Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965), Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966), and The Wild Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot (1965)
...Why did I watch this?! This is what you get for not listening to Justine Ehlers, people! She warned me this was the absolute worst movie she'd even seen Vincent Price in, but I was foolish and did not listen...
After striking out on a date, bumbling secret agent Craig Gamble is met by a strange woman named Diane, who takes an odd interest in him when she mistakenly believes him to be one Todd Armstrong, bearer of many lucrative stocks and assets. It turns out Diane is a robot, being controlled by the diabolical Dr. Goldfoot. When he learns of the error in identity, he recalls his henchwoman back, but the smitten Craig tries keeping up with her, inadvertently taking her hand off in the process. He soon realizes what's happening, and when his best efforts to report the sinister goings-on to his boss (and uncle) fail, Craig decides to take matters into his own hands, and when he warns Todd of the danger, they band up to thwart Goldfoot's plans...
Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine was quite a disappointment! Given it's cult following, and its leading man, I was prepared to have a good time even if the movie wasn't necessarily good per se, but it was just mostly unenjoyable.
The sort-of titular robotic women are sorely underused, barely factoring into the action after the first half, and not getting that much to do even in that first 45 minutes except for Diane, and all she does is try and get someone to sign documents! They're completely wasted, and even more frustrating is that Diane seemed to be getting a character arc, but then she just vanishes in the last half hour, along with every other girl-bot.
The last third is where the movie starts getting a bit more fun, since the leads are slap-bang in enemy territory, but then it hits a lull again. We get an extended scene of Dr. Goldfoot showing off various torture devices, a homage of Pit and the Pendulum, and everything culminates in a 10+ minute chase scene that goes on for FAR too long, and didn't make me laugh once, save for the end, where the final crash with Dr. Goldfoot and Igor looks crazy fatal! And they survive it?
The comedy is just weak. So much of it feels like it was written by an immature kid who doesn't have a full grasp on comedy. There are some laughs to be had, legitimately, and at the movie's expense. I especially liked the line from Price "Here's to your health. May you still have it tomorrow.".
Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine looks quite cheap, which is strange since it had a budget of a million bucks, higher than many other AIP pictures. It feels like large swaths of it are shot on pre-existing sets, using pre-existing props, as if AIP is recycling the production out of half a dozen prior ones. I'm pretty sure that one set (Dr. Goldfoot's house) is from Ghost in the Invisible Bikini!...But then again, when I did some research, I realized Bikini Machine predates that movie by a year, so I suppose I'll let it slide. What did impress me was the fun claymation opening credits! I dig the Beach Party series and its derivatives for having intros like these.
At first, Vincent Price is let down by the script and direction, but come the final third he's able to bite into his role more as it gets meatier. I enjoyed his tour of terrors. Even if it's a somewhat self indulgent move on the film's part, it gives Price a chance to have some fun, so that's worth something at least.
Frankie Avalon and Dwayne Hickman are pretty much interchangeable, to the point where I had trouble telling them apart later on, since they wear the same clothes, act the same, have the same hair colour, and Avalon's curls get soaked flat at one point, making it nearly impossible to distinguish who's who! They perform decently overall, but are a bit annoying sometimes, again, thanks to the writing and direction. Fred Clark is amusing here and there, but not other times. The robotic women don't get much to do but stand around. Only Susan Hart as Diane, and a cameoing Alberta Nelson get anything of note to do, but even then, one of them appears for a grand total of half a minute, and the other vanishes nearly half an hour before the end!
There are also nonsensical, unfunny, and unsubtle cameos from Annette Funicello and Harvey Lembeck, which is a real shame. I'm kinda annoyed that I spent the entire movie up to that point looking out with eagle eyes for his cameo, thinking it'd be a real blink and you'll miss it moment, then realizing I'd spent all that energy for nothing, as there's NO way you'll miss it!
The soundtrack, far better than the rest of the movie, is pretty swingin' especially the catchy title song by The Supremes. Less so for the number by Same and the Ape Men, which didn't appeal to me much. One interesting fact is that Dr. Goldfoot was originally intended to be a musical! Sources vary on whether or not these scenes were actually shot, but Price was apparently disappointed at their exclusion. Can't say I blame him! That would've been a delight!
Teased at the end of this is The Girl in the Glass Bikini, and we even see a theatre marquee sign with its name on it, yet the movie never came to be, instead materializing into The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, sans Annette Funicello. Another bit of Beach Party trivia is that both Avalon and Hickman share the same character names as their roles in in Ski Party, albeit swapped around, because 'Oops', I guess.
Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine is a pretty painful watch. It has a few redeeming qualities, most notably and obviously Vincent Price, who's the reason you'll inevitably watch this film if you're a fan of his. Despite these though, I don't recommend it! Keep away, I warn you!...
Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs
The nefarious Dr. Goldfoot is back, and targeting NATO generals with his explosive and explosive girl bombs. Young secret agent Bill Dexter realizes what's up and decides to investigate, against the wishes of his former superiors, who are happy to see the unpredictable and unreliable Dexter off the bench. Accidentally enlisting the help of two bumbling Italian security guards, and his boss's secretary Rosanna. Together, the unlikely foursome must stop Dr. Goldfoot before he can start World War III...
Because I apparently wasn't punished enough, I sat myself through the 1966 follow-up Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs. Ummmm, ok, what are some positive things to start off with. Well, it's quite well directed, and the set design is neat! Plus...uh...Oh god, this is even worse than the first one!
Right off the bat, this has a very different feel from Bikini Machine. There's good reason for that, as the project was outsourced to Italy, where famed horror director Mario Bava took the helm.
The story isn't good at all. The concept of girl bombs is neat, if a bit darker than the Dr. Goldfoot universe really should be, but the plot just ambles along at first with not much happening until everything collapses into a long chase sequence. At certain points the movie just gives up and has Dr. Goldfoot explain his evil plan directly to the audience. While it could be annoying that the exposition is gotten across so unnaturally, I actually appreciate this, as having Price interact directly with is is lovely!
Whereas the first movie's comedy was just weak and embarrassing, Girl Bombs' humour is just bad. I'm not sure what the difference between weak and bad comedy is. It's one of those intangible things, like comparing an unfunny movie to one that simply didn't make you laugh. Not all the humour here is on the rotten side though. I liked when Goldfoot is trying to radio a henchman to follow a target, but due to technical issues, he eventually just gives up and yells "Follow him!".
There's a moment or two where they just flat-out repeat the same joke. I also disliked how Ciccio and Franco were constantly going on about 'chinaman'. It continuously reminded me of The Big Lebowski. I did like hearing the word 'occidental' used for a change though! How often do you ever hear that instead of just 'white' or 'caucasian'?
As in the last movie, Dr. Goldfoot's entire plan seems threatened by a simple chase scene, and this one is worse than the last! The locale is much better, being in Roma, but it devolves rapidly the second everyone steps foot in the carnival. It starts off bad, and it ends up just plain weird! Like a Benny Hill skit if it wasn't funny, from sped-up chases to silent film inspiration, among other things. Then there's the ending, which is just depressing on multiple levels, nor makes a lot of sense.
Girl Bombs has a reverse problem to the first movie. Whereas in that one, we don't see much of the titular Doctor for the first 10 or so minutes, and plenty of Frankie Avalon, in Girl Bombs we see plenty of Price to start with, but only short and fleeting scenes with Fabian.
The sexuality on display is also an improvement, feeling less like a G-rated movie's attempts at showing off titillating material, and more what you'd expect from Mario Bava, even if he is 'constrained' by it not being an R picture.
The acting here isn't that great. A big problem is the dubbing! The majority of the actors are Italian and clearly speaking it, and not only are the people dubbing them over not that good actors, they also make unnatural pauses to try and sync up to when the original performer's mouths are moving. Even the actors who are speaking English sound a bit weird, as the sound of their dialogue feels off with the scenes they're used in, perhaps due to the original soundtrack being purportedly lost.
Once again, Vincent Price is the MVP, and this time he's fun all the way through! Not surprising, as while the writing still sucks, having a skilled director like Mario Bava is an improvement. There really is no telling how a performance from a good actor will turn out with a bad director present. Price actually gets a dual role here, albeit a brief one. It seems like a pointless addition since the general he plays is present for a grand total of one minute before being reduced to ash. I'd also heard Price plays yet another role, this time in drag! In actuality, it's Goldfoot himself who's masquerading as a woman, and it's either amusing, or painful. I don't know which yet.
Fabian really doesn't impress as Bill Dexter, but that's hardly his fault. He probably would've fared better in a good movie. Between Price, and the two Italian comedians I'll get into below, he's actually fighting for screentime! Regarding his character, he actually feels like a spy this time, working for an actual spy organization, unlike the bumbling young nephew of the first film. He's also a sexually harassing jerk during the first half, which made the character pretty intolerable until I realized that might be intentional, as a parody of James Bond, showing what a real life lothario secret agent would actually be like, and what kind of reactions they'd get from the women they make passes at.
The jury's still out on whether or not Fabian is playing Avalon's character from the first film. Different actor, of course, and he has a different name, but the narration at the beginning (which would be a shameless attempt at padding for an otherwise 79 minute long film if not for Vincent Price's delectable recap) seems to imply he's the same character, blending the two heroes from the first movie together.
Ciccio Ingrassia and Franco Franchi (playing self-titled characters) are incredibly annoying, and I'm referring to both the dub actors AND the original Italian ones on-screen! Ciccio is a bit better, but Franco is mostly insufferable. Finally, Laura Antonelli is ok, looking great! There's an amusing (and horrid) behind-the-scenes tidbit involving her-Samuel Z Arkoff reportedly blamed her refusal to get naked as the reason for the movie's failure. Excuse me...HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Yeah bloody right!
Finally, how do the girl-bots far this time round? Much better, to start with! They get plenty to do, but after a certain point they're phased out, with the half hour chase scene completely taking focus away.
Girl Bombs' soundtrack is quite good, reminiscent of 1967's Casino Royale. I didn't much care for the song at the end, which wasn't half as good as the Supremes tune from the previous film. The dance number it plays over during the credits is kinda impressive though in the sheer number of performers present.
This is definitely better looking than its predecessor, partially because there are more lush outdoorsy locations thanks to shooting on location in Italy, and because the set and prop design is markedly improved, not giving off the impression of rented material. Even unimportant areas have pretty architecture sometimes. The direction is neat at times, standard at others. This was most likely just a paycheck job for Bava. If it was, it paid off big time, if what I've read about this being his most commercially successful movie in his home country are true!
In a lot of ways, Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs is a better over Bikini Machine, but overall, I may have to say that it's worse! Far, far worse! It's an awful film with very little of what charm the original had, which should say all I need to to ward you away!...
The Wild Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot
The no-good Dr. Goldfoot and his henchman Hugo plan to kidnap an important asset to the Pentagon-A doofy young man named Malcom who acts as a living repository of confidential information once hooked up to a special machine. Goldfoot sends Hugo and the girl-bot Diane out to lure Malcom back to their lair, but Agent 00 1/2 is already on the case, and is set to protect his young charge with his life. But will things change when he falls in love with the beautiful Diane?...
I originally thought the half-hour TV special The Wild Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot was from 1969, and chronologically the third and final Dr. Goldfoot 'movie' (thus letting the series end on a potentially higher note than Girl Bombs), but it actually came out the same year as the first. It's like a companion piece, with many of the same (or similar in the case of Aron Kincaid and Tommy Kirk) actors and characters.
As a musical, it gets a bit lazy. Out of the 4 songs, one is the recycled Supremes track from Bikini Machine (albeit sung by someone not as good here), and another is an instrumental. That only leaves two actual songs original to this production. You're no doubt eager to know if Vincent Price sings in said remaining two numbers, because really that's what would make this special worth watching, even if it did suck. The answer is, infuriatingly, no. Price doesn't get to sing at all! He must've been really disappointed after not being allowed to in the original movie either!
Weird Wild World is a bit slow to start, as the Shindig announcer takes his sweet ass time introducing the special, and continues by reading the credits out, talking over the music! Then once he finally shuts his yap, we're then bombarded with a minute and a half commercial for facial wipes. So in other words, it's really 3 minutes in when the special finally starts proper. Regarding the commercials, I learnt from them that facial wipes are the only way to clean, listerine will cure colds, and women will do anything for deodorant. The things we learn from TV...
I dug how the plot really pits Goldfoot and the secret agent against each-other, with both parties actively going after the other. Also much appreciated is that it features Diane's missing character arc from Bikini Machine! There she just sort of vanishes, but here she ends up getting her previously foreshadowed chance to switch sides and turn on the bad doctor. Not that she has much reason to here, but eh, I'll take what I can get. The ending's pretty brief, and the final twist reveal doesn't make a whole lots of sense. It also doesn't help that you don't even have time to register the short as having finished when you're hit with another ad for listerine! That's 4 ads total in 29 minutes! As for the ending credits, we get a reprise of the Bikini Machine theme, but before you can ponder on how it's not being interrupted this time, it suddenly is, just to announce the cast list we can already read!
The humour mostly falls flat, but I loved Lembeck's nightclub joke. Other lines are worth a chuckle.
The general look of Weird Wild World is cheap, but as this is a TV program, that's more forgivable than it is for the movie. The 'park' set was really unconvincing though. Really the biggest issue with its looks is the black-and-white, which is a hindrance for something as colourful as Dr. Goldfoot. Another slightly irksome aspect is that there are no bikinis present, presumably because they were too 'sinful' for public television. Some of the choreography is kinda embarrassing (the Harvey Lembeck number, though he might be doing it intentionally?), but it's decent at other times, like the floor show.
Vincent Price is a delight as usual, and he makes the most of the short running time. For all his talk of being such a young secret agent, Aron Kincaid actually looks old enough for the role, unlike Frankie Avalon in Bikini Machine. He plays the role well, bearing a straight-laced demeanour, while saying and doing somewhat ridiculous things. Susan Hart is better here than in the Goldfoot movie, perhaps because she's not forced to do silly accents this time. She's got great concentration too, able to stay frozen during quite a long take! Also, err, pointy! The two share a duet, and it's quite a good song! As for their respective singing skills, Aron Kincaid can sing. Susan Hart cannot. Not at first anyway, but I think she eventually holds the tune well enough? I dunno, I'm not confident with my ear for music all the time.
Harvey Lembeck's Hugo is much better than Jack Mullaney's Igor. I didn't think much of his musical number though. It's not so much that he sings badly, rather he doesn't sing at all. He's more sing-speaking, if that makes any sense. Tommy Kirk didn't impress at first, but he fares ok.
With its great title, and relatively compact tale of mad science vs virtuous secret agents, The Weird Wild Word of Dr. Goldfoot isn't awful. It's hardly good, but not bad, and it's got enough ok to good qualities to not annoy the crap out of me.. And with that, my look at this franchise is finally over! What a trial it's been! At least I've come out the other end having marked off three more entries on Vincent Price's filmography, and I discovered my next fun and obscure b-movie song. As for you at home, don't watch these movies! Except for Weird Wild World. You can watch that. And if you're a completionist, you really should watch these for Price, but still, stay away!...
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Another year passes, and so does another Halloween. As per the last couple of years, the lead-up was a bit hectic, with me planning what to make and when. I was also a bit later than intended (read: a month late) with the majority of my October reviews, not because they weren't finished, but I was posting them in a certain order, and an earlier one wasn't yet done. Distraction after distraction (such as a hurry to learn the Arabic alphabet) prevented me from getting them posted until yesterday. Thankfully everything went up ok, and I'm pleased with the Mexican and Egyptian horror cinema I covered, even if I didn't end up having the time to cover some Greek, Russian, and Portuguese material too. Oh well, 8 reviews is surely plenty, especially for one such as I, who failed to do the '31 reviews in 3 days' the two times I tried it.
Getting to my day, I had my usual yearly marathon of Dead Gorgeous, enjoying plenty of storebought and homemade snacks and soda. I iced a Chocolate cake with an impression of the poster to Suspiria, which was theoretically easy given the poster's minimalistic nature, but easier said than done given the icing recipe I chose not being the easiest to spread. It ended up decently though.
Next up is the jelly I had in the skull mold I got last year. It almost came out perfectly, but for a few little sections. Unfortunately these little sections happened to be the eyes, nose, and mouth, so pretty much everything that makes a skull a skull. Oh well, at least it turned out a lot better than last time! The profiteroles were another semi-failure. They tasted fine, delicious even, but they got a little overdone in the oven, plus they didn't turn out exactly as balls so much as flatter circular globs.
Pumpkin carving went fine, although the only orange pumpkin left in the store was too big (read: too expensive), so I settled for a smaller blotchy green one. I followed a design I saw in a photo on Holly Horrorland's, and it went well! Not too hard, didn't take too much time, and I'm happy with the end result. They're a happy little jack-o-lantern!
Besides all of that, some miscellaneous activity I did today was listening to the soundtracks of Shadow Man, and Wuppo, as well as some further Arabic practice here and there, including a seemingly hilariously failed attempt at deciphering a line of Persian script a friend sent me. All in all, it's been an ok day. It wasn't even too hot! The last week or two has been quite cool, but the last couple of days have reminded me it's Summer. It cooled down soon enough though, and the night's been fabulous. I hope you all had awesome Halloweens too!...
Monday, October 30, 2017
Genies are often portrayed in Western media as either lovable goofballs, or forces of good, and at the very worst, perhaps an example of Monkey's Paw style stories. We don't often see them as outright villains though, ...
Fatma is a young woman returning home to Egypt after some time away, having mourned the death of her boyfriend in a car accident. She's started seeing someone new, and things seem to be going fine, until she starts having strange encounters with an off putting man. He soon reveals him to be a menacing Jinn, deadset on ensuring Fatma doesn't marry...
El Eens We El Gen is quite a good watch! It's not without issues, however. You'll see right away why the film is nearly 134 minutes long. Extended scenes of characters standing or sitting around, talking. Not by a huge deal, but when you have a few scenes like this, it all adds up, and before you know it, 'Whoops, we made a two-and-a-half hour film!'. The overall good quality of the movie saves it though, and while it is too long, it's not excruciatingly so.
The story starts a bit slowly, but not too much, knowing when to dip us into the deep end. I found what was happening interesting, and the pacing really good, helped by the actors. I found the early-on flashback to be a little overdramatic at first, but it has some really great imagery, from the locale of a simple date in Egypt, to the surreal nightmare that jolts us back to the present day.
The plot does start to get repetitive after a while. The Jinn menaces Fatma, demanding she obey him. She doesn't, but everyone thinks she's crazy with all her talk of Jinns. She gets on with her life, then the Jinn menaces her again, demanding she obey him, and you get the picture. It's tiresome to see the same thing happening over and over. The movie breaks out of this for the climax, thankfully, and it's quite satisfying for the most part, though a bit anticlimactic at the end.
The movie does also get a bit frustrating with how nobody believes Fatma, and I was especially annoyed when she's crafty enough to use a tape recorder, and when she listens to it, it plays the full conversation between her and the Jinn, but as soon as she shows it to the authorities it suddenly becomes a one sided conversation. You'd also think she'd learn not to call people over to see the destruction the Jinn has caused when she knows it'll be gone before she can show them. It also also seemed strange that at some points it seems like people believe Fatma about the Jinn, then they don't, then they do, then they don't. Fatma's own mood seems to change often too. She'll go from being nervous and terrified to all smiles in the span of a single scene change.
While I was fine for the most part, not understanding the language did start to have a detrimental effect after a while, so if you decide to watch this movie, I really recommend finding a copy with subtitles.
The effects on display here are good! The majority of them are related to the Jinn and his powers, such as the freaky way he hovers or floats. These are achieved by not showing his feet (presumably on rollerskates), and by sometimes visible strings, but despite being able to tell easily enough how these were accomplished, they're effective in showing him as an unnatural force. It's also creepy how he often either just strolls into a room without warning, or simply appearing (for example, two characters talk, he's clearly not in the room, then BAM, we see him seated in a chair menacingly). The great lighting really helps too. Some scenes, especially near the end, look interestingly abstract, and are realized well, thanks to some creative set design! Finally, there's one scene where a chicken is sacrificed, and it isn't really killed! Phew, given Egyptian cinema's track record with these things, I was seriously afraid for that fowl's life!
Once or twice, there's a jumpscare, specifically the aforementioned 'inconsiderate friend' one I mentioned in my previous review, but it's acknowledged to be the friend actively messing with the lead, rather than how everyone in other horrors just do it as if it's a normal way of getting someone's attention, and for that reason it's a bit more welcome than it otherwise would have been.
The acting is good all round. Adel Imam is great as the antagonist. As well as looking creepy as hell, he also exudes a very swinging 70s playboy vibe, somehow! sometimes takes the form of an adorably evil cat.
=== does quite well as the beleaguered yet proactive and steadfast heroine. I was impressed by her character! How many people could talk back to the evil genie they're deathly afraid of? Unfortunately though she doesn't contribute anything to the climax. Also, maybe it's just the lighting, but I could've sworn her hair changes colour from scene to scene, sometimes looking blonde, other times orange!
I was very pleased when === showed up He doesn't do much for the majority of the film though, and his character's a bit boring. Unfortunately he does contribute to the climax! The rest of the acting is ok, though the guy playing the magic priest who shows up later on is pretty bad, amusingly so.
One sort-of complaint I have isn't really a mark on the movie, or even the actors themselves, but rather an observation, and one shared by many other Arabic countries-Egyptians really do talk too fast sometimes!
The soundtrack to El Eens We El Gen is pretty good. The most used track is whenever characters are threatened by the Jinn, and it's neat, sounding a bit like malevolent circus music. It's good, but it gets a little too positively bombastic at times, like if for a brief moment the composer forgot they were scoring a horror film. Thankfully it's never bad, nor overused.
One odd scene was at a nightclub, with what resembles a carrot top Village People burlesque number! They also wear devilish themed outfits, too, with the scene acting as a lengthy segue to a Cinderella style freak-out and escape by Fatma.
El Eens We El Gens is a good film, and a great example of what horror cinema in Egypt can be. In fact, most of the movies I looked at this month from the region show that fact off. I'm glad that the genre did manage to take off, and I'm hopeful that the decades since have seen further improvements to the genre and its status. As for El Gen, I recommend it if you have an interest in foreign horror media...
Some time after tragically losing his daughter to a car accident, Man moves to a new house, with his girlfriend. Strange things start happening soon, and it appears the house is haunted, yet only shows activity around Man, leading others to think he may be losing the plot. Man soon works out the reason for the ghost's activities, and he sets out on an investigation to find out who they were, and what became of them...
This movie opens in a pretty startling way! Whereas Asdeqa El Shaytan took forever to make it apparent that it was actually a horror film, Ad Leyantaqim establishes a darker tone in the first minute.
Rather than be a more violent and bodycount-focused horror, this is a slower-paced and low key ghost story. While it gets a bit less scarier when you realize the lead isn't in any danger, the 'investigation spurred from beyond the grave' aspect is solid, and there's an interesting parallel in the story, when comparing the protagonist, and a certain other character.
As with all the other Egyptian movies I watched this October, I saw it without subtitles (they weren't an option). While I was a bit lost in certain scenes, I got the gist of pretty much everything. It's thankfully easy enough to understand what's going on even if you don't speak Arabic.
The acting is good all-round from what I could tell. I especially liked === as the lead. He gets across the emotions of his character well, and is very believable, and likeable.
Most of the scares are well handled, though some are a bit...non-threatening, I suppose you'd say? There's a plot-related reason for that, of course, but it still kinda bugs me. There are a couple of cheap jump scares here and there. You know the ones, where there's a POV shot of someone silently approaching a character, menacingly reaching a hand out, AND it's just a friend who for some reason decided to greet their buddy like a psychopath, and thinks nothing of it.
The score is pretty decent. There's one track that's particularly good, and that's because I'm pretty sure it's lifted from the Friday the 13th movies! Ah well, Ad Leyantaqim is better than at least half of that series, so I guess I can let this slide. The ending though is weird! What happens itself is all fine, but it's the choice of music that's bizarre. Not only does it play the F13 music again, but also the 'Chi chi chi, ka ka ka' noise! Well that just confirms the music's providence! What's weird is that the ending isn't a scary or bad one, so the spooky musical choice makes no sense.
One scene tells me that the sound balancer wasn't perfect at their job. The movie's pretty good on a sound level, except this one scene, where we can barely hear the characters on a street talking thanks to the loud noises of passing cars. The editing can get a little...abstract at times, but is all competently handled.
Ad Leyantaqim is quite a good ghost story! It's a little slow, and not the scariest movie out there, but it builds up an effective atmosphere, and tells an engaging story, acting as proof positive that while it can usually be welcome, a horror film doesn't need violence to be spooky...
It's amusing how not knowing the language of the movie you're watching plus not having subtitles can hinder you when it comes to knowing things like the names of the characters! If you're lucky or a good listener, you might pick them up early on, or perhaps it might take the majority of the film. In the case of Asdeqa El Shaytan though, I didn't ever catch them! Well, unless one word I heard repeated doesn't mean what I thought it did...
Guy is a young man living in a small community in Egypt. One day he meets Girl, and there's an instant attraction. They eventually get married, despite her disapproving father (I think?), but at the ceremony, a crime lord's minions attack, and Girl is killed. Despondent, Guy fights back against the gang and wrests control of the town away from them, taking the seat of power himself. Still uneasy, changed by the death of his love, Guy decides to consolidate his power by seeking the counsel of dark forces...
Asdeqa El Shaytan takes a little while to get going-Too long! I appreciate that it slowly and carefully builds up the story, springing the scary stuff when the times comes, rather than just inundating us with gore and jump scares from the first frame, but this goes too far in the opposite direction and ends up not being interesting enough for the first couple of acts, and I was left wondering if it even was a horror film! It does eventually though, and it's not scary due to ghosts popping out and going BOO, or people getting picked of by a deranged madman, but moreso a cautionary tale of how tragedy can lead one to the dark side.
I appreciate the film taking the time to build up the lead's character arc, and you really get a good impression of how this guy went from being a random working class joe, to a despairing widower, then a borderline religious/spiritual leader, and finally a corrupt and powerful villain.
This is a movie that care has clearly gone into. The music is nice, sometimes foreboding, the lighting is effective in places too, and the direction is very good. The characters are staged really well, and some scenes are shot interestingly, like one that's nearly all in one take. The setting sometimes feels kind of like a character in its own right. I especially dug one scene that reminded me of High Plains Drifter.
The acting in Asdeqa El Shaytan is good all round. The standout player is the lead, ====, who delivers a multi-ranged performance as...Errr...Guy. He nails the emotions of his character perfectly, and his descent into villainy is believably handled, even down to his looks and clothing changes. I also like the actress playing Guy's second love interest. Not so much in the ending though. The main friend is played well, though he stops appearing as much in the last third or so. One performance, from the weird teleporting man, was downright...maybe bad? Definitely amusing!
A lot of the music we hear is diegetic, comprised of local tunes, and they're good. Mainly they reminded me I need to get back to playing Shantae: Risky's Revenge! The soundtrack pieces are fine too. The foley work isn't that great though, and it sounds fake whenever characters headbutt one another (which is a lot).
Asdeqa El Shaytan takes forever to get started, and at a patience-testing 132 minutes, it's too long, but that doesn't mean it's bad. It's still worth a watch if you feel so inclined...