in the films of Jess Franco, the image of Lorna as a beautiful, moody, and dangerous woman has been cemented in my brain. Lorna is the kind of woman to whom you wouldn’t want to give your real name and phone number, but whose charms are utterly irresistible.

The central character in Jess Franco’s cinematic tone poem* “Succubus” (also known as “Necronomicon” and approximately forty-two other iterations, as is the case with Eurotrash cinema) is this kind of Lorna distilled to her most provocative and deadly essence.
*Metaphors–I’ze mixin’ ’em all up today.

Lorna is a Berlin nightclub performer whose nightly displays of ritualized murder are echoed in her dreams. As Lorna’s hazy fantasies begin to have echoes in reality, she comes to believe she may be an instrument in something sinister. Told without much in the way of exposition, and with a majority of the dialogue devoted to wordplay and absurdist monologues, the story is really a support system for elaborate dream sequences and groovy nightclub scenes. It’s an exploration of the id of one hypnotic woman and, as one might expect, it’s got sex, style, and psychedelia to spare.
Were I a nightclub promoter (and I’m not, because I don’t have nearly that appetite for illicit chemicals, underage lovers, and artificial friends), I’d watch Jess Franco’s scenes of cabaret performances on a loop until they were seared into my brain and I could call them to mind by rote. Then again, I’ve been to more than my fair share of nightclubs with kinky cabaret acts, and they’re never as captivating as the ones Franco lenses. There’s something to be said for voyeurism through the proxy of an on-screen voyeur (to say nothing of the caliber of slinky ladies employed in Franco’s films, which out-slinkies the slinkiest nightclub performer I’ve seen to date) to heighten the thrill of these scenes. The audiences in a Franco nightclub scene gaze on the performance–in this case, a satin-clad dominatrix teases, tortures, and murders a man and a woman strapped to matching Saint Andrews’s Crosses–with a mixture of icy matter-of-fact-ness and jaded reverie. There’s the sense that these over-the-top displays are just on their way to being outmoded, and while popular, something more intense is going to replace their thrill.
Mysterious people come into Lorna’s orbit, claiming to know her and pining for her company. Her confusion about her life’s history grows as the line between her dreams and her waking life becomes more blurred. Hell, if you found yourself at a drug-blissed bohemian party with free-flowing J&B and a little person in full evening attire, you’d question your reality, too.
“Succubus” combines the ridiculous with the beautiful and develops its own aesthetic vocabulary that’s at once pompous and giddy. This movie LOVES word association, and as Lorna is hypnotized by her therapist, the following exchange occurs:
Therapist: “Pachyderms?”
Lorna: “Attract me.”
Therapist: “Knives?”
Lorna: “ATTRACT ME.”
Therapist: “Pencils?”
Lorna: “I WON’T ANSWER!”
Therapist: “Bells?”
Lorna: “Leave me alone!”
This movie made me want to speak entirely in mysterious couplets and insane non-sequiturs. It’s an element of Continental Affect that I can only aspire to. First, one must master the False Eyelashes–the Insane Non-Sequitur is probably the Twenty-Third Chamber of Eurotrash.
I cannot get enough of this dialogue, and I’ll assume you can’t, either! There’s a superb sequence where Lorna exchanges wordplay gobblydegook with Admiral Kapp (played by Howard Vernon) in a bar staffed entirely by nude men.
Kapp: “Camus?”
Lorna: “Plague.”
Kapp: “Tomorrow?”
Lorna: “The Inferno.”
Kapp: “The Unconcious?”
Lorna: “Marquis de Sade.”
Kapp: “Religion?”
Lorna: “Gomorra.”
As you might’ve surmised by now, “Succubus” is an exercise in style–groovy mother-hatin’ STYLE, baby–over any kind of tangible narrative substance. The film is aesthetically uber-pleasing, with an artist’s eye for detail. The colors of Lorna’s gowns are carefully chosen, from the green minidress that complements her fiery hair to her red decollete-bearing robe to the series of white pieces she wears during her dreams. And, really, who can express surprise at this, considering current Chanel creative director-slash-Japanese plastic toy subject-slash “Grand Theft Auto IV” DJ Karl Lagerfeld** created Lorna’s costumes? No–really; check the credits.
**I could go on SUCH a tangent here about how I think Karl Lagerfeld should team up with Grace Jones and Udo Kier to create a legion of superfabulous superevil, but I’ll spare you.
Fellow Franco fans will flog me with a wet noodle if I didn’t note the jazzy soundtrack cleverly arranged around Baroque themes, which echoes the credit sequence that plays over Old Master paintings. I can’t quite untangle the film’s seeming allusions to this period of art, as its look and feel is very contemporary with the time of its filming. This is just another one of those lovely mysteries in the rich and bizarre vocabulary of Jess Franco!
It would be easy for the actors to be overwhelmed with such a visuals-forward approach to filmmaking, but Janine Reynaud makes the enigmatic Lorna a compelling character. Physically, Reynaud reminds me of Dyanne Thorne, with her atypically attractive features. While she has some scenes of overbearing and even mad-eyed authority, she brings a vulnerability to her depiction of the confused, eroticized woman who is alternately in peril and putting others in peril. It’s a tricky feat, but Reynaud balances her villainous moments with ones of sensuality and melancholy.
“Succubus” is another gem from Franco’s most lyrical period in filmmaking. It’s an artifact of its time, with its unusual structure, bold use of visuals, and playfully absurd moments. There’s a real sense of exploration of the medium that is a pleasure to watch. Not all experiments are successful, but there’s an ethereal magic going on here that should be appreciated by fans of erotic and unusual cinema.

She [1965]

Hammer's SHE

We’ve got a problem, folks. I’m faced with the unpleasant and difficult task of telling you why I really didn’t love a movie starring Ursula Andress as a deathless beauty, Christopher Lee as a cunning grand vizier, and Peter Cushing as an English explorer in the classic mold. “She” would seem to be a slam-dunk for Hammer Studios–an exotic adventure with supernatural themes and a costumey period setting. Unfortunately, a series of poor narrative choices leave the end product bland and dry as unbuttered toast. And, seriously–is there anything sadder than a breakfast of unbuttered toast? That’s frikkin’ punitive food right there.

Hammer's SHE
For those unfamiliar with the source material, “She” is an 1886 novel by H. Rider Haggard detailing the story of English gentleman Holly and his ward, Leo who set off to Africa (we’re talking Wicked-Un-PC Victorian Darkest Africa here–with missionaries boiling in pots and bones through noses and stuff) in search of the origins of a pottery sherd claiming to detail Leo’s noble heritage. They come across a lost kingdom ruled by an immortal queen, Ayesha, who believes that Leo is the reincarnation of her long-dead lover. The book tackles–not always delicately, mind you–issues of race, gender, power, love, family, and destiny. It’s got plenty for filmmakers to latch on to, and latch on they have… with varying degrees of success.

Hammer's SHE
Let’s address what’s good here first. Production photos from the set of “She” don’t lie–Ursula Andress gets decked out in an array of Egyptianate gowns, culminating with a fully-feathered robe that makes the actress look like a bird of prey, or the sexy cousin of those hawk men in “Flash Gordon.” Her screen presence is magnetic, and she does a creditable job as the immortal queen of a lost civilization, watching the rise and decline of her people while maintaining a stranglehold of power. Also appealing to the eye is Rosenda Monteros in the good-girl brunette role of Ustane.
Hammer's SHE
Hammer’s characteristic indoor sets are lovely, and there’s attention paid to creating an immersive look and feel to the city of Kuma. Anthropologists will cringe at the mish-mash of Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Totally Pretend themes present in the decor, but those anthropologists will likely have other, bigger issues with “She” and probably should choose another film to enjoy lest they experience catastrophic brain aneurisms.
Hammer's SHE
It’s always a blast to see Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee–they are dignitaries of horror cinema. Even when they’re not acting so terribly dignified, they bring a certain gravitas to the screen. I mean, check out Peter Cushing comporting himself with a pair of dusky bellydancing exotics–his suit is still crisp.
Hammer's SHE
“Fuck you. I’m Dracula.”
Also: Christopher Lee wears a series of increasingly ridiculous helmets.
Hammer's SHE
This is the good stuff that you can glimpse from photos on the set. Now is the point where I’m going to have to break your hearts, and for that I’m sorry. I draw your attention to another feature of those set photos. Namely: The Desert. Is there a more dire setting than a desert in which to film? I don’t miss the Looney Tunes trope of khaki-clad explorers staggering around the tawny dunes, woefully contemplating their empty canteens. If, on the other hand, you do, then by golly you’re in luck here, cos you’re getting MONTAGED, lieblings. What was, in the novel, an exciting travel through the jungles of Africa, encountering exotic people, man-eating beasts, and cataclysmic weather becomes a lurching slog through the desert.
Hammer's SHE
“I get the sense you’re not listening to me. Why are you looking over my left shoulder? That’s just rude.”
And then there’s the not-small-at-all matter of jumbling the plot structure. Haggard’s novel maintains a sense of foreboding and tension surrounding what will happen to Holly and Leo once they reach their destination–if they reach their destination. In this film adaptation, Leo meets Ayesha within ten minutes of the film’s opening title cards, knows there’s something mystical going on, is given a map, and then goes in search of her lost kingdom.
Let’s face it–Leo Vincey’s character has never been terribly engaging, and I suspect that’s deliberate. He’s a tabula rasa on which Ayesha can imprint her desires. However, John Richardson takes the role one step further into the realm of non-entity. Upon reviewing his filmography, it looks like I’ve not-noticed him in a lot of movies, including “Black Sunday”*, “Torso,” “Eyeball” and Michele Soavi’s “The Church.” He’s… y’know… chiseled and all, but there’s just nothin’ doin’ in this role, and since his relationship with Ayesha is moved front and center, to the detriment of most other story elements, “chiseled” is just not enough.
*F’real this time, friends.
Also: bumbling manservant. Two words that really never tasted so great together.
Hammer's SHE
The majesty of the 1935 screen adaptation of “She” is missing. While that film took liberties with the story (not least of which was moving the setting to the Arctic), it maintained the sweeping spirit of its source. All of the Christopher Lee Wackyhats in the world can only lend Hammer’s “She” a glimmer of camp value in an otherwise two-dimensional and–dare I say it–boring production. For adventure-film completists and Hammer Glamour apologists, there’s stuff to enjoy, but for my money, I’ll take a Hammer European Titty Movie.

Images of Film: The Terror of Candlelight

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
Here comes the chopper to chop off your head.

Candles. In film, you can mince around for forty-five minutes, exploring the darkest corners of the heretofore-unknown family crypt and ferreting out mysteries without the damn things snuffing out on you.
"Bloody Ceremony" Film Still
"Beyond Love and Evil" Film Still
There’s a sense of tension and mystery that’s created when a character wanders around an otherwise darkened environment by candlelight.
"Virgin of Nuremberg" Film Still
"The Horrible Dr Hichcock" Film Still
"The Awful Dr. Orlof" Still
"La Residencia"
Really, the only thing that’s certain is that the character is probably not going to like whatever she uncovers.
The Demon Lover
Or whatever chances upon her.
"Vampire Ecstasy" Film Still
Even stationary candles hold the promise of menace, or at the very least of Occult Shenanigans. Either one produces the stuff that horror film dreams are made of.
"Chemical Wedding"
"Horror Rises from the Tomb" Film Still
"Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun" Film Still
"The Abbess of Castro" Film Still
"Ring of Darkness" Film Still
Thank you to Uncle Lancifer of Kindertrauma and Neil of The Agitation of the Mind for tagging me for this particular meme! I think I am supposed to link to some other things and taint a bunch of you for participation, but I’m’a break that rule (not least of all because I think everyone on the web has already done this bit already).

Simon Says [2006]

I think I dig getting involved in masochistic relationships with men when they don’t know it. That’s incredibly unhealthy, but I have no other way of explaining why I’d watch “Simon Says,” an irritatingly-titled, late-model slasher film by the director of “Harry and the Hendersons,” “The Sandlot 3” and “Leslie Neilsen’s Santa Claus.” Unhealthier still--I actually liked this particular irritatingly-titled, late-model slasher film. Why on earth subject myself to such a deliriously torturous experience? It’s like asking a submissive why he doesn’t just smack his foot against a door jamb when he gets the urge, instead of dropping serious coin on some anonymous-yet-harsh bird with a flogger. The details are important, and there’s a really vital element to “Simon Says.” Friends, that detail is Crispin Glover.

Taken on its own merits, “Simon Says” is poorly-scripted, crammed with unlikeable (and unbelievable) characters, and stupid to an impressive degree. I’m not much of a fan of the slasher genre, with its telegraphed morality messages and almost nonexistent plotting, and the characters in this movie make the ones in “Friday the 13th” look like the UN Security Council. Five campers who have no reason to be friends with each other (a stoner, a slut, a prude, a jock, and the jock’s girlfriend who is supposed to be nice because she has naturally-colored hair and appears to have no interests outside of talking about getting married and having kids) go deep into the woods of Somewhere that there is mining and encounter a pair of psycho killers who employ pickaxes as their primary means of dispatching strangers. Why? Because they’re kuhrazee and killed their parents when they were adolescents. So yeah–the movie is a life-support system for pickaxe killings (though not for much boob-showing–so caveat emptor, dudes).
Simon Says
TANGENT: I’ve been a big fan of pickaxe killings on screen ever since I saw the late-80s BBC mini-series adaptation of J. Sheridan LeFanu’s “Uncle Silas” (released in the UK under the title “The Dark Angel” and well worth tracking down if you’re a fan of 19th Century Gothics). I was a young teen, and was emerging from an Usher-sibling-like cocoon of stimulus allergy. There’s a super-creepy scene in which a character is dispatched via pickaxe that resonates with me to this day, in spite of having a lot of red-tinted water under the bridge of my cinematic experience. So yes–in my formative years I learned to love a) pickaxe murder and b) creepy men. This is really turning out to be all about my puberty, isn’t it? FIN TANGENT.
Simon Says
Do not take camping advice from these men.
Back to the pickaxe killings at hand! I’d have felt like this was a reasonable expenditure of 90 minutes if I got to see a couple of obnoxious campers get thonked through the sternum with pointy miners’ implements, but this is where the real virtues of this movie reveal themselves. After a slow start (the glorious sight of Mr. Glover’s mannipples through a fitted thermal shirt aside), the method of the mayhem reveals itself. Stanley and his brother Simon (pronounced “Say-uh-mun” in some sort of inscrutable hick patois by Glover) have rigged the woods surrounding their general store with a series of impressive pickaxe booby traps. Pickaxes fly through the air, spring from the ground, and drop from trees. PICKAXES!
Simon Says
There are no pictures of pickaxes in this review. In order to compensate, here is an image of the second-best use of a ghillie suit I’ve ever seen.
As one might expect, stage blood is employed liberally here. Blessedly, this isn’t the dubious CGI splatter favored by some recent productions, but rather the kind of syrupy, dark stuff that gorehounds have come to know and love. Human bodies behave in ways that human bodies do not generally behave–they fall apart when whacked with heavy things, turn into jelly when someone needs to shove something through someone, and are unbelievably flammable. But that’s all part of the fun here! Sensing that a body count of five might not slake the thirst of this film’s target audience, the filmmakers toss a hitchhiker and some paintballers into the mix, all of whom are creatively done away with (right down to their little dog, too).
Simon Says
Slasher fans will find themselves happy with all this, and were I a die-hard of that stripe, I’d be able to stop here, convinced that folks reading this would be satisfied with the recommendation. But this wasn’t what affected my appreciation of the film–Crispin Glover’s dual role as savage Stanley and simple Simon was what put this over the top into full-on Guilty Pleasure territory. Some cineastes will gasp and bite their knuckles at what I’m about to assert, but I think Crispin Glover is the Klaus Kinski of this generation. He’s a genuine eccentric with a bold, even unhinged screen presence and a striking appearance that combine with… well, some dubious script choices. That having been said, there’s something in even his diciest roles that will delight completists. And his role in “Simon Says” isn’t a “blink and you’ll miss him” one–Glover is front and center throughout, enough so it’s worth suffering through the jock and the jock’s girlfriend’s love spats, the uncomfortable stereotyping of the Asian woman as a prissy bitch, and even the predictable stoner comedy bits.

Simon Says
Crispin Glover is Ernest P. Worrell in “Ernest Goes Batshit”
And I think I might have kid-gloved this in prior paragraphs, so let me tell you hold outs that CRISPIN GLOVER PLAYS A RETARDED PERSON in this movie. A retarded person with a marble-mouthed hillbilly accent. Seriously.

Simon Says
Understand that “Simon Says” is stupid. Understand that “Simon Says” isn’t particularly well made. Understand that “Simon Says” has one of the most aggravating killer catchphrases in a genre pockmarked with aggravating killer catchphrases (HINT: IT’S THE TITLE). Also understand that, for splatter enthusiasts as well as fans of truly out-there performances, “Simon Says” is a treat.
Thanks to the internet, I know I have at least one more member of my “Simon Says” support group. Check out what Christine had to say about this movie over at Paracinema earlier this year. And then go ferret out a copy for yourself–just keep your higher brain functions in check!