Around the Web: William Mortensen, Jean Rollin, Piracy, and The Unknown

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I realize I express delight a lot; I have a boundless well of enthusiasm for dark and obscure things. But it’s with a true and noteworthy sense of delight that I announce that I’ll be contributing to Heathen Harvest, an absolutely mighty, fearless resource for underground music and culture. My first contribution to HH comes is a review of Feral House’s 2014 releases American Grotesque and The Command to Look, covering the work, career, and philosophies of William Mortensen.

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Dirge Magazine continues to let me ply my trade in bizarro cinema. November saw my peek into the kinky world of The Unknown, a circus-set Tod Browning thriller starring Lon Chaney as a murderous performer who carries a torch for smoldering young Joan Crawford.

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I’ve also written a two-part exploration of the films of Jean Rollin, the first of which posted recently and covers the director’s use of symbolism. Well, symbolism and bucketloads of sex. The sex is pretty important, really.

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Speaking of sex, the babes at Slutist published November’s Great Moment in Historical Sluttery, which covered the pirate queen of the Chinese coast, Ching Shih. Pirates are great, but pirates with bisexual, incestuous threesomes are super-fucking-great. You should go read about her.

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OH AND! Should you be in the NYC area this Sunday December 6, I will be manning the Heretical Sexts table at the St. Vitus Holiday Flea Market. I have brand new holiday cards as well as new prints, and the remaining copies of Die Mensur and all HS zine titles.

Teen Witches, Russian Bloodsuckers, and Lunatics Running the Asylum: Recent Watch Run-down

It’s that time again: here’s some stuff I’ve watched recently that you, too, can view on your streaming service of choice.

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The Sisterhood of Night (2014)

As the one woman my age who was not enchanted with “The Craft,” I really wanted the recent teen witch outsider movie “Sisterhood of the Night” to satisfy my yearning for an occult thriller that fully exploits the nightmarish hellscape of American high school. I feel like younger viewers will probably get more out of this modern-day “Crucible” story of ostracization, mania, and eventual redemption than I did. Director Caryn Waechter does a fine job eliciting memorable performances from her cast of young woman actors, and Georgie Henley plays lead witchy-chick Mary with a fine balance of charisma and vulnerability.  Perhaps the most refreshing thing about this movie is seeing teenage girls portrayed with a degree of nuance and realism not usually seen in movies (god, being a teenage girl was horrible–I DO NOT RECOMMEND the experience to others).

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Night Watch (2004)

This tale of warring factions of Russian supernatural creatures is like being inside someone else’s migraine for almost two hours. Frenetic, inscrutable, and with far more mythos-building than any movie about monsters punching each other deserves, it does have a beautiful handling of animated, artistic subtitles in the US release going for it.

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Stonehearst Asylum (2014)

Holy cow, was I charmed by this adaptation of Poe’s “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Father.” I went into this suspicious of any adaptation of that story, which had already been done with psychedelic bombast in 1973 by Juan Lopez Moctezuma in “Mansion of Madness.” Fortunately, the movie doesn’t chiefly turn on Poe’s famous twist ending–this same twist does appear early in the movie but it’s used to set the stage for further convolutions of the pleasantly gothic variety. Directed by Brad Anderson (who’s also responsible for haunted asylum-themed cult fave “Session 9”), “Stonehearst Asylum” balances the darkness of gothic fiction with a pleasant dose of the cheekiness that can also be found in that source material, but is often overlooked by modern adaptations. Hell, even Kate Beckinsdale (star of the “Underworld” franchise, speaking of movies with way too much backstory to their monster-punching) is a delight in this.

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London in the Raw (1965)

The Mondo well must have been running dry at this point, as the big gore/surgery setpiece involves a man getting hairplugs. Thanks, but I’ll take the mensur fencers and Grand Guignol in “Ecco!”

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.