Thursday, March 29, 2018

Ghost Cat Mansion (1958)

Doctor Kuzumi and his ailing wife Yoriko are moving to the small and quiet village of Kyushu, to help with her health. They move into a centuries-old house, and Yoriko sees many unexplainable things, from people who appear and disappear, to footprints that go nowhere. Her husband is skeptical, but soon enough the haunting becomes violent, and the vengeful ghost of an old woman tries strangling Yoriko repeatedly. Dr. Kuzumi and Yoriko's brother seek the local priest to find out what happened at this house in the past...

Ghost Cat Mansion is a nicely spooky little horror film. It's not great, and there are probably more intense scares to be found elsewhere in Japanese cinema, but I still quite enjoyed this. It shows a very good understanding of the horror genre, in part due to its direction and staging, and the themes it covers.

One oddity regarding the structure is that it's technically a flashback within a flashback! This sounds stupid, self indulgent, and confusing, but it's no such thing here. I think it's because the framing story is just the lead sitting in his hospital listening to nearby footsteps and basically going 'Man, sounds in the night sure can be creepy, like this experience I once had...' and the rest of the movie (bar the final minute) is set back then. So never fear, we don't jump constantly between 1958, 1952, and hundreds of years in the past every 5 minutes. However, I feel that the story jumps around too little. Once the flashback to Feudal Japan starts, we don't leave it until the final 7 minutes of the film. I wish there was a little more time given to Story A,  because it doesn't end up feeling complete. There's not even enough time for a satisfying climax and conclusion. It all happens very quickly, and a little too easily, feeling a little unclear. Also, perhaps because the Story B was such a relentless downer (a fact we know throughout all its runtime), the present day's ending is amusingly sunny and upbeat!

Story B is decent, moving along at a good pace, feeling relatively comfortable telling its shorter story within its constraints. The plot starts out simple enough, but then gets a bit overcomplicated for its own good, and is further marred by a silly death scene. The cat ghost in all its glory looks pretty laughable too, but if that's what they look like in Japanese folklore, I won't complain. There's a possibility this section may explain and show too much for viewers who like things more of a mystery.

The characters are a good mix of likeable and loathsome. While the story is a downbeat foregone conclusion for pretty much everyone, we at least see the evil Lord Shogen get his comeuppance. The guy's almost unbelievable as the hair-trigger temper guy who tries to cheat at literally every move when playing Go, and murders his teacher for electing not to continue such a game, or to let Shogen win. Due to those transgressions and more, he's quite deserving of a thorough haunting by a ghost cat, don't you think?

The ghostly lady has a bit more depth to her in this part of the movie than she does in the present, which makes sense I suppose, since all her real enemies are long since dead by that point, and she's just running on centuries old hate, basically on autopilot.  It's a shame she never learns that Shogen's son Shinnojo is actually a decent person, undeserving of her curse, although even without that interference, his dad's machinations still would've screwed him over even if she hadn't.

The cast in the present day are serviceable. Yoriko is the one who sees the haunting, but is consistently told by her husband that she's clearly seeing things. Thankfully her brother is more endearing and actually believes her, even taking the husband to see the priest, winning him over.

The performances here are all pretty good, if sometimes over the top.

The cinematography Ghost Cat Mansion is superb, with well-framed shots that are effectively creepy. The scenes set in the past are less good though, because of their very set-bound nature. They feel a bit like watching a stage play. It improves as it goes on though, with one great death scene done in silhouette. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this movie's appearance is the colour shift between the two stories! I'll say no more...

This movie's effects are pretty decent, if quite visibly low-budget at times. The ghostly Kokingo and spirit cat lady look well-realised, even if the latter might elicit more laughs than scares. Finally, I'm glad the crew didn't get a black cat for the film. It's nice to see some equal opportunity representation of mystical and/or evil felines in cinema.

One final thing to note. The title does conjure up to mind something different than what the movie delivers though. I was expecting a mansion full of spectral kitty cats roaming the hallways, when instead we just get a regular ghostly old woman in the present, and the single cat woman in the past. Not really a disappointment, since the movie technically never promised more than that, but still, I wanted a manor house full of ghost cats!

Ghost Cat Mansion may not be perfect, but it's a worthwhile watch if you're into the old-fashioned horror movies that were more likely to have unexplained creaking, doors opening by themselves, and other such frights as opposed to more gory setpieces...

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules (1961)

Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules occupies a somewhat special place in my moviegoing heart, not because I particularly like the movie (indeed I only saw it very recently), but it was one of the first obscure films I actually researched online when I started to get into movies as a youngin'! For that at least this is a memorable title for me. As for how it fares as an actual movie, though? Well...

In the ancient days of Greece, countless villages have fallen victim to the evil mole people, who kidnap the survivors of their conquests to be slaves in their diamond mine. The famous hero Maciste hears of this crime and swears to seek justice and take the mole people down. Aided by a fellow strongman named Bangor, Maciste infiltrates the caverns of the mole men as a prisoner, intent on freeing the prisoners and ending the reign of their sadistic queen Halis Moyaab. She has other plans though, and wishes to either see Maciste dead, or reigning by her side...

Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules is a slog to get through! The plot has little substance to it, and with the hero becoming a captive of the mole men so early, it leaves one to wonder how the rest of the film is going to do to pad out its runtime. What indeed! The majority of scenes are boring conversations, or the leads being tortured. Some of these scenes are good, like the weight setpiece, but others are just a draaaaag.

Maciste is a pretty unremarkable protagonist. Not very charismatic, and just full of great ideas, like infiltrating the Mole Men by getting captured. Not pretending to be captured, but actually taken prisoner, and thusly pretty helpless. There are also many scenes where his slow to act behaviour gets lots of people killed, often only fighting back against the mole men when there's no-one left to protect. Maciste also can't spot traps to save his life. I like that Maciste isn't so strong that nothing is an obstacle to him. I also found the occasional moments where he fells multiple targets at once, or with the same object, to be very amusing! Also, I have to admit, I do find it impressive that his muscles are able to remain consistently oiled up despite being a prisoner!

Bangor is a decent sidekick. Not much more charismatic than our main lead, but more likeable. He's gravely underused in the film's midsection though, mostly being chained up. There's an incredibly awkward moment early on when Bangor is rescued by Maciste, and he sticks his head under The guy's foot and pledges to be his slave forever more. Uhhhhh...

The villains plans are a bit confused. It's to have a mole-man mate with their secretly human queen, so that their offspring will have an immunity to the fatal effects of the sun's rays. Ok, nevermind that it'll take FAR too long for the effects of that plan to ever amount to anything, if ever, but why do the Mole Men even think it'll work? It might not work biologically, or maybe it won't because, oh, I don't know, the Gods who enforced the punishment in the first place will take issue with their plan?!

Also, the first time I saw this movie I was under the impression that kidnapping the baby Halis Moyaab is what caused the curse in the first place, so simply giving her back would've fixed the issue. I didn't hear a thing about that on rewatch though, so I'll give the movie credit in at least not being that stupid.

Halis Moyaab starts out as a decent villain, but that status is soon completely torpedoed as she's reduced her to an ineffectual and swooning damsel practically going "Oh, Maciste!". Her part in the end isn't really that involved, and what becomes of her is predictable, but satisfactory.

Possibly what pisses me off most about the whole last act is how 10 minutes before the end, when Maciste frees the slaves and they start overrunning the Mole Men, finally escaping as their antagonists flee, the moment is the ruined. What was previously a victorious scene is undercut by the exits being barred, and half the freed slaves being slaughtered by arrowfire. Way to totally make your triumphant climax become needlessy depressing! The climax as a whole is pretty unsatisfying, but the ending is amusingly cheesy.

While we're on the subject of cheesiness, yeah, that's a factor here with the general feel of the movie, the costumes, the music, the bad dubbing, and some of the dialogue, such as "A man can only resist so much when he is a man". The moment when a mole man is executed by being exposed to the sunlight is pretty hilarious too! Other than those fleeting bits of entertainment, there's not enough to make Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules all that watchable though, I'm afraid.

The acting here is pretty mediocre, as is the dub performances. The look of Mark Forest and Paul Wynter is a sight to behold, at least! Their often-oiled pecs are so huge I'm surprised they aren't really the sons of Hercules! Gianni Garko is apparently in this movie too, but hell if I recognized him under the heavy costuming and make-up.

The set design and some of the props here are quite good, and sometimes creative, if a bit silly (or abstract in a Dom Patrol-esque way). One major special effects failure is how in any scenes when the mole people are outdoors, it's clearly broad daylight, yet they talk as if it's still night. 'We'd better get back underground before the sun's rays touch us!' says a concerned mole man while the sun's splendifferous rays are shining upon him.

There are some animals on display here, including some horses that were either greatly inconvenienced, or well-trained and adept at pretending to fall over. There's also a pack of adorable lions! The gorilla in the one fight scene though is of course a guy in a crummy suit.

The music is generally ok, and the theme song (recycled in a lot of the Maciste movies, among other sword and sandal heroes, like Argolese for example) positively reeks of machismo with its over-the-top lyrics!

Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules isn't all that great a film. It seems as if medicority is the standard for a lot of these old Italian sword-and-sandal flicks. I sure hope not! I want to see some of these that are genuinely good! Well, Zeus knows there are plenty more to choose from!...

Leptirica (1973)

A small farming village in Yugoslavia is rocked by a series of murders at the local mill, and the locals are convinced it's the doing of a vampire. Meanwhile, young lovers Strahinja and Radojka wish to get married, but her guardian won't accept it due to Strahinja's low station in life. After the fourth worker at the mill is found dead, Strahinja is hired for the job, and he hopes taking it will impress Radojka's guardian...

Described as one of the scariest movies ever made in its former home country of origin Yugoslavia, the 1973 TV production Leptirica is a movie I went in to with reasonable expectations, as I knew it probably wouldn't live up to the hype from that description. I also braced myself in-case the movie might lose something in translation for those who haven't grown up in a rural Slavic environment. As for whether it does or not, I suppose it depends. I grew up in a country-ish area (only and hour and a half from the nearest city, so quite urban, really), so I could put myself in the characters' shoes to an extent, but I also don't live in beautiful pastoral Serbia, so...

The plot is decent, feeling like an old fairy tale at times. There are elements of local folklore here, such as the inclusion of Sava Savanović, and the story as a whole is based on a novel from the 19th century, called After 90 Years.

Sadly I found Leptirica to be a bit boring. Not terribly so, but for a lot of its brief runtime it just wasn't grabbing me. Making this worse is how much time goes by without any scary scenes. We also don't really get any insight into the villainous vampire. They're just evil because, and never even say a word, disappearing in fact to give way to another vampire that they presumably sired.

Something that endeared me to the story was the actions of the supporting characters. The superstitious townsfolk are dismayed at the continued deaths of those who work at the mill, and hire Strahinja for the job, seeing him as a bit of a patsy they can goad into taking the job with honeyed words convincing him it'll be good. When he ends up surviving the ordeal, these guys now have an abiding respect for Strahinja, now seeing him as a hero, and supporting his romance with Radojka, even helping him elope with her to be married! They started out as somewhat manipulative dicks to him, but I liked how much they genuinely come around and help him out. A shame then that the movie has such a downer ending, but oh well, you can't have everything.

The climax unfortunately came across more silly than scary. It reminded me a bit of that section from the tales of Sinbad, with the little old man who jumped on people's necks and strangled them to death, except here there's less choking and more of what resembles a piggyback ride. Nothing that happens seems to make a whole let of sense, either, and the uncle and whatever he was plotting seems to have been forgotten. All of this ultimately takes the wind out from the sails of an already underwhelming experience.

Sounding like a cross between a kookaburra and a chimpanzee, the howl of the vampire wasn't 100% percent chilling to me, but it is a bit spooky how even in broad daylight the characters can hear this unsettling wailing coming from an unknown place, signalling the presence of a malignant evil somewhere closeby. It'd be especially creepy for those who live in the great outdoors, and often hear the sounds of unknown animals.

The effects in Leptirica are mixed. We don't get a good look at the vampire early on, but what we do see is effective, showing just enough to leave you wondering. When we do see one in full, it's good! The teeth look great, while the charred-looking furry skin is a nice touch. They also complimented the clean whiteness of the fangs.

There's very little violence on display, but what there is is great, such as an impalement wound near the end. It looked very impressive, especially given what the budget for this must've been. Another effect I felt was really well-handled was the one at the ending. Working with animals can be tricky, but insects are even trickier, so the fact that the final shot works as well as it does speaks well to the skills of the filmmakers. Less convincing though is that none of the scenes taking place at night-time actually seem to be filmed at night. I guess the director was worried that things would be too hard to make out if he shot in darkness, which I get, but I wish they would've waited at least a little longer before hitting record.

I'm not totally sure how the acting was, but I liked the characters nonetheless, as well as the performers behind them. Petar Božović did well as the simple lead, while Mirjana Nikolić has an air of radiant beauty to her, and terror later on.

One bit of gloomy trivia related to the movie is that a Macedonian man reportedly had a heart attack during/after watching this movie! I imagine they were already a ticking time bomb, and watching a horror movie is what set them off, but this movie is so slow-moving in the scary department that it's almost leisurely at times, so it seems odd it would be a factor in such a reaction. More than likely is that the guy would've suffered the heart attack even if he was at a screening for a romantic comedy, and it's just that he was watching a horror movie that made the event seem more morbid than it actually was. Whatever the case, this caused a bit of a stir back then, with the authorities not looking kindly upon the movie, and that's perhaps why it to date doesn't seem to have an official DVD release.

Leptirica is a mixed film, but by no means bad. As an example of Serbian/Slavic filmmaking, and their take on the horror genre, it's worth checking out. It's simple, but delivers on quite a bit, even if I felt the movie as a whole wasn't the best...

Monday, March 19, 2018

1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982)

Back in the day, it seemed like New York was really going to the dogs, and a few made movies all about how in the future, it'd become a dystopian no-man's-land. Seems kinda quaint nowadays to imagine that nowadays, but it helps that these were usually really good watches! Today I'll be looking at one such movie-Enzo Castellari's 1990: The Bronx Warriors...

The year is 1990, and The Bronx has become such a crime-ridden hellhole that the authorities cordoned the suburb off, leaving the gangs inside to roam free, plundering and killing each-other as they please. In the more affluent New York, young heiress Anne runs away from her home and into the Bronx, almost being captured by a gang of malicious hockey-skaters until she's saved By Trash and the Riders, who take her in. Anne and Trash get to know each-other as time goes by, but her disappearance has not gone unnoticed, and her father (head of the corrupt Manhattan Corporation) desperately wants to get her back, sending in the malicious and nasty operative Hammer, who may well leave The Bronx a charred wasteland when he's through...

1990: The Bronx Warriors is never boring, and thoroughly entertains. The look of the film can be cheap at times, but I don't think that's much of a drawback, as this is meant to take place in a run-down city populated by gangsters with too much time and make-up on their hands, improvising a lot of things. Regarding its roots, Bronx Warriors is definitely inspired by the likes of Escape from New York and The Warriors for its setting, but its plot actually makes an effort to be different from that of those other two movies.

Castellari's direction (as well as the cinematography by Sergio Salvati) is really good, with many scenes that are shot and framed interestingly, such as the gang funeral. Only half of the movie was actually shot in New York, but that's enough. If there was only half a minute's worth of establishing shots and nothing else, this would be unconvincing, but when at least half the movie is out in the streets of the Bronx, while every other scene is in buildings/sewers, where it'd make sense not to be seeing NY landmarks everywhere, then the movie's succeeded at doing its job.

The dialogue is often cheesy, with some lines sounding unintentionally hilarious, thanks to an Italian crew translating their script for the English actors they had. Not technically incorrect, but still amusing to native English speakers.

For a sleazy romp that's mostly action, the backstory behind 1990: The Bronx Warriors, as well as the world everyone inhabits is quite interesting! We're told just enough to make it intriguing, but not enough to over-explain things. There are some spots though where I wish there would've been a bit more depth and exploration, such as Anne.

I'm a little sketchy on why Anne decided to leave her old life in NY. She stood in line to inherit everything. Complete control of not only New York, but of nearly the entire world's arms trade. With the power of dystopian megacorporations fully in the hand of someone who isn't an asshole, she could've just stayed, maybe pretended to be a nefarious businesswoman at first, but enacted sweeping changes. There's a brief explanation in one scene that she didn't want to just be a puppet, which fair enough, but she also says without her the corporation is powerless, which...errr, doesn't quite make sense. They'd just replace her with someone actually on their side, I imagine, making everything worse.

The remaining characters are distinctive. Trash is a decent protagonist, with a great look to him. Witch and Ogre are honourable rulers trying to keep the Bronx as safe and stable as can be, while Hammer is just the opposite. Sadistic, nihilistic, and intent on making everyone in the Bronx remember his name (provided they live long enough), he's a greatly intimidating villain. Not sure why he randomly goes crazy in the end though.

Now we come to the lowest point of Bronx Warriors in my opinion-The ending! It's a miserable piece of work, as downbeat as you can imagine. There are two reasons why I dislike it so much. The first is that it's unnecessarily depressing, and secondly I feel it's a disappointing alternative to where the story was heading. We were going to get Trash, Ogre, Witch, and all their warriors to fight back against Hammer's machinations, possibly even against the Manhattan Corporation itself, but instead they just all suddenly get butchered while eating cake, Trash kills the now-insane-for-no-reason Hammer, then rides off, the movie just abruptly ending at that point. Jeez, The New Barbarians had a lighter conclusion than this, and that movie was literally set in the apocalyptic wasteland after the bombs dropped and wiped out nearly all humankind!

The acting/dubbing varies from good, to over-the-top, to just plain bad. Marco di Gregorio (credited as Mark Gregory) is stoic as Trash, but I'm pretty sure he nails softer emotion too in some good scenes, and he absolutely looks the part! He was only around 16 in this film, but you wouldn't know it it look at him! One thing of note is how amusingly loquacious Trash is given his exaggerated New Yorkah accent.

Vic Morrow makes for a really good antagonist. Unfortunately we don't get to hear him speak in the English version, as he's dubbed over by someone else (Bud Spencer's common dub actor, I think?). Given Morrow is American, I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps the guy could speak Italian and did that in the original language cut, and didn't have time time to do his own dubbing, given his tragic passing?

Fred Williamson is great fun as Ogre! Out of the first 50 minutes, he's only in a scant few, in the beginning. From that point on though, he's a main player in the story. Elisabetta Dessy is neat as the badass and stylish Witch, but doesn't get used a whole lot. Stefania Girolami is a bit milquetoast as Anne, but she doesn't really get much to do, so it's not really her fault. John Loffredo is good as the secondary villain if a bit on the nose at times, while Christopher Connelly is a bit wasted. witch?

There are quite a few familiar faces of 'Italosploitation' cinema present, such as Enio Girolami, Massimo Vanni, the incomparable George Eastman. I suppose I should probably find it concerning that I can't name any big-name A-list Italian performers of the 20th century, but oh well.

The rock/synthesiser soundtrack is quite good, with a great main theme, scored by Walter Rizzati (originally I got producer Fabrizio de Angelies confused with Maurizio de Angelis of Oliver Onions fame, and thought he was doing the score). It really gets you into the mood! The accompanying opening credits are neat too. Silly make-up for sure, but I like how it shows off a lot of the gang designs and weapons we see in the film with the music overlaid.

1990: The Bronx Warriors isn't a perfect film, but it's still got many great qualities, and I highly recommend it! It's a fabulous showcase for Enzo Castellari's skills, as well as his cheesier side, and is sure to entertain, even if it'll leave you needing a pick-me-up by the end...

Sugar Hill (1974)

During the heyday of Blaxploitation cinema, there were quite a few horror titles coming out, some making a name for themselves. Quite a few of these got lazy following Blacula's example, inserting 'Black' into all their titles even though the reason that worked for Blacula is that 'black' rhymes with 'Drac'. I'll probably never stop harping on this, but Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde is one of the laziest titles I've ever heard! Quite a different story for Sugar Hill (aka The Zombies of Sugar Hill)...

Diana 'Sugar' Hill lives with her loving nightclub owner boyfriend Langston, looking forward to getting married. Things take a turn for the worse though when a criminal who wants the nightclub for himself sends his goons to beat Langston to death. Distraught, Sugar seeks out Voodoo priestess Mama Maitresse, who helps her get in contact with Baron Samedi, Lord of the Dead. Now in control of an army of the undead, Sugar is determined to wreak a terrible revenge upon those who killed her love...

Sugar Hill is a great example of African-American horror! The plot moves along at a nice pace, never feeling boring as it tells this relatively simple story of Woman wants revenge, Woman takes revenge, The End. The minutes breeze by, and there are plenty of creative death scenes to keep one's interest, and creep one out. A couple are largely offscreen, but in an effective way, and the ritualistic stabbing is filled with tension! Perhaps less appealing to others is that the story never really diverges from its simple structure, nor is there any tension for the title character, who stays on top for the whole movie with no struggles against her opponents.

Unlike some Blaxploitation flicks, Sugar Hill isn't so much dated as it is a time capsule, which is very much in its favour. Also, I dig the variety of different black people/African Americans this movie shows. Some good, some bad, civilians, business owners, gangsters, cops, voodoo priests/demigods, etc.

The dialogue is sometimes cheesy, and there are great lines here and there, like Sugar's fabulous put down of "Talking to you means I look nowhere but down".

The effects here are pretty good! There's little violence on display, but what there is is decent. As for the zombies, they look neat, with their pallid skin, chrome eyes, and sometimes deranged grins. Unfortunately, they don't directly contribute to about half of the death scenes. Two of the gangsters get offed by Sugar and her voodoo dolls, while another is fed to hungry pigs.

Onto the acting. Marki Bey is really good here! She starts off as a regular lovestruck person, and as the movie goes on, becomes a harder-edged avenging angel. One look at her and you know that this is not a woman to mess with. I particularly liked when the vengeful Sugar is pretending to be gracious with the villains she manipulates.

Don Pedro Colley is by far the best thing about Sugar Hill! He plays Baron Samedi with a wonderfully creepy charm, and is so amusing to watch! Thankfully his character plays quite a proactive role in events too, and isn't just offscreen for much of the movie. Zara Cully delivers a neat performance as Mama Maitresse, too. The rest of the acting is ok, though Robert Quarry doesn't make for a very good villain, and none of the other bad guys are at all memorable (except in the spooky conclusion).

Sugar Hill is a lot of fun, and it's the best Blaxploitation horror I've seen so far! If you're looking for something to watch that's positively dynamite funky, then go for this!...

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Üçüncü Göz (1989)

I've seen dozens of Turkish films at this stage, from various genres, but until recently I'd still yet to see any arthouse ones. By complete happenstance, I stumbled upon Üçüncü Göz, aka The Third Eye, which seemed to fit in with that description!...

Tunç is a lonely middle-aged man, eking out a meagre existence in the small town where he lives. He tries his best to help people, but is perpetually unhappy, especially when it comes to the story he's trying to write. About a homeless woman in an isolated village trying to find a new home for her baby, Tunç struggles for inspiration, occasionally being struck with further ideas, but losing track again just as quickly. Life gradually becomes more difficult psychologically, until he has a bizarre encounter...

Üçüncü Göz is a strange film. Database entries online describe one of its genres as Fantasy, but as I watched it, that seemed very far from what I was witnessing. This was just a simple story of a small-town guy's day-to-day life and the depression he faces, interspersed with glimpses of a story he's writing. The movie was weird to me precisely because of how not weird it was...Then we get to the more fantastical moments, if you can call them that!

After a particularly bad attack, wherein I wasn't sure if the lead was being sucked into his fictional world, or just suffering from a stomach ulcer, a comatose naked man is teleported into his living room. This is a low-budget film, so of course we don't actually see this. There's just no-one there, Tunç looks away, and when the camera pans back, look, there's suddenly a mystery man on the carpet. Like magic! Upon waking, the man suddenly appears in clothes and a gun, and the proceeding 40 minutes of the movie are a ranting monologue delivered by Tunç to this mystery man (pausing every now and then to sleep on his typewriter, or consider answering his phone). No other locations from this point on, not even in the fictional 'world'. They're gone, without any resolution (unless that last one was meant to be the end, but it didn't scream finality to me, so I couldn't be sure). The ending itself didn't really impress me. If this is all meant to be taking place in Tunç's head, then it feels pointless and depressing. If it's all real, then I have no idea what to make of what I see, and it also feels a bit pointless and depressing.

Overall, I wasn't really impressed with Üçüncü Göz, and never felt it came together properly. It feels like one thing for too long, so by the time the movie started becoming more abstract, it was far too late. I also didn't find the lead's journey interesting enough to sustain a whole film, not because it isn't potentially compelling, but because we just don't see as much of it as we could have. Most of what we see is him struggling with writer's block, and feeling depressed that he can't write, and that's pretty much it. As for the fictional interludes, I'm not quite sure how they're meant to relate to the story as a whole. There doesn't seem to be a connection between them and either Tunç's life or the mystery man who shows up. I also have no idea how the title comes into things. Throughout the movie Tunç does a 'third eye' gesture with his hands, but that's it.

One last note however is that I only half speak Turkish so far, and saw this unsubtitled. There's not that much dialogue here, and what little there is (barring the long monologue at the end) is either clear, or stuff I actually understood. So while I'm reasonably sure of everything I've said in this review, I"m just bringing this up in-case a line of dialogue I didn't understand explained everything.

The direction by Orhan Oğuz is fine, looking really good in some places, with great cinematography, taking full advantage of the decaying setting. Also, if I'm not reading too much into it, the lengthy opening shot in a train tunnel could be visually representative of the titular concept!

The acting here seems really good! I made a joke while watching that this was probably Tarik Akan's attempt at an 'oscar bait' style film, but I was half serious. He's genuinely really good here, in a role far removed from the romantic-comedies of his younger days that I'm more familiar with.

On another note related to the lead performer, normally I wouldn't comment on how old an actor's looking, but he is only 39 years old here! What the heck happened?! Are beards really that effective at aging people up? A similar thing happened with George Lazenby, who looked youthful before and after Universal Soldier (not that one), but not during, when he had a full-on hippie look, with beard, long hair, and sideburns.

In some spots, there's little music here, with the film instead going for a more minimalistic approach soundwise. The music we do get is good. Kinda jazzy in sound, but unrelentingly depressing to listen to when you hear it for too long! Well, that's the Blues for you...

Given the low budget here, this is very light on effects, and that's perhaps one of the reasons this felt more like a 'magical realist' movie for the longest time rather than outright fantasy. There is one moment in the climax that really surprised me though! Think Lucio Fulci meets W. Somerset Maugham!

Üçüncü Göz is a somewhat interesting odyssey, but I otherwise don't really recommend it. Perhaps a good film to see cliff-notes of though!...

Monday, March 12, 2018

Noirhouse (2013-2014)

Noir parodies can be tough to pull off. One runs the risk of making the finished product annoyingly self-referential if they handle it poorly.

The idealistic detective 'Dick', seductive and duplicitous Nadia, and violently psychotic yet level-headed Ivan the Russian all live together in their sharehouse, but face difficulties when applying for a new roommate, who turns out to be trouble, and is murdered. In the midst of trying to dispose of the body, the three are beset by more problems, such as the presence of the killer, and a looming conspiracy...

Noirhouse is a sort-of webseries (I think it was on TV too?), running at about 5 to 7 minutes per episode, and made up of two seasons.

At first, I found this series to be not that great. I actually dig the concept of cliche noir characters who are involved in a typical hard-boiled case, yet are still overly concerned with sharehouse rules and bickering, but it feels like the story is caught between this approach, and wanting to be a noir parody proper, with a proper crime to investigate and everything. I guess the short length makes this more of a problem, since it's over in only 17 minutes. The plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense, such as certain surprise reveals only being done for cliffhangers, and not actually meaning anything. I liked how it all wrapped up though, and the ending is pretty funny.

I enjoyed Season 2 a lot more, as it focuses more on a legitimate plot. Still somewhat farcical of course, but it's better than just a thin excuse for hit-and-miss gags. Not all the humour in this season landed with me, but more than enough did, and I enjoyed myself a lot. The plot is a bit hamstrung by it rarely leaving the confines of the main living room though. There's also a retcon that totally screws up Season 1's plot, very nearly irreparably. Still, it leads to a funny ending. And come the end, there are enough loose ends to possibly allow for more episodes, if that ever happens.

There are little effects in Noirhouse. A bit of what there is is practically done, but there's some not-so-good computer effects too, like some unconvincing CGI blood in one episode, which feels out of place in a noir parody. What's worse is that the actor doesn't move convincingly to match up with his wound.

The acting here is quite good. It feels a bit off at first what with the show's over-the-top direction, and exaggerated performances, but everyone soon finds a good balance, and they do great jobs with their characters. The put-on American accents by the leads also aren't half-bad either, and while they sometimes slip, this is the kind of program where that's probably not that big a deal, being a silly parody after all.

Another positive to Noirhouse is the direction. It's framed very well, with a few shots looking very stylish. Finally, some of the episode titles (such as Spare Doom for Rent, No Point Dying Over Spilt Milk, The Long Miss Goodnight, etc) quite amused me.

Not yet having a DVD release as far as I know, Noirhouse is available to watch on its Youtube channel, complete with a few bonus videos too, some done in a Q&A fashion while others are brief word definitions, and they're a hoot! While I found the series a bit shaky at first, it found its footing soon, and I recommend watching it.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Hidden Hand (1942)

I recently acquired a Warner Bros box-set of old mysteries, plenty of them obscure, and all of them piquing my interest, particularly Sh! the Octopus. That film was the sole reason I bought the set, but the remaining 5 movies were definitely a nice bonus!

Deranged lunatic John Channing has escaped from the mental institution where he's spent the last 10 years, and returns home to his sister Lorinda, who arranged his 'early release' for a nefarious plan. She hates her three nephews Lawrence, Walter, and Horace, knowing they're venomous louses who care only for her money. Calling the three men and their wives over, and having implied that she's leaving all her money to her faithful secretary secretary Mary Winfield, Lorinda intends on using John to put her family through a most terrible punishment...

The Hidden Hand doesn't seem to be talked about much, nor does it even seem to have its own DVD release. This is a real shame, as it's surprisingly good, with some clever writing here and there! Where it falters is in how it sometimes feels like two different movies fighting for space. One is of a kindly but cunning old woman trying to help her young friend, while the other is of a malicious old lady and her sadistically insane brother teaming up to trick and destroy her duplicitous family. Unfortunately it's the latter plot that ends up getting the shaft a bit, being overtaken by the former up until the last 17 or so minutes, when it comes front and centre stage again, and finally the movie begins to deliver what it originally promised. The film is ultimately quite a devious watch, and an absolute delight.

The ending is quite abrupt, but eminently satisfying, concluding in just the right way. I did giggle at how quickly the police detective wrapped the case up though.

One random plot point that bugged me was how upon the seeming murder attempts, Lorinda doesn't want to call the police because of the scandal that would cause, but she's more than happy to fake her own death, which will end up creating two different media frenzies. One when she's seemingly dead, and another when she springs back. This does end up making sense, but still, it leaves you scratching your head at first.

I also wonder who the other Channing sibling is! We only know of two, yet there must be at least one other, since Horace, Walter, and Lawrence are Lorinda and John's nephews. Not a word of their parentage is spoken of, and it'd be quite an intriguing bit of unexplored backstory, if not the distinct impression I get that the writers just plum forgot. Or they could very well have accidentally typed 'Nephews' into the script when they meant 'Sons'.

The murders are sometimes ghoulish and fun, although some happen exactly the same way. It's kinda hilarious in a way just how many lives the trap door ends up claiming, but also a bit lazy, too.
What befalls the maid Hattie feels a little pointless though. Unlike the film's other victims, there's no real reason in the script for her to get murdered.

There's not really a single lead character as such in The Hidden Hand. Mary almost becomes the protagonist at one point, before quickly reverting back to believing nothing's amiss, and doesn't bother investigating for the murderer. Following that, she accidentally gets Hattie killed, and doesn't really do much but scream and be drugged. Her beau, the lawyer, doesn't really accomplish much either. The nephews are all convincingly scummy, as are their wives, though the latter two don't really get much resolution. The villains are of course the most interesting part of the cast.

I'm not quite sure how to feel about Eustis's role in the film. He fits the typical 'scared black manservant' stereotype that was prevalent at the time, and is thusly cringey, but as the movie went on, I wasn't sure if it was subverting that trope, or just embracing it. There are times when it seems like it wants us to laugh at him like he's the joke, but then there are occasions where the movie is siding squarely with him, exemplified by some of his dialogue. And as the movie goes on, and we keep seeing him, it feels like he's the real main character, as we see him a lot more than Mary. The fact that he manages to outlast everything thrown at him is pretty endearing, and for what it's worth, he's one of the only likeable characters in the entire film. In the end though, I don't think the movie was being subversive at all. It just accidentally managed to be not quite racist, but almost.

One incredibly annoying habit characters in the movie have is continuously referring to Eustis as 'boy'. He's a grown ass man, you racists! Thankfully the characters who say this aren't meant to be likeable.

Milton Parsons is without a doubt the standout of the movie. He delivers a deliciously evil performance as the mad John Channing. He's a little overdone sometimes (like his laugh at the very end), but that aside, he's fantastic, equal parts creepy and funny, with a great screen presence. Cecil Cunningham is very good as Lorinda, nailing both   Sure, it may feel like they're two different characters depending on the scene, but that's more the fault of the writers, and Cunningham makes the most of her part.

The rest of the acting is decent. Kam Tong isn't that great, while Willie Best is entertaining as Eustis, despite a lot of his scenes being nearly kinda uncomfortable to watch. Elisabeth Fraser is fine as the innocent Mary Winfield, but gets pretty much nothing to do, never stepping up to be the protagonist. No-one does, in fact! Everyone at least performs well enough, regardless of how underwritten their characters end up being.

The Hidden Hand is a flawed film, but a wickedly dark mystery when it wants to be, and quite unlike many other films of the time, not letting censorship hold back its macabre nature. The plot's pretty tried and tested, but it's the way the script goes about it, and presents everything that works like a charm. I definitely recommend watching if you can find it...