Alraune [1928]

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There are an almost infinite number of enticements I could use to convince you to watch Henrik Galeen’s 1928 screen adaptation of Hanns Heinz Ewers’ decadent occult romance novel “Alraune,” but for the purposes of brevity and impact, I’ve selected the five GIFs below to plead my case. While the film departs from the source material in several particulars, it retains much of the cruelly humorous eroticism while adding in a tension-filled train ride and an extended circus interlude. Those are both terrifically Weimar Era touches to which I simply cannot object.

Backing up a few paces: the novel “Alraune” tells the story of a woman created by a scientist through artificially inseminating a prostitute with the seed of a hanged convict (deftly harvested during the criminal’s death throes) that the resulting child might take on the magical characteristics of the mandrake (alraune) root. This daughter brings both incredible luck and tragic misfortune to every person who attempts to get close to her, from bewitched fellow students in her convent school though besotted men who bend to her whims.

The English cut of the film adaptation glosses over Alraune’s conception, though for Those In The Know it’s all pretty much there, opening as it does on a fantastically moody gallows with lurking figures beneath. What the film does maintain, though, is the novel’s overarching spirit and (spoiler alert for an almost-100-year-old movie based on an over-100-year-old book) while the ending is significantly more upbeat, there’s something deliciously subversive about transforming a tale of a born-and-bred femme fatale into a redemption arc.

With that, I’ll proceed onto the facts of the case.

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FIRSTLY: “Alraune” features an actual “train going into a tunnel” cut to indicate two characters having sex. That’s fucking terrific.

alraune-4SECONDLY: Have you ever wanted to see Brigitte Helm, Maria from “Metropolis,” performing an adorable calisthenics routine? Then I admire the specificity of your tastes and will inform you that this is your film, friend.

alraune-3THIRDLY: There is a beer-drinking bear.

alraune-5FOURTHLY: I direct you to GIF Left, in which there is a woman wearing a monocle. The monocle was frequently donned by cosmopolitan German women who wished to indicate their lesbian identity, in a supreme gesture of elegant sartorial BAMF-ery.

alraune-1FIFTHLY (and perhaps most importantly): “Alraune” features some of the best exchanges of Significant Looks ever captured on film. The smoking! The gazes! The cheekbones! It’s more than the heart can stand.

And with that, I leave you to watch “Alraune” (aka “A Daughter of Destiny”):

Vampires vs Dancing Queens, Verhoeven’s Nazi Melodrama, the Sounds of Horror and More

The following are some movies I’ve watched recently that made enough of an impression one way or another to merit a post here. Consider these my personal pro/con recommendations for stuff you can probably watch on your streaming service of choice.

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Black Book (2006, dir. Paul Verhoeven)

How could a two-and-a-half-hour WWII melodrama about a beautiful Jewish spy fucking an SS officer as directed by the man who brought us “Robocop” and “Showgirls” go so very, very wrong? I’m pretty sure the moment when the soon-to-be-seduced Nazi whips out his stamp collection, thus demonstrating his “we are not all barbarians” stock character, sets things on a path into deadly doldrums. All the resistance fighters, pert breasts, gun battles, double-crosses, and false indictments in the world couldn’t transform this lumbering hulk of stereotypes and blandness into the flashy, decadent trash-cinema masterpiece it could have been. The Critics, however, adored it.bsoundstudio

Berberian Sound Studio (2012, dir. Peter Strickland)

This smart tribute to later-era Italo-horror shifts the focus from rivers of red to the gruesomely evocative sound design of these gorefests. Beautifully filmed, intimate in scope, and frequently bitingly funny, I was pleasantly surprised that this movie lured me into its strange spiral of madness. This is, at its heart, a movie about a culture clash and excellent performances drive home this central conflict. An ambiguous ending has frustrated many viewers, but this is highly recommended for fans of oddly-structured stories rich with period and technical details.devilskiss

Devil’s Kiss (1976, dir. Jordi Gigo)

Vintage Eurotrash can offer many delights: colorful cinematography, flashy jazz and prog rock soundtracks, and plentiful kink can frequently salvage an otherwise forgettable movie. Forgetfulness seems to be the order of the day in “Devil’s Kiss,” tragically, as someone at the helm seems to have forgotten to include music, beauty, and atmosphere anywhere in this neo-Gothic tale of revenge and the reanimated dead. I think the biggest shock was the inclusion of a scene that had enough impact to remind me that I’d previously watched this movie (though what that scene was seems to have escaped me at this point). I momentarily had this confused with “Devil’s Nightmare,” but that’s a far superior effort that features baby-stabbing and Erika Blanc’s delightful crazyface.vampballerina

The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960, dir. Renato Polselli)

This clunky little feature has bad monster design without being compellingly bad monster design, but is narrowly rescued from tedium by the endearing goofiness of its premise: a dance troupe of nubile young things is rehearsing for a performance at a remote castle, begging the question of who their intended audience might be, and begin falling prey to the hungry dead. Jiggly coquettishness and vampiric demises ensue.revengeoftheninja

Revenge of the Ninja (1983, dir. Sam Firstenberg)

Every movie should inspire the kind of joy I experienced when watching “Revenge of the Ninja,” which marries a profound misunderstanding of Japanese culture with the dopiest heroin-smuggling scheme of all time. Honestly—how much heroin can you even include in a tiny doll? And why let the dolls be displayed in a shop so you have to steal them back? Inscrutable! Featuring the father-son team of Sho and Kane Kosugi as good-guy ninjas—bring your kid to work day is just plain different at Cannon Films.manborg

Manborg (2011, dir. Steven Kostanski)

Deliberately camp movies are a dicey—nay, foreboding—proposition, but this Mortal Kombat meets 80s macho actioner puts in such overtime in its creative use of weirdo FX work that to not-like it would be like ignoring a puppy showing you its belly to receive tickles. After fearing that I’d have to turn this off after the first ten minutes, I was rewarded with stop-motion animated monsters, an unexpectedly charming villain in the form of The Baron, and some genuine laughs. This one may grow on my fellow hard-hearted cynics in a similar fashion.