Monday, November 30, 2020

The Demoniaques (1974)

In the age of piracy, shipwrecks abound, with cruel bandits pillaging and scuttling every vessel they find. One night they find two female survivors, raping them and leaving them for dead. Through sheer force of will the women manage to survive, and make their way to a sinister castle, where a mysterious prisoner offers them a pact so they can get their revenge...

The Demoniaques is a promising 1970s outing from French horror auteur Jean Rollin. But despite its best efforts, I found myself a little bored by it.

The plot is very thin, simply focusing on these pirates being assholes, and the girls getting revenge. But even these two simple things are screwed up. The film is a drawn-out 100 minutes long, and it's painfully slow. The first couple of acts move along pretty well, slow paced but not tedious. None of the scenes here are boring in isolation, but when together, they add up to a disappointing whole.

The Demoniaques is a movie of expectation versus reality. You expect to see these women get brutalised, crawl off and find demonic new powers, and get bloody revenge, with maybe the first half hour devoted to the crime, and the rest of the film devoted to the payback. That's how most slasher films are structured. A period of set-up, then the killin' starts. What actually happens in this film though is that the first half hour is of the women getting brutalised, then just as we think they're dead, they're found and attacked again, and then again, before stumbling into the sinister castle.

From here on the film meanders on for the next couple of acts, and you'll never guess what happens! After the girls finally get their unearthly powers, they waste time making ominous appearances, they topple over a few statues, fail to kill the one person they're aiming at, then promptly lose the powers! The dopes spent so much of their sweet ass time standing around looking spooky rather than actually doing anything, and by the time the pirates catch up with them, they're completely helpless again!

Just as the movie begins to spin its wheels for a third time, the captain suddenly solves the problem himself and kills half his crew in 5 second. That's right, instead of the girls gradually getting revenge over the course of the film, they're instead all killed by someone else for no real reason, in the last 2 minutes! How disappointing, right??

I've heard many describe the film as just a nonstop rape, and that I do take issue with. The film might have a couple such scenes, and it is a pretty heavy watch, but I wouldn't go as far as to say it's like that. All in all I think The Demoniaques handles its subject matter in a mature and non-exploitative manner.

The Demoniaques has a really interesting setting. The antique pirate feel is great, and it looks very convincing, from the wreck-strewn beaches, to the old fashioned inns, the costumes, and the dilapidated old castle, overgrown with grass. This production had a pretty modest-to-small budget, so it's telling as to Rollin's visual talent that it looks as good as it does. The movie might have issues elsewhere, but not in its visuals! My only complaint with the setting is that after the halfway mark there's very little done with it, which is a real shame.

The characters here are a kooky bunch, and we even get an old-Hollywood/Gilligan's Island style intro to each one, with their heads in a goofy circle and a voice-over describing their personalities. It's a really fun way of opening the movie and getting us invested. But unfortunately the majority of them are sorely underdeveloped. Only the captain and the crazy lady get much to do, with the others being pretty generic thugs. They also do some strange things, like trying to calm down their freaked-out captain by engaging him with a switchblade!
The inhabitants of the castle are a mysterious bunch, including the hilariously dressed 'demon', and his keepers, who include a bizarre clown (a reference to a previous Rollin film). These are interesting characters, but a little underused, and never really do much.

And lastly, there are the two heroes, if you could call them that. We sympathise with them  though I don't know anyone who'd be willing to free the powers of Satan into the world just to get back at your enemies. Like, yeah, what happened to you was bad, but surely releasing a demon would only make things that much worse, ladies! Throughout the whole film they never utter a single word, which at times makes them mysterious, and helps us place ourselves in their shoes, but other times it just makes them boring, like they have no real character.

Being a Rollin film, there is naturally a lot of nudity, and it is stunning! There ain't nothing better than French babes! Although it is amusing how some of these women have some pretty modern tans for the 1700s!

The music here is really good. We have a few period tracks that fit the pirate setting, and low-key tunes that build up the atmosphere.

The Demoniaques is hard to recommend. It's got a lot going against it, and being a fan of Jean Rollin isn't necessarily going to make it a winner for you, but, it has a lot of the positives you would come to expect from his films. I'd recommend at least checking it out with the fastforward button on. That way you skip out on the unnecessary stuff, but catch all the gorgeous visuals! Best way to do it...

The Return of the Vampire (1943)

After a series of unexplained deaths, a learned professor has just discovered the existence of a vampire. He and his nurse manage to stake the monster in his coffin, and the danger seems to be over. Years later the Second World War is raging, and German bombing raids uncover the vampire's grave, and when two workers see the body, they assume the stake is bomb shrapnel, and helpfully remove it. Life returns to the villain's body, and he sets his eye back on the family that cursed him to death for so many years...

Return of the Vampire is a really special film, and a true hidden gem! The 1940s horror cycle yielded a lot of good stuff, and a few classics would emerge every now and then, but some flew under the radar, perhaps none moreso than this Bela Lugosi vehicle.

The film gets off to an immediately thrilling start, wasting zero time. It introduces the heroes, the villains, and the story in rapid succession, before settling into things after a time skip. The settings are both very interesting too, with a WWI beginning, and the remainder in WWII, the two settings mirroring each-other in a subtle way.

Return of the Vampire is seen by some as an unofficial sequel to Dracula, and it kind of is, from the casting of Bela Lugosi, to the very name of the film. But not only do rights issues mean this is Dr. Armand Tesla, not Count Dracula, it feels like the writers actually made an effort to have their vampire stand out, and he does! I mean, it's still Bela playing an evil vampire, but he really feels like a new villain, with a distinct feel, even if his motivations are the same of any vampire.

What really struck me about this film is how smart the characters are. Normally in horror movies you're yelling at the screen "No, don't do that, do this!", but the fantastic thing about this film is that you wish the characters would do the smart thing...and they actually do! Nothing stops them, not even the easily understandable distraction of a werewolf trapping them in the crypt.

Even without counting this positive, the characters are still great. The professor doesn't make it beyond the time skip (with an unnecessary and probably posturing hand-wave explanation by Tesla), but Lady Jane stays as the film's defacto protagonist, getting to hold the limelight rather than the young and pretty pair. She's a surprisingly strong female character for the time!

Jane's son and the professor's granddaughter are decent, although appear surprisingly little. He vanishes altogether near the end, while she has a more substantial role, as Tesla's intended victim.

The most surprising character is definitely Tesla's werewolf servant Andreas. He begins the film as a slavering henchman, but once his master is staked, he becomes human again, and the time skip is very kind to him! He now works for Lady Jane, helping her in her studies just as she helped him recover his humanity after the vampire's mind control was broken.

Once Tesla is resurrected, things begin to go awry for poor Andreas, and he is helpless under his master's control once more, becoming the loyal henchman again. But the impressive thing about his character arc is how it ends! Lady Jane isn't exactly a physical heroine, and the two young ones don't get to appear much, so who does that leave to save the day at the end? Why, none other than Andreas! He manages to break the hypnotism all by himself, and really goes above and beyond the call of duty to vanquish Tesla, despite two different major injuries! It's really unique to see a monstrous henchman with not only this much character, but such a proactive role in defeating the villain.

The direction by Lew Landers is wonderful, with many interestingly staged moments. The best scene is perhaps the exchange by the organ, which features not only great visuals and dialogue, but acting too! Everything comes together perfectly, and it's a classic scene not talked about enough.

While generally a serious affair, the movie has a few amusing moments. There's the comic relief gravediggers, the hilarious idea that vampires can be knocked unconscious, and the police chief's growing skepticism. It can be a little annoying how much he plays the skeptic, although it leads to a very cute ending.

The effects in Return of the Vampire are surprisingly good! The standout is Andreas's werewolf make-up, which is really impressive, maybe even moreso than The Wolf Man. Made even better by the fact that he talks in his werewolf form, all the time, and the make-up still holds up! Figuratively and literally.

The acting here is great. Bela must have really relished this role. He wasn't overly fond of playing vampires since he wished to avoid typecasting, which is why he only ever played them in three other movies after Dracula, but you know he was a pro at the part. Here he is more than just a basic vampire going "Rahh, I vant to suck your blood!". Tesla is a fleshed out character, with lots of dimension for Bela to sink his teeth/fangs into.

Matt Willis does well as Andreas, while Frieda Inescort is good as Lady Jane. Though she also gets the absolute worst line delivery I've heard in a while at one point. Nina Foch and Roland Varno are nice, though underused,  while their child counterparts do well too in their brief screentime.

Return of the Vampire is a true unsung classic. It may not have been noticed by many on its original release, but I hope that as time goes on it'll become lauded as it deserves...

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Küçük Esnaf (2016)

Berhudar is a struggling locksmith, poor but humble. One day he gets news that his estranged alcoholic father has passed away, and this soon turns out to be the least of Berhudar's troubles when he discovers his father owed 100,000 lira to an irate gangster, who gives the man just one week to pay the money back, or else. Meanwhile, bright lawyer Ezel has just lost her latest case when her client is screwed over by his gangland associates. Wanting revenge, he gives Ezel a CD of damning evidence without her realising. The criminals eventually get wind of this, and since there's no way Berhudar is going to raise 100,000 in a few days, they enlist his help to break into her safe...

Küçük Esnaf is a fun Turkish comedy. It's got a good structure, and doesn't chuck everything at us right out of the gate, but instead lets things go slowly, moving at a nice pace. By the time everything is in place, it feels natural and easy to understand. The interactions between Berhudar and Ezel are amusing and varied, and really the heart of the movie. By the time the action comes knocking, it feels natural and earned.

There is no shortage of amusing scenes like the brawling with the musician, or the recurring gag with all the gangsters trying to fit into the  car, as well as the scenes with Burcu and her boyfriend. The big escape out the high window and into the skip bin was funny too, with it's against-type conclusion.

The comedy is funny all round for the most part. There's the odd line or moment here and there that I didn't find funny, but them's the chances. The dialogue is often amusing. One notable moment is a translation, when a joke about Black Sea names is turned into an American Indian gag, which is a good cultural transplant. It's not the direct translation, but it works for the scene. The physical humour all works well. There is a bit of a flimsy reason to get the lead into women's clothing, and it's predictably cheesy, but amusing enough and not overused.

Berhudar is a nice enough protagonist. Meek, nice, and somewhat cute like a big teddy bear, while also irascible and grumpy a lot of the time. Ezel is good-humoured, as well as feisty and eccentric when her asshole ex is around, and is a good ally and love interest.

Their relationship starts off a bit needlessly antagonistic, like they're only hating each-other just for the sake of it (also what kind of asshole eats money? 100 lira too!), but the movie doesn't linger on this too long, and they're friends quickly enough. Their friendship is fun and sweet, and the hint of romance is understated. You know it's coming, but the movie never feels the need to really ram it home, and this makes it work all the better.

Something that surprised me was when Berhudar wakes up in her flat, realising it's the place he robbed...and he actually tells her! Man, what a surprise! Normally movies drag this out for as long as possible, but Berhudar wakes up, goes "Oh shit", and immediately comes clean!

Berhudar's friends warrant a mild slap every now and then, but are otherwise good mates, and contribute a decent amount to the story. His assistant at the store is funny too, a worldly teen, but one that still struggles with girls. It's a shame he disappears for the longest time, and gets very little to do throughout.

Then there's Hüseyin, an old friend of Berhudar's dad, and a forceful surrogate father ("I insist, call me Baba!" he says to all strangers). He's likeable and fun, not to mention helpful when the time comes...except for one thing it feels like the movie didn't think through. This asshole gleefully introduced Berhudar's father to booze and ciggies as a teen, turning him into a lifelong addict who'd eventually abandon his family, rack up massive gambling debts, and die alone in a ditch from alcohol poisoning. Fuck this guy!

Lastly, a character of interest is Berhudar's unattainable crush Burcu. She's seemingly oblivious to his pining, but it turns out she's aware the whole time. It's a little unclear whether she's mocking or humouring him. The film seems to suggest the former in dialogue, but otherwise it totally comes off as the latter, and it's kinda sweet to see, even if she is extremely obnoxious. I'm not sure if how her wedding turns out works for me though. On one hand it is a very good scene, and serves to teach her something, as well as give Berhudar some time to shine, though on the other, I wasn't totally sure it made sense.

The climax is a lot of fun. Encompassing the last 25 minutes, it comes in a lot of stages, each enjoyable, before finally culminating in an inevitable standoff in the mobster's deadly games room. The way it's resolved may leave a little to be desired though. I like how something innocuous but in plain sight comes back and saves the day, but it's a bummer that the heroes don't actually do anything themselves to defeat the villain.

Then there's the ending itself. It feels cut off. It ends on an amusing enough gag, but it interrupts the romantic moment that was about to happen! Come on, guys, we've been waiting the whole movie for Berhudar to grab Ezel by the ears and smooch, then nothing! and no romance  fun character but he disappears and gets too little to do  climax enjoyable and I like how something  comes back and saves the day, though it's a bummer that the heroes don't actually do anything themselves to save the day.

The acting here is fun. The performers can be a bit over-the-top at times, and whether or not it's too much will depend on the viewer. This is especially true of Gupse Özay's performance, which some might find grating, and others might find adorable (and in fairness it is meant to be both). İbrahim Büyükak delivers a fun performance, although he always appears to be smiling, even when angry or upset. It's not really his fault as an actor, more a quirk of his features, and I guess it does lend a uniqueness to him. Zeynep Koçak is a spunky gal, making for a nice female lead. She is a good mix of grounded and over-the-top, depending on the scene. Cengiz Bozkurt amuses as the villain, as well as getting e bizarre moments.

There's some neat direction by Bedran Güzel, with a few cool visual flourishes, like a day-to-night transition I really liked. The film always looks pleasing to look at, and action/comedy setpieces are framed well.

Overall, Küçük Esnaf is a fun time, and worth watching for Turkish film fans...

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Niyazi Gül Dörtnala (2015)

Niyazi Gül is a lauded local vet, known both for his charming attitude with animals, and his girm principles. e's alao completely oblivious to an infatuated secretary/maid, and perpetually unable to find the last ingredient to his grandfather's miracle elixir for animals. One day he thinks he's finally found it, and two rival horse racers [gangsters] get wind. Each trying to come out on top, they conspire to either blackmail or threaten Niyazi for his serum...

Niyazi Gül Dörtnala in an enjoyable modern comedy. =

The plot is fairly straightforward, and develops at a good pace. It's got enough going on to be engaging, while also not overflowing with unnecessary subplots or convoluted twaddle. The last act does get a bit weird, when the serum is perfected, but it all works relatively well, and is funny at the least

The movie is very funny, with both = dialogue, physical humour, and more. My favourite being the wine bottle toss (a great example of slapstick, and character!)

characters   Hediye meanwhile is a delight! Both maid, secretary, and lab assistant to the professor, she's also madly in love with him, and tries coming onto him in various ways, with little success. She's amusingly mother-ish, acting beyond her years as like a [nagging] wife. She also has a near-constant litany of hilarious and elaborate insults, from "May your hands stick together! May your ass be boiled in hell's cauldron's!" to "May guinea pigs eat your peppers and tomatoes!", and "May jackals eat your asses!"

My only complaint is that since there's the 3rd act break-up as it were, plus her being kidnapped/held hostage, she gets less screentime and interaction with Niyazi in the last act, and we don't really see them being romantic until the very end. This is all understandable though, and what we do get is great. The ending to the film is [understated] and sweet.

The villains are surprisingly neat! They're over-the-top evil schemers, but both with softer sides. All of the scheming and = that Riza goes through isn't for money, power, fame, or anything, but instead just to win Sultan's hand. It's kinda sweet, in a = way, especially when seeing Sultan's own feelings towards him. They're pretty multi-dimensional, and she unloads to her = in a really effective scene later on. From thoughtful, to silly, dramatic, and fun, there's a lot to enjoy with this duo.

The rest of the cast are  too, from the dopey but friendly store clerks, =, Sultan's [manservant] Suleiman, and more.

Ata Demirer is a good lead, playing the hero well with both straightfaced deliveries and comedy moments. One thing that amused me was a flashback scene to his younger years, and the make-up used actually seems to make him look older than in the present! Oops! Sebnem Bozoklu is great as the fiery maid, and Demet Akbağ and Levent Ülgen are fun villains.

One major surprise to me was seeing Kevork Malikyan's name in the credits! He's a Turkish actor, but worked a lot in English media, namely the superb U.K. sitcom Mind Your Language, where he played the Greek student Max. This was my first time seeing him in another language, and he does a great job! With his face alone he is extremely expressive, and a real highlight of the film. He gets lots to do too, never wasted.

The soundtrack here is your typical Oriental rhythms and tunes, which is a positive. They're always a treat to listen too. I especially dug the lower-key synth track during Niyazi's nighttime freakout. It sounds against type, in a cool way.

Niyazi Gül Dörtnala is a fum time. A bit weird and over-the-top, but in all the right ways for me.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

El Değmemiş Aşk (2016)

Zafer is a sleaze stuck into marrying childhood friend Feryal, all the time having an affair with her best friend. The scheming Duygu insists that Zafer not consummate his marriage, if he truly loves her, and so he tries scheme after scheme to avoid the eager Feryal's advances...

El Değmemiş Aşk is a Turkish rom-com with a fun premise. The plot is by definition pure awkwardness, but it manages to avoid this fate well, and as someone who finds it really difficult watching awkward things, this goes by easily for the most part. The only part that's truly difficult to watch is the climax.

The film has a good structure to it. The first half hour sets everything up, the second shows all the various hijinx as Feryal tries to get laid, and the third is all the deceptions coming out, and Zafer finally realising he loves Feryal after all, as we all knew (or at least hoped) he would.

There's plenty of juicy drama, but the movie is never too melodramatic, which is good, although I imagine some Turks will be yelling "Mashallah, what are they doing, there's not enough action! Not enough drama! Where's the excitement". All this leads to an ending that's simple and sweet. I'm surprised at how low-key it is! All they do is show the couple kissing after they reconcile. They could have had some more scenes, and that would be nice, but this is a fitting place to end the story.

Zafer seems like a terrible protagonist on paper, but to his credit he never ends up being too unlikeable, despite what he's doing. This is great, as a whole movie with an absolute bloody scumbag would be a hard swallow. Feryal meanwhile is cute as a button, and never comes off as desperate or shrew-ish. At no point does the movie make her unsympathetic, and you feel bad for the poor girl! I really like the touch of them being best friends. It attaches a level of familiarity to their interactions, and makes it more believable. Plus, I really dig the portrayal of a man and woman being friends, especially a Turkish one.

Duygu is a good villain. She's a nasty piece of work, while also never going overboard. It's enough that she be a a cheating bitch without her being a cackling maniac with fingers steepled in orphan's blood. It also adds dimension to her character knowing that she does really care for Zafer, if in a twisted sort of way, and makes her more interesting than if she was just a harpy who really hated him.

There's a variety of funny scenes throughout the movie, namely from Feryal's failed attempts at seducing her husband. One is when she attempts to spike his drink, to the consternation of her nicer friend. I like that the movie actually beings up this concern, especially since there's that whole misconception that men can't be raped by woman. It also thankfully doesn't take the joke too far, since all Feryal slips in Zafer's drink is an aphrodisiac, rather than anything nasty.

El Değmemiş Aşk is a good example of how tasteful many Turkish productions are compared to modern day Hollywood. Now this isn't to say that I'm against swearing, sex, or all that good stuff, but as with most things it can take talent to pull that off, and it can feel gratuitous or lazy in the wrong hands. This meanwhile has a decent amount, but without shoving it in your face. Also, for any Turkish readers who are disappointed that I'm not getting to the really bad ones, believe me I'll do that soon too.

The acting here is good all round. Emre Karayel is able to give us a character who's sleazy but also fun to watch. Ceren Moray is sweet and amusing, while the sultry Begüm Kütük is suitable dastardly. The remainder of the cast do well, with some very nice supporting roles. Also this is a random touch but I like how sweaty they make the lead. It's silly in movies when you see someone run 3 miles, yet be looking totally fine, whereas here one look at Zafer shows what he's just done. It's a little thing, but that they put the care into it shows the filmmakers value their product.

This film really captures the beauty of Istanbul, and works as a great tourist brochure.

Overall, El Değmemiş Aşk is a great little watch, and well worth the wait! If you're looking for good examples of modern Turkish cinema to watch, and are after something light and breezy, this is the movie for you...