(Ho-wdy, Ho-rror Ho-mies…Apologies for dropping the ball a bit around here for the last little bit. I had some personal matters to attend to, butt now I’m back in action and ready to make the spookening happen. 🙂 First up, a review of something near and dear to my cold, black heart…Death Note. This take on the new NetfliXXX adaptation presented by Mr. Anton Phibes…Thanks for the interesting input, Kinky Kolleague! 🙂 xoxo)
It’s a tired cliche to say that the pen is mightier than the sword, but that old chestnut is given new gravity in Adam Wingard’s Death Note, an American incarnation of the popular Japanese franchise. In the film, a few strokes of a pen etched within a most peculiar notebook are all it takes to kill anyone at anytime. Imbued with the abilities of a literal death god, the titular “Death Note” is the murder weapon to end all murder weapons: elegant, efficient, and damn-near impossible to trace. The notebook’s current owner uses its awesome power to purge the world of those he deems evil, resulting in an epic battle of wits between the wielder of the book and those who seek to stop him.
Since 2003, Death Note has been adapted many times over. Starting with the anime adaptation of the original manga, each interpretation retains the primary characters and certain scenes, but always tells its own version of the tale, with new twists and wrinkles. However, despite the many variations on the same story, it seems most adapters agree that the material is simply too much to tell one outing. The manga spawned 12 volumes, the anime series has 37 episodes, the Japanese live-action films gave its take in two films, and the live-action mini-series had 11 episodes. Regardless of the changes made, Death Note is still a massive story. And that is where the problems begin. A story as sprawling as Death Note shouldn’t be confined to a little over 90 mins. The picture feels rushed and overloaded, losing much of the power previous tellings had. What’s worse is that precious screen time is spent on paltry teen drama that exists in no other version. Instead of building up the rivalry between the murderous Light and the detective L that’s so central to the franchise, it places emphasis on a boring girlfriend character who would not be out of place in a Disney Channel movie. Much of the suspense is replaced with teen angst, questions on the nature of justice are tossed out for bland romance, and the Light depicted here is more of an awkward teenager than a diabolical vigilante. The entire affair has the unfortunate quality of feeling like a man in an iron maiden: cramped and bloodless.
Despite these considerable flaws, I actually did find quite a bit to love here. Adam Wingard’s direction is superbly stylishly, with extraordinary color usage, some fun death scenes, and some truly moody moments. Light’s character is significantly neutered compared to previous takes, but Nate Wolff does an admirable job as this version of the character. The other performances range from pretty good to downright excellent, with Lakeith Stanfield’s L and Willem Dafoe as the death god Ryuk emerging on top. Speaking of Ryuk, the effects used to bring him to life(?) are simply marvelous, giving him a Satanic grace and a perfectly demonic appearance.
Death Note is likely to disappoint fans of the source material, but may be of interest to those who love teen horror. There are moments that evoke the black magic of the franchise, but it’s best taken as on its own. Wingard’s film is deeply flawed, but not without flashes of greatness. Perhaps if he makes that rumored sequel, Wingard will deliver a film that lives up to the both his own potential and that of the material. There’s still time to make us see the Light.
I do believe that Dario Argento, director of such stunning and inspiring movies like Suspiria and Phenomena, gets plenty of recognition, but I’m not sure if he gets all the recognition he deserves. I dunno, maybe he does, but I feel like we should be talking about him a lot more. Some argue that the giallo genre was shaped and molded by Mario Bava and I totally agree with that, but I believe it was when Dario Argento got his black leather gloves all over it, he perfected it.
Before his films were known for being brightly colorful comic book images come to life, Dario Argento worked more with shadows and lights. There’s something so chilling about the way he shoots a black leather glove, outlined by moonlight, tracing the contours of a knife. I could go on forever about how visually impressive his movies are, but I think visually being able to tell a movie is something that is being lost. Ironic, I know, but consider everything we can do to make any frame of a movie you are watching look fantastic. Obviously, it wasn’t always that way and it took creative people with a stylish, artistic vision to bring it to life.
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is Dario Argento’s directorial debut and the only comparison is Reservoir Dogs and Quentin Tarantino. Coming out swinging and swinging hard, sister. When you look at the core story of The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, it’s quite simple. I believe most of the greatest films are simple stories, but it takes a great director to tell that simple story. When you take a step back and look at it, it’s nothing more than a guy who witnesses a murder and helps with the investigation. Not too complicated, but once you introduce some interesting characters, a few sexy sirens, a killer that not only lurks in the shadows, but has taken an interest in the film’s protagonist who has reluctantly decided to help the police seeing as how he’s a material witness (because, you know, that’s totally acceptable). Argento will also start his notorious trend of the main character solving the murder by recalling clues through memory. It’s interesting how it’s used here, with no sound, playing over and over like a nightmare and seemingly getting closer and closer to the truth. As a viewer, you begin to feel like you yourself are reliving that horrible moment and I found myself on the edge of the seat, leaning in and intently staring at the screening, hoping to find some detail or clue Argento has left for his hero. And for us.
The answer is right in front of you the whole time, but you’ll never see it. When the film ends, it will become so obvious, but until then The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is an energetic thriller that has more than enough surprises and for the most part is easy to follow along. But before the end, you obviously have to start at the beginning, a theme that Argento’s giallos typically follow. Tony Musante plays an American (because that name screams America) ex-writer named Sam living in Italy who accidentally witnesses a murder on his way home one night. I just realized that the phrase “accidentally witnesses a murder” is an oxymoron, seeing as how I don’t think that’s anyone’s intention. And he was two days away from retirement, dammit, or in this case from moving! Seeing as how the inspector has taken Sam’s passport, he won’t be moving in the foreseeable future, so he may as well insert himself in the investigation and solve the case. Because, ya know, that’s something witnesses can do. It’s okay to meddle in police business and put yourself – the material witness – in danger.
By following some evidence, a left handed glove with cigarette ash on it, they connect this attempted murder to three other women that have been murdered, but there must be a bigger connection. Honestly, I don’t think there is between the victims or at least nothing that I recall. Partnering with his hot-to-trot vixen of a girlfriend (played by Torso’s Suzy Kendall, the film that is arguably one of the first slashers), they don’t necessarily connect the dots, but come across an interesting clue; the killer had bought a painting of a man killing a woman from a woman he murdered. Confused? Don’t be, it’s not as complicated as it sounds, but the way it fits into this puzzle as a whole may seem like a bit of a stretch, but I think it’s more of an interesting way to tie it all together. It also helps fill in the gaps when Sam isn’t being stalked by a figure in a trench coat and a fedora, like when he’s walking down a foggy street, totally unaware he is being stalked until he has a meat clever swung at his head! It’s a good scene and a cool shot, but I wouldn’t call it tense seeing as I don’t think the movie would try to kill our main character before is halfway over. This isn’t Executive Decision here.
The closer they get to discovering the identity of the killer, the more threats they receive, which is arguably understandable. At least from the killer’s point of view, anyway. That’s pretty much your movie right there, but like I said, it’s pretty simple at its core, but Argento throws in some interesting pieces to make it seem different or more complicated than it actually is. I do have to say that I wouldn’t say the ending is a twist since that’s pretty standard for giallos, but I will say regardless of the obvious red herrings, I didn’t see it coming and it was a hair raising revelation when Sam recalls the events correctly that night and identifies the killer.
Usually a director’s earlier works are noticeably weaker, but not Argento’s. This film looks just as beautifully directed as his later works, like Deep Red or Suspiria. The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is a strong, solid film that has a moderately suspenseful story with interesting, but not over the top characters (accompanied by great performances), sexy girls and amazing cinematography. The only thing it seems to be lacking is gore, something Argento would later increase with Deep Red and Tenebrae. The film isn’t a violent, bloody mess like you would expect from a murder mystery, in fact there is very little blood. Luckily, this isn’t a Fulci film, so it’s not like you’re expecting it or viewing it simply to watch people get their guts spilled or eyeballs tortured in some way. Then again, that’s where the two filmmakers are noticeably different; Argento was more about mood and style and Fulci – at times – was about atmosphere and gore.
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage joins the ranks of other great giallos put out by Arrow Video and I’m happy the first time in about ten years I viewed this film was on a brand new 4K transfer that looked sharp and colors were vibrant and wild that it was like viewing a catalogue of models and trends in the ‘70s. Being an Italian film, you do have the option of seeing it with its original Italian audio track (with optional English subtitles). This release also features a new audio commentary from Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films, The Power of Perception, a new visual essay on the cinema of Dario Argento by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Devil’s Advocates: Suspiria and Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study, new analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger, new interview with writer/director Dario Argento, new interview with actor Gildo Di Marco (Garullo the pimp). This release also features a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp, as well as a double-sided fold-out poster and 6 Lobby Card reproductions. I think the bonus fans will enjoy the most is the limited edition 60-page booklet illustrated by Matthew Griffin, featuring an appreciation of the film by Michael Mackenzie, and new writing by Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook. Lots of cool information to be found there.
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is a classic, not matter if you see it as a giallo, horror or even as an Argento film, it perfectly represents all three. It may not be his best or bloodiest work, but it’s a great little thriller that doesn’t try to be bigger than what it is and still keeps you intrigued every step of the way.
Salutations from the Other Side, Ho-rror Ho-unds! It’s a Terror-ific Tuesday here in Karloffornia, so why not take a look at The Terror with Boris Karloff? What a tit-le! How intriguing! How vague! “The Terror” is like calling a film “Horror Movie.” And it sums up the appeal of this film pretty neatly! The plot concerns Andre Duvalier, a lost Napoleonic soldier (a very young Jack Nicholson) who is rescued by Helene (Sandra Knight), an enigmatic woman who is revealed to be a ghost possessed by a witch. Eventually, after being attacked by a large bird and being separated from Helene, he finds himself at the castle of Baron Victor Von Leppe (Boris Karloff), The Baron’s wife passed away some time ago, but Helene bears a strong resemblance to her. What dark secrets does the Baron keep, and what ghastly horrors await poor Andre? If that synopsis reads like a game of Gothic Mad Libs, that’s because the film largely was. Director Roger Corman was working on The Raven and finished the picture a few days early. Realizing he had a pretty groovy set going unused until its demolition, the pragmatic Corman decided to crank out another film in those last few days. Along with the sets, Corman recycled Karloff and Nicholson from The Raven. Karloff later said:
“Corman had the sketchiest outline of a story. I read it and begged him not to do it. He said ‘That’s alright Boris, I know what I’m going to do. I want you for two days on this.’ I was in every shot, of course. Sometimes I was just walking through and then I would change my jacket and walk back. He nearly killed me on the last day. He had me in a tank of cold water for about two hours. After he got me in the can he suspended operations and went off and directed two or three operations to get the money, I suppose… [The sets] were so magnificent… As they were being pulled down around our ears, Roger was dashing around with me and a camera, two steps ahead of the wreckers. It was very funny.”
All the scenes that required the castle and Karloff were filmed in three days. After that, the film was passed on to Francis Ford Coppola (yes… THAT Francis Ford Coppola ) for a couple of days, then it was handed over to Jack Hill, Monte Hellman, and perhaps others who will forever go nameless. Rumor has it that Jack Nicholson even took over for a day. Each new director was tasked with making some sense of the original footage and adding new plot points and twists to this Frankenstein. Despite its slapped-together nature, The Terror is actually worth the watch. While its backstory is more fascinating than the film itself, The Terror is decent fright flick with a few fairly creepy moments. It’s not be a genre masterpiece, but it’s got atmosphere and thrills aplenty. For a dose of Gothic nonsense, this one will hit the spot. It ain’t The Masque of the Red Death (1964), but it’s got skeletons, ghosts, witches, and King Karloff. That’s good enough for me.
For some thrills ‘n’ chills with Jack and Boris, check out the film below:
(Submitted by Mr. Anton Phibes…Thanks, Ho-rrorday Ho-mie! 🙂 xoxo)
Happy May 1st to all you wicked witches and groovy ghoulies out there! For most, today is known as “May Day,” and is primarily associated with sweet flowers and baskets full of small delights. To others, it is known as Beltane, a day in which faeries and spirits are uncommonly active. Magick is strong on this day, and protective bonfires are spread. Generally speaking, human beings are not at the literal center of these bonfires. However, if you are on the isle of Summerisle, it’s entirely possible that things may get a little hot for you or someone you know… The Wicker Man (1973) is a weird film. “Weird” is a word we have used numerous times on this site, but it’s a word that fits The Wicker Man better than most films. Even other “weird” films fail to be as weird. For starters, The Wicker Man is not really a horror film until its last twenty minutes. Instead, it is best described as a “musical.” Hardly a traditional musical, mind you, but a musical. That’s not to to say the film is not unnerving, but it does it more with an overwhelming sense of things being off than with something that is obviously creepy. However, once it reaches its conclusion, it does earn that “horror” label that it is associated with. The plot concerns police officer Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) investigating the disappearance of a teenage girl from the island Summerisle. Howie is shocked when the island’s population denies the missing girl’s existence. Being a devout Christian of the puritanical sort, Howie is even more perturbed when he learns that the inhabitants are worshipers of a form of Celtic paganism. As the officer continues his investigation, the officer’s unease escalates when he suspects that the girl’s disappearance may be linked to a ghastly public festival.
Anthony “Frenzy” Shaffer’s screenplay is brilliantly crafted, making its finale (which I will get to very shortly) all the more powerful. its weird folk musical sequences and use of Pagan imagery make for a chilling atmosphere that doesn’t resort to crumbling castles, foggy graveyards, thunderstorms, or any of the classic horror tropes. The performances are all aces, especially Christopher Lee as the charismatic Lord Summerisle. Lee, who reportedly did the film for free, often said that Lord Summerisle was one of his favorite roles. While I’m partial to his work with Hammer, it is certainly an impressive performance in a career full of remarkable roles. The ending is, understandably, the most talked-about part of the film. It has been parodied/referenced by just about everyone, is regularly cited as one of the greatest endings in horror history, and was even included in Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Unfortunately, that means that, even if you haven’t seen the film, you have a pretty decent idea of how it goes. Nonetheless, this overexposure can’t really diminish is just how effectively it plays out. No parody, spoiler-filled review, or single image online can capture just how powerfully disturbing it is or how horrifically real the performances seem. That is the ultimate testament to how masterful The Wicker Man is. Even if it isn’t completely unexpected, it still gets under your fingernails.
There isn’t a lot of competition, but The Wicker Man is definitely the greatest May Day/Beltane horror film of all time. I highly recommend you give this classic shocker a view today. There’s just no better way for a ghoul to celebrate the occasion.
Happy May Day, creeps! MAY your dance around the Maypole be a pleasant one and may your Wicker Man burn bright.