Monday, January 22, 2024

Suspiria (2018)

It feels like just about every classic horror film has been remade, usually for the worse. For every Fly, Thing, or Blob, you have absolute dreck, existing solely as cash grabs. The same was almost true for Suspiria, with talk of an American remake going on for years. Mercifully this all fell through, but a remake would soon be in the cards anyway, courtesy of recent talent Luca Guadagnino. Does it live up to the original, or is it just another bad copy?...

Young American Suzy Bannion has just arrived in Berlin, 1977, to join the prestigious Markos dance academy. She's allured by the city, and enigmatic instructor Madame Blanc. But strange things are afoot. The spectre of domestic unrest looms over all, one girl has gone missing, and a psychiatrist's investigations prove dangerous. It becomes apparent this school is led by a coven of witches, who have sinister plans for their students...

Suspiria 2018 is a film with a lot to admire and criticise, with my feelings skewing towards the latter. Firstly, this is a 2-and-a-half hour arthouse horror film. That alone should serve as a warning sign, but also show that Luca at least had the merit to try something new and unique, instead of just a safe lazy retread. It also helps that this technically isn't an American film.

As a remake this is...mixed. It makes a conscious effort to be different, which I applaud! It's not just a play-by-play of the original with updated effects. Instead it takes the base of the original to create something new. However, I felt it went a bit far in the opposite direction at times, having so little to do with the source material at times you wonder why they bothered. I also wish there were some recreations of familiar scenes, just to see Luca's version of the opening double murder!

Luca himself has distanced himself from calling his Suspiria a remake, preferring to call it a homage instead...A homage using the exact same name, plot, and characters as the original. Riiight. I get annoyed when people try and argue their film isn't a remake but a reimagining (same thing, assholes!), but this is really pushing it. Of course Suspiria is a remake of Suspiria. Luca should just own that (very obvious) fact, rather than hide it.

As its own film, I found Suspiria 2018 to be crushingly slow! It's far too long, and very little happens. It takes forever for anything of note to occur. For example, there's no opening murder, and the first death scene is 40 minutes in! That's almost half the original film! It doesn't even take advantage of this time and introduce us to anyone, or explore/expand the characters. We may not know a lot about the girls in the '77 version, but at least we know they are SSNNAKESSSS. Half an hour into this film I knew one girl (as to yet unseen) was named Olga, and another Sara, and I couldn't have told you a thing about them, even what they looked like.

The story here isn't particularly epic. Instead each scene feels like it goes on far too long, and many are unnecessary. There are also particularly unwelcome bits like seeing our heroine take a piss (without even taking off the leotard, ewww!). Like, I get why, they're witches, and collect stuff like that, but dialogue can do plenty! The dialogue also feels a little...gratuitous at times? I don't mind swearing period, but it feels like instead of saying something like a normal person, characters here say stuff like 'They're going to eat my cunt!'. It also feels like very modern swearing too, although that might be nothing.

The film is divided into chapters (as well as a prologue and epilogue), which can be obnoxious when done wrong. Nothing about Suspiria feels segmented, and the titles waver between pretentious and dull. Boring like 1977, or Borrowing, neat like The Palace of Tears, then the frankly obnoxious Inside the Mutterhaus (All the Floors are Darkness). None of these titles make much sense either.

Suspiria 2018 is rich in themes...allegedly. There's been a lot from the director and others about themes of motherhood, fascism, communism, terrorism, national guilt, and more. That all sounds a bit of a hodgepodge to me, and much of it is barely touched upon. It almost feels like it's just throwing ideas at the screen and inviting us to figure out. Which can work, but other times it just feels lazy, like an artist who couldn't be bothered finishing the job, and wants us to do all the hard work.

This leads into one of the film's biggest elements, bafflingly-Politics! Luca felt it was a missed opportunity that the original Suspiria took place in a turbulent period of Germany's history, and his film rectifies that by giving us constant history lessons about local politics before anything scary has even happened. Much of it amounts to basically namedropping. We hear chatter on the TV/radio, graffiti, characters talking about it. This never amounts to much but background window dressing, yet it dominates so much of the film, to the detriment of other things, like the story itself.

Luca should've realised this wasn't The Little Drummer Girl, and known what to leave out. This makes me admire the restraint of the original, which wasn't just set during a turbulent part of Germany's history, it was made during it, yet doesn't focus on any of this stuff. Because it simply has nothing to do with the story. And it goes to show how life goes on during such times, as well as how the troubles of the outside world doesn't penetrate the boundaries of the magical Black Forest.

I'm not saying having a political connection to the witchery is a bad idea, and it could've been interesting thematically. There's a single line from a skeptic about magic meaning to perpetuate chaos that could've been expanded on. Instead we just get constant reminders that German terrorists exist, Berlin has a wall, and that's it.

The characters here are pretty dull and one-note, and there are so many people here with so little to do. Suzy is a little passive. She has a decent Mennonite backstory, which plays well into her character. The film verges on overexplaining her desires. In the original she just wanted to study at a German academy because. Not everything needs a reason (although admittedly the one given here is a good one). She also didn't choose Berlin next to the Wall during terrorism season!

She quickly develops a connection with Madame Blanc, even having a confusing telepathic convo, with no real precedence before or after. Susie also seems to know things we haven't seen her learn.

As in the original film, it's Sara who investigates the academy's weirdness, reluctantly at first. She does ok, before her death. The other girls barely get any dialogue, even the few important ones.

Dr. Josef Klemperer is the other lead, and a good presence. And old man, and survivor of WWII, he tries to help, not believing in witches at first. But they believe in him, and he's smart enough not to keep doubting when they're rocking up on his doorstep. Given his age and frailty he's not much of an action protagonist, but more of a thematic one, carrying guilt for being unable to save or find his wife, or stop the nazis.

The instructors are ok. Madame Blanc gets the most depth, neither good or evil. Tanner is as unnecessary as she was in the old film, and I keep getting their names mixed up. The others are just there, with the odd crazy moment every now and then (like the police...encounter). We see too much of the coven, and it loses mystique. It also doesn't help that they rarely do any magic. Helena Markos only appears in the last act, and does next to nothing. Consistent with the old film, but we felt her presence more there, and there was a connection to the titular character this version lacks.

One area the film really lacks in is having anything to do with the Three Mothers! Beyond some brief lip service, hours apart, there's nothing to go on. I feel that separating Markos and Mater Suspiriorum was a mistake, as it means she wasn't orchestrating the whole film's events, and only has a presence in the last few minutes. Not enough is explained about the Three Mothers or why Suspiriorum was locked away. Was she even locked away? There's being mysterious and then there's genuinely having no idea what's going on. I do find it interesting though how benevolent she's presented! Makes me wonder how sequels would go.

An area the old Suspiria may have lacked in is dance. This update seeks to change that with a much bigger focus. I'd say a little too much, but I appreciate the thought. I wasn't much of a fan of the style. In the original they were just a normal dance academy, but here they're avant-garde weirdos! But then again this is Europe in the 70s. I can totally buy that. The dances themselves are surprisingly good. The big performance is a great setpiece, even if the make-up and nude red ribbon costumes are laughable.

I have to say, by the hour and 50 minute mark things finally start picking up a bit. I'm still not loving it, and this obviously doesn't make up for everything before, but it was nice to actually be entertained. This leads to the last act, which is where the movie goes all out in witchcraft and violence, and the plot finally become clear.

The final reveal, where there's more to Susie than meets the eye, comes a little out of nowhere. There's no explanation, but I think it's an interesting idea. The climax is a little basic. Mater Suspiriorum shows up, then kills everybody. Not the most dramatically satisfying on paper, but it's handled well onscreen though.

The ending is a grueling 10 minutes long. Klemperer and Susie have a nice exchange, as they discuss the final moments of his wife. It's sweet, despite the tragedy of the story. Although the scene is nullified when Susie immediately wipes his memory of everything. The film ends on a quiet note, then we get a post credits scene that doesn't add much, even as a sequel hook.

The acting here is a highlight! In a way. I wish everyone would speak up, but they otherwise deliver very good performances! Dakota Johnson is a strong lead, with a lowkey but effective performance, which really shines in the last act. Mia Goth is a nice presence. Elena Fokina doesn't have a huge part, but is a real trooper in the parts she does get! Chloe Grace Moretz is ok in a disappointingly small role.

While Tilda Swinton is her typical self, weird and ethereal, with a commanding tone. However in Suspiria she pulls triple duty, also playing Helena Markos, and Dr. Klemperer. Her turn as Markos is fun though nigh impossible to understand, and doesn't get enough time. And she also plays the male role of the Dr. under the pseudonym of Lutz Ebersdorf. She does well, and the illusion is mostly seamless, though there are times when you can tell. Not sure what prompted this idea beyond a general fancy, and it never plays into the story, but it's a good addition. Swinton's German has gotta be complimented too, although it's not surprising someone as artistic as she would fluent in continental tongues.

This is a very bilingual film, switching between English to German (and even a smattering of French) at random. Films like this can work, but here it just felt distracting. Nothing is accomplished beyond ultra realism, but there is a reason characters only ever speak one language in movies, despite the unreality. At several moments I was thinking "English, motherfucker! Pick a language and stick with it!". The subtitles are decent, and come with snazzy colours, as well as captions at times.

[The audio is a weak area in the film. I was having such a hard time hearing a lot of the dialogue! It got to the point where I heard what I thought was 'patrician', and I strained my ear to hear what I thought was a conversation about the ills of patriarchy...before realising they only said Patricia.

The direction in Suspiria is another high point. Luca has a great eye for visuals, with some abstract imagery too. The dances are captured well. The editing gets a bit too frenetic for my tastes at times, but the worst of it is in dream sequences that are meant to be chaotic.

Less stellar for me was the colour. While the original is renowned for its garish appearance, Luca wanted to distinguish his own version. A good call! He gives his Suspiria a more muted colour palette, intended to evoke a wintery feel. It's not bad, but my issue with it is the same issue I have with most films nowadays. There's no colour! It's like watching gray sludge. I wish he had've found a better middle ground than making the film look drab. The finale gets to stand out with some good red light, though it does make seeing who dies and how a little difficult once things kick off.

I really liked the end credits. I dig the colour of the background, which is cooler than just a routine black screen. The title font is neat, as are the skewed credits (even if it does make them a little hard to read). And I like what it credits too! Things like the artists for the portraits. Stuff that usually doesn't get specific credits.

The effects are a mix of practical and CGI. The big death scenes all look good. One gets pretty gnarly, though at a certain point it stops resembling something even human, and just an effect. But that could be a positive for some, so I won't nitpick. Some bits in the climax look a little fake, but there's some ok gore, and the 'chest opening' is a neat image! The prosthetics for old man Tilda are pretty convincing, and Markos is suitably grotesque.

The music here is...different! Composed by Thom Yorke of Radiohead, it's pretty lowkey and muted throughout the film, not going out of its way to be scary. Instead it builds more of a moody atmosphere, and includes actual songs performed by Yorke and his odd falsetto voice (he didn't used to sound like that, did he?). While your mileage may vary on his voice, and the style, I mooostly liked them. I wish he'd taken more pages out of, say, Goblin or Keith Emerson's book, but I admire the experimental touch.

While Suspiria acts as a standalone film, Luca did intend on crafting a sequel, and presumably a third entry to follow. This makes sense on paper, since he is adapting a pre-existing trilogy. But given his handling of Mater Suspiriorum I'm not sure how he'd even go about the other two Mothers. I'd be interested to see, and even if his version of Lachrymarum was on par with this effort, I can still say it'd be better than Mother of Tears! The film didn't do well enough at the box office for this to happen though. I totally get this, since a near-3 hour arthouse horror was never going to do gangbusters. I kinda wish Luca could've done this for a smaller budget, to make the possibility of a sequel easier. Although I'm kinda glad this exists on its own.

Suspiria 2018 is liked or loved by some, but not me, and I don't understand those who say it's better than the original. It did too much wrong for me to feel that. I admire it for a lot of things it is, or tries to do, but the execution and runtime just killed it for me. I barely enjoyed a second, and would've much rather watched the original or its sequel...

God of Cookery (1996)

Stephen Chow is a celebrity chef, known as the God of Cookery. He passes judgment on many other cooks, always negatively. He's not what he seems though, and the truth is exposed by a scheming assistant-The so-called God of Cookery is actually a fraud! Chow is sent tumbling from grace, and finds himself in a poor neighbourhood, where he gets to know the food sellers. At first things seem bleak, but their humble skills and a brainwave of his own lead to the means to make a comeback. Can Stephen reclaim his title of the God of Cookery? And will he truly deserve it this time?...

God of Cookery is another film by HK comedy madman Stephen Chow, and a fan favourite. It speaks volumes about his filmography that something this fun and beloved isn't considered his best only because of how greater his later works are.

This is basically a kung fu film where the fighting is replaced by cooking (for the most part), and it really manages to work. It's an absurd comedy where anything goes. There's an unmistakeable style, and at times it almost feels like a live action anime.

The humour is very Chinese, as expected, with Chow having a particular love of lowbrow jokes. Full of absurdity, slapstick, and toilet humour. Although 'pissing shrimp' really is called that in real life! This kind of comedy might not appeal to everyone, and I'm a bit hit or miss on it, but generally it works here. There was the odd moment I scrunched my nose at, but nothing serious. And when it hits it's really funny! The funniest moment for me was the 18 Bronze Men of Shaolin! I love how it builds each time, with the actors, directing, and music all going hand in hand to hilarious effect.

The dialogue is also wonderfully kooky, with the things coming out of these characters' mouths perfectly matching their over-the-top world. A highlight is the judge during the climax, who spouts wisdom such as: "Good flying skills! The secret of flying skills is that it can make a man who's as heavy as steel fly up high in the sky and make ghosts cry!"

Then there's the film's presentation of cooking. It's exaggerated to the nth degree, but also rooted in reality, and there's a lot on display. Many ridiculously extravagant dishes, from fish sewn together and steamed on one side, deep fried on the other, to exquisitely carved bean curd in the shape of Buddha. And of course there's the film's signature 'pissing meatballs', which look messy and sound disgusting by name, but I'd love to try! The film satirises crazy reality cooking shows, as well as superstar chefs. There's a clear message of 'Keep it simple, stupid', but it's never mean or scathing, only gently mocking. After all, nevermind the creativity, without some of these crazy dishes there'd be nothing to give us a good laugh!

The characters here are a great bunch! The creatively named Stephen Chow starts out as a real asshole. He's rude, brash, arrogant, and treats others around him like dirt. He's harbouring a secret though, and when it's exposed he can't cook worth a damn, he's sent packing. But it's not long before he's got a new idea to get back to the top.

What's interesting though is that Stephen isn't automatically redeemed just because he's an underdog. He's been improved by his new circumstances, but his old instincts are still there, like they've only been dialed back instead of switched off altogether. It takes a greater tragedy (or so he thinks) before he truly begins to change, and attains inner purity, signified by his hair changing colour. The film does a really good job of showing the protagonist's bad side without either sanitising it, or going too far, and we really feel it when he changes for the better.

Bull Tong starts out as a lowly dogsbody, but soon proves himself to be a nasty piece of work. He turns on his master, exposing Chow and taking his title. He fancies himself a good person, but he's far worse than his predecessor.While Stephen was a ratbag, he really only cared about himself. Whereas Bull is full-on abusive, and malevolent. His lowest moment comes when he hires an assassin to finish Stephen once and for all, unknowingly spurring on his enemy's final redemption.

Street cook Turkey is a rough tough girl, with crooked teeth and a big scar. She has an unexpected soft side though, and turns out to be a real fangirl for the God of Cookery! This adds a nice depth to her character, and she really goes the extra mile to help Stephen out, almost to the ultimate degree.

I liked the ending to their romance, but not the plastic surgery bit. It's probably only meant as a laugh I'm sure, but it makes the outcome a little superficial. Although the actress doesn't actually look that different. She still has her unique face, just cleaned up a little, and sans the scar and teeth.

The supporting cast includes a few other street cooks, who are decent though blend together a bit. Then there's the...interestingly named Shaolin master, and the 18 Bronze Men of Shaolin, who are a riot!

The final act is the film at its best. Everything has built up to this moment, where everything the film has done is at its best, from the comedy, to the action, the heart, etc, all making for a great climax. The heavenly intervention comes as a perfect treat, as a homage to Chinese cinema and culture, as a testament to the bizarre, and a satisfying way to conclude things.

The cast in God of Cookery is over-the-top in a mostly fun way! Their performances don't just chew the scenery, they demolish it! At times it can get a bit much, but it's all part of the style, and it mostly works. Chow is a great lead, while Vincent Kok is perfect as the villain, along with Ng Man-tat. Karen Mok makes for an unconventionally looking romantic co-star, helped with some 'ugly' make-up.

Chow not only acts well but pulls off the direction, along with frequent colleague Lee Lik-Chi. Together they make a very good looking film, with great framing, stylish angles, and scenes shot in an energetic and chaotic way. All in an off-the-wall reality TV way, without ever being too jumbled.

God of Cookery has plenty of effects, but without ever letting them dominate the picture. We have people flying about, doing wild cooking moves, blowing up, etc. These moments are accomplished with wirework, some computer effects, and plenty of practical too.

The music is fitting and enjoyable. I particularly liked the track accompanying the 18 Bronze Men, which perfectly captures the film's goofiness. Less fun was when Turkey sings, which I just found grating. And last is a fun Christmas track, which is nice to end on.

The movie ends with a blooper reel, and it's pretty good. There's not a lot, and the last one is a bit weird, but they're nice enough. And seeing Karen Mok cracking up while trying to do the annoying song made it more endearing than in the movie itself.

God of Cookery isn't for everyone, but I found it to be a great time, and it's a perfect introduction to Stephen Chow! You'll either love him or...

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Tomb of the Werewolf (2004)

After a whopping 11(ish) entries, more than most series, certainly containing the same lead, there came something surely no-one was expecting-A 12th Hombre Lobo film! In the mid-2000s, if you can believe it! With how horror was doing at that point, in America's DTV market no less, can this possibly live up to previous entries, let alone the position of final entry in such a longstanding series?...

A TV crew for a gimmicky psychic network teams up with new landowner Richard Daninsky to search for some hidden treasure at his ancestral home in Transylvania. Waiting for them is housekeeper Elizabeth, who has a dark secret. She is really Elizabeth Bathory, whose pact with the devil condemned past nobleman Waldemar Daninsky to a cursed existence. Now she seeks to bring him to life to complete her evil plans...

Tomb of the Werewolf came in 2004, courtesy of Fred Olen Ray of all people! Modern king of zero budget b-movies. This makes it the odd one out, and the only entry in the series not to be produced in Spain, or with Naschy behind the scenes in some capacity. It's also easily the worst received in the series! This may partly be because it's an easy target, but there's another reason-The marked lack of Paul Naschy, who's probably only in the film for 10 minutes, max.

Having now seen it for myself, I don't think Tomb is the worst film ever made (although it'd certainly hit the bottom of the series if only by default), and it's a passable enough b-grade chiller meets sexploitation. It's never really scary, and softcore porn sounds pretty unwelcome for classic horror, but for what this is it manages to be an alright mix of both worlds.

But this leads into a big issue. I'm not sure why it's even a Hombre Lobo film. If Ray had this classic Spanish horror star for just a few days, enough for a supporting part, it could've just been a standalone flick. No reason why it had to be about this particular werewolf. Instead this builds up a false expectation of what the movie will even be.

The story is basic enough. I liked the idea of a treasure hunt at a werewolf's castle, and was disappointed when this never really happens. The young folk have only just got settled when the villain starts her plan. It's a shame, since that premise has promise!

The film has an alright pace, but it takes a little too long for some things to get started. By the time things finally kick off it's pretty much time for the climax.

We get our first glimpse of the werewolf in a brief flashback to Waldemar, who unwittingly makes a pact with evil to save his love Eleanor's life, only to be cursed. He disappears for almost half the film, before finally making a return, to kill some period inappropriate locals.

The final act begins with a showdown between Bathory and defacto heroine Amanda, and it's a surprisingly quick fight! For all her strength she didn't stand much of a chance. But I'm glad, as it removes her from the board and lets the titular werewolf finally shine for the last stretch. It's a good final scene, with some melancholy and romance as you'd expect from a Hombre Lobo film.

Meanwhile, the climax completely bypasses the young heroes, who are out hunting non-existent wolves the whole time. I wondered if the film would have a cheap shock ending that makes no sense, but it all seemed pretty chipper!...until... I swear I can read these kinds of movies like a book! Still, a jugular bite's nothing you can't put a bandaid over!

The dialogue is lightly amusing, and genre-savvy in lines that are either fun, sometimes cringey or dumb. I got a kick out of one girl's line about reading old texts-"Well the f's and s's all look alike, but you can muck it out if you try". Then there's the cheesy TV bumper line "So viewers, the real question is, can true love survive, despite space, time, greed, and lest we forget, really really gross death things and stuff?"

Bloodsucking witch Elizabeth Bathory is the true main villain, and totally steals the spotlight from the man we wanna see. At least she has a basis to exist as a character, since Bathory herself or expys were a staple of past entries. Her part in the prologue is pretty funny. She's lusting after a young maiden, but decides it'll be worth more if she denies herself this treat and offers it instead to her master...Who turns out to be pissed! He's like 'You bothered me for this?'. Whoops. coulda just had her yourself, Liz!

The TV crew here are tolerable, and not that stupid, but that's all. Remember how I said Lycantropus wasn't just about a bunch of sex-obsessed teens stealing the spotlight from the older people? Well that describes this bunch to a tee! Admittedly they're not teens, but they're young, look like models, and like to get naked! And wouldn't you know it, just about every girl here happens to enjoy more than male company.

Richard Daninsky is a pretty good guy, and I liked him. He's friendly, honest, and I was bummed out when he died. Then there's psychic Amanda, whose presence among the guest list is a mystery. There's a good amount of intrigue to her. Is she good? Maybe a vampire hunter? Or a ghost from the past?

And Waldemar himself is ok. I was afraid he'd only appear in flashbacks, but he eventually resurrects. He spends half the time as a werewolf, but he also shares a connection with Amanda, leading to some good interactions, but too short and infrequent.

As can be expected from some of Fred Olen Ray's films, Tomb of the Werewolf verges on softcore porn at times. To paraphrase things slightly, one girl is brushing her hair, and her topless friend helps her unhook some from her bra, and would you look at that, they're both naked and ready for sex! A later line is the lame "I always fantasised on what you might look like...y'know, naked", which somehow gets a score from that guy! Thankfully these scenes never stretch on too long, although this also means they cut off before the interesting stuff begins.

Tomb runs at a brisk 82 minutes, but there is a longer cut out there, under the name of The Unliving. This version reputedly has longer sex scenes, and extra violence? I'd be slightly curious to check it out, but anything past 82 for a film like this would be pushing it.

The effects here are good in some ways, disappointing in others. But understandably so given the budget. There's some decent blood and grue, and the werewolf make-up is a highlight! It's maybe a little too fluffy, but it's a good design, and looks consistent with past entries too! The transformations are done entirely with cheesy CGI, and it's pretty groanworthy, but it is what it is.

The locales in Tomb are decent. While Eastern Europe may be a cheap shooting location (a boon for low budget vampire pictures!), this is shot in Hollywood, courtesy of some good sets. The establishing shots are ok some places, and look like video game graphics in others, with an odd FMV quality.

If nothing else Fred Olen Ray is a competent director, and he does a good job filming a Gothic horror.  There is one issue that plagues Tomb of the Werewolf though. It's shot on video! This could be overlooked, but for the 12th and final entry in a series that was otherwise shot on film, it does render this one as looking more like a cheap TV production.

The music is likewise mixed. You've got some ok Gothic tunes, but then you've got cheesy Skinemax tracks, and out-of-place heavy metal. It's disappointing for the last entry in this series to end on shitty screamo.

The acting here isn't as bad as I feared, although is still marred by poor delivery here and there. Credit where credit's due the modern setting makes the presence of young Americans not a big deal. Jay Richardson is one of the better actors, while Leland Jay is ok, although comes off a little high at times. Michelle Bauer looks perfect for a role like this, carrying an icy charm. She does well, though a bit stiff delivering her olde timey thee's and thou's with her modern American accent. Same for the guy playing the devil.

And then there's Paul Naschy himself. Despite his small role he gives some humanity. He's made up with a pretty fake wig and goatee, but he actually looks years younger than he did in Lycantropus! There he looked his age (62). I don't know if he just had older age make-up on in that film, or younger in this one, but it's pretty surprising. Despite being around 70, Paul dutifully gets into the wolf make-up (with the help of a stuntman I'm not sure), and shreds some villagers one last time! Of special note is his voice! Usually Naschy was either dubbed into English, or speaking in Spanish. But here he's speaking English himself, and he sounds adorable! He's just like Puss in Boots!

And lastly, there's a more recent DVD release I'd be interested in checking out someday, to give the commentary track a listen. Not only because Fred Olen Ray is apparently a charming storyteller (if he's anything like Jim Wynorski, I look forward to it!) it would also explain some things I was wondering, about the film's origins, how it is what it is, Paul's involvement, etc.

Tomb of the Werewolf is mixed at best. It's not awful, and has a few mild positive qualities in its own right, but as an entry in the Hombre Lobo series, particularly the final one, it's a great disappointment. It won't hurt if you're a Naschy completist, but you're better off with most of his other works...

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Lycantropus: The Moonlight Murders (1996/7)

During the Second World War a defecting nazi has an affair with a Gypsy girl, which leads to her brother killing him and the girl giving birth to a cursed lineage. Many years later, the quiet little town of Visaria is rocked by a series of brutal murders. First is a prostitute torn to shreds, then a young couple. The police are convinced it's the work of a madman, while one deputy thinks it's the work of a wild animal. Meanwhile, local horror author Waldemar Daninsky has been having mysterious pains and unsettling nightmares lately, that seem to get worse with the full moon...

Lycantropus: The Moonlight Murders was the first Hombre Lobo film for a long time, ever since 1983s Beast and the Magic Sword ended the series on something of a high. Naschy's career hit a downturn shortly after, but he never stopped working, and he would eventually return to his most famous series. The most shocking thing about us getting a new entry in a classic Spanish series like this as late as the 90s is that this isn't even the final one!

As the subtitle suggests, Lycantropus is a bit of a murder-mystery, which opens up the possibility that Waldemar may not be the killer! He's still a werewolf, so he's certainly a killer, but still. Before starting I did wonder before watching if this entry would see Waldemar as a willing murderer, and a full-on villain. Given the resetting continuity that seems like a shoe-in for one entry!

Unlike previous entries, this isn't Gothic, instead having a modern setting. Before you panic though, tit isn't about bunch of dumb sex-obsessed teens. It still has an air of maturity to it. The film has a smaller scale, with no sprawling castles or ancient monsters. Instead it's just a random guy in a modern town turning into a werewolf and rampaging through a couple of houses. It manages to work as what it is, even if it might stick out compared to other Hombre Lobo films. Speaking of the period, there's some 90s PC nostalgia, and the same for movie posters, with a prominent cameo from the poster to Dr. Giggles of all things!

Waldemar here is an aging horror author, living comfortably with his family, but plagued with nightmares that may be more real than he thinks. He's likeable enough, but is almost a supporting character, especially after a certain point.

What we hear of his parents make them sound pretty tops. They adopted the baby of a dead Gypsy found on their doorstop, treated him well raising him into a good man, and even named him as their sole heir! Nothing is made of this except in passing, but it's a detail I really liked.

Dr. Mina Westenra is a friend of Waldemar's, and the two share an unspoken affection. While there's still a differences in ages, she's not a ditzy 20 year old, but a mature woman. She's soon visited by the ghosts of the gypsies, who direct her to a hidden weapon to stop werewolves...which ends up being a surprisingly modern gun, compared to the ancient weapon we might expect!

Waldemar's family are ok. His wife and young son don't get a lot to do. Daughter Kinga gets the lion's share of time, and is a nice girl. Local boy Laurent is pretty good too, if a bit creepy in places. He clashes with a nasty bully, who somehow nabbed a good girl, who Laurent is crushing on. Surprisingly they both die very early on!

Laurent's priest father is a grade A asshole! He openly supports the killer as divine judgement for 'sinners', even though I'm pretty sure the Bible frowns more upon disemboweling people than prostitution! But worse still, the bastard disapproves of his son being a horror fan! He's also got it in for the Daninsky's especially Kinga. Really? The most demure girl in the village? He glares daggers at her over dinner, showing that godly virtue known as tolerance.

The supporting cast includes a seasoned detective Lacombe and a young inspector, who has some good theories, even if they clash with the more straightforward ones. There's also Mina's cuddly old mortician dad.

And lastly, there's Gypsy girl Czinka and clan patriarch Bigary, who regret their mistake in letting the baby live. Frankly I don't consider not killing a baby to be a mistake, even if they do grow up to be a werewolf!

Despite being a nazi, Heinrich seems like a good bloke, so in love with Czinka that he kills two colleagues, and is ready to defect...before his sudden death. Her brother Rom is a real bastard! Nevermind how quickly he murders Heinrich, who's done everything to help their community, he doesn't bat an eye at wanting to murder Czinka or her offspring, completely ignoring the wishes of their leader he claims to obey. I was glad hearing how he died.

Lycantropus takes a little while to get going as a horror, and doesn't have enough werewolf action, but it's good once it begins. The film gets a little depressing at one point, but I'm surprised it goes there! Thankfully it's not handled gratuitously. Although it does kinda leave Waldemar's character in the lurch, since after such a traumatic shock there's not really much chance for his human side to re-emerge.

The film builds up to the climax well, with the human killer targeting Kinga, before the werewolf comes too. It's great fun seeing the two 'monsters' dueling, and the man doesn't stand a chance! Unfortunately we're left with a werewolf that doesn't give the slightest shit about killing innocent people. It's up to Mina's timely arrival to save the day, in a really nice conclusion. Previous Hombre Lobo entries tried convincing us these girls who've known Waldemar a day love him enough to end his curse. But here we believe it, not only because of the established history of these characters, but the emotion felt during this scene. It's not even romantic love, but that of friendship, yet it's enough, and I feel this is the best the series ever tackled this concept.

The solution to the killer's identity is satisfying, but it is the obvious one. But then again the movie was building up Laurent as a bigger suspect, so I suppose it not being him is less obvious. I do wonder if there was some kinda last minute rewrite or if the actor just got sick, because Laurent completely disappears. It reminded me of the ending to Sweeney Todd, where the young couple just completely vanish as to not spoil the sombre note of the ending.

I do wonder what will become of Waldermar's reputation after these events. The authorities won't be ready to admit the existence of the supernatural, and since Waldemar was a good guy, and only the werewolf inside him was bad, perhaps they could just pin all the killings on the one culprit? After all, he was already a serial killer roaming around hacking innocents to death. Does it really matter if he 'only' butchered two instead of five?

I also wondered about Waldemar's latest novel, and if he ever finished it before he died! It doesn't seem like it. But perhaps Kinga can take up the mantle. Goodness knows the poor girl will need something to keep her mind occupied after all she's gone through!

The werewolf mythos here is fairly basic. No witches, vampires, or yetis. It's a little vague, really. I'm not exactly sure why this random girl can't have babies or else they'll become monsters. Waldemar's werewolf origin is a bit less involved since it doesn't involve him directly. I also wondered where this curse has been all his life. It doesn't pass on to Waldemar's kids either. Or at least the film never delves into it.

I liked the scientific touch to some scenes. Don't worry, it doesn't try and explain away the magic as just advanced science. That's boring! Instead it's a mix, like seeing how science analyses magic.

Something I liked here is the Gypsy representation, even showing their sometimes overlooked nazi persecution. We also get negative remarks from some characters (like the psycho priest) that made me think "What is it with bloody Europeans and Gypsies?". I know as a group they definitely have serious issues they've gotta work through, but still! Thankfully this movie is clearly on the right side of the divide.

Lycantropus is directed by Francisco Rodríguez Gordillo. I've read that he apparently didn't like horror films and cut more graphic footage. Yeesh, poor Paul just can't catch a break with asshole directors, can he! If this is true (and I'm unconvinced), that's really shitty of him to tinker like that, especially to an older gent with his potential comeback! But in terms of how the film itself looks, it's very good! There are really well framed shots, some gorgeous flashes of orange, and deep blues. The lighting is dark in places, sometimes too much, but we get good highlights to separate the colours.

The effects here are good. There's some decent violence, and a few ok death scenes. They might not show enough carnage for some some peoples' liking, but it's not totally bloodless. The werewolf make-up is a highlight! It's simpler and more human, which I find an interesting and not oft seen portrayal (akin to Werewolf of London). No doubt a simpler design would be easier on the older actor too. The transformations are alright, and I liked the distorted cries and roars. There's some CGI near the end, but it's non-obtrusive.

I really liked the music in Lycantropus! There's a neat score that combines choral melodies with melancholy electric guitar twangs. It creates a nice atmosphere, and provides some neat tracks. They're moody without ever being depressing.

The cast here is a good one. Naschy is a fine lead, delivering a more emotional performance, in a low-key way. After seeing him remain fairly youthful during the 80s, age has finally caught up with him, but he's still up for some action. The glance he gives in the ending is really good, and one of his finest moments as an actor!

Amparo Munoz does well, and it's nice seeing an older lady as the lead(ish) in a horror film. Eva Isanta gives a nice enough performance as the daughter, as does Jorge R. Lucas as the mysterious Laurent. And Luis Maluenda gives a good performance as the diabolical priest. Interestingly Lycantropus contains more pronounced Spanish lisps than other films I've seen. I guess it was shot more regionally.

Lycantropus is a pretty neat example of late Spanish horror, when the genre had slowed to a crawl, before finding new life later on. As a Hombre Lobo film it's different for sure, but I honestly found it to be one of the better entries! I recommend it...