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...

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.

Monday, November 16, 2020

It's a Great Feeling (1949)

In the backlots of Hollywood, temperamental actor Jack Carson is assigned to direct his own starring picture, after everyone else in the industry takes a hard pass. Together with his rival and costar Dennis Morgan, he has to get the picture together or he's out of a salary. Luck comes along with the arrival of smalltown waitress Judy Brown, eager to become a star, and the perfect pawn to further their plans...

It's a Great Feeling is a very funny little gem! Coming early in Doris Day's filmography, it's a big in-joke from Hollywood, set on the Warner Brothers' lot and featuring appearances from just about everybody who was anybody, from directors to stars. The plot reflects Day's own rise to stardom, but with more hijinx, because real life is sadly too boring.

At first I thought the story would be focusing on these two dopes trying to get this picture made with this hopeful new actress, but the crux of the movie is moreso on trying to get her cast. I'm mixed on this. On one hand this is all very funny, but I would've liked to see them actually make Madamoiselle Fifi. Still, their repeated attempts to manipulate the producer are great, driving the poor guy around the bend!

The plot of bringing an innocent smalltown girl into stardom is an old and hoary one, and the movie knows this. While this is still a plot that can definitely work time and time again, it can be annoyingly cliched if done improperly. It's a Great Feeling has a funny spin on it the whole time. I also respected/appreciated that the climax ends up turning the whole idea on its head, and going the reverse. Although I do think the movie overestimates the difficulty of/how difficult it'd be to get someone who looks like Doris Day cast in a movie.

The ending is a little disappointing. It is a hilarious reveal, and a perfect ending, but the movie also just stops, basically, and we never find out how everything ends up. We can infer I guess, but I wanted to know what happened! Did the movie get made? Did she say yes? These and more lingering questions were on my mind as the credits rolled.

The comedy in It's a Great Feeling is often hilarious! The scene with the train conductor is one of the best, and has a jawdropping finish. Some of the jokes do go just a little overboard though, like the very end of the train station scene, or the ending of the screen test, where it goes beyond a simple editing stuff-up and into intentional messing about territory. I also disliked the Cousin Itt speak that warbles during the producer swaying scene. It's a shame, as the scene is otherwise really funny, but almost a little spoiled by the sound effects.

The cameos are pretty fun, though can sometimes verge on the obnoxious, with all the 'Hey, look over here, it's a famous celebrity, ' moments. Although this may not matter if you don't even recognise the people in question. My favourite cameos were those of Joan Crawford and Edward G. Robinson. It's fun to see them as regular people, in amusing subversions of their onscreen personas.

The dialogue is fluffy and amusing, with many one liners or gags. My favourite bit of dialogue was "Even though Mr. Trent had a nervous breakdown and has to go away, and the picture is cancelled, and they foreclosed on your house, I want you both to know I'm not discouraged one bit!"

The cast do great. Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson play fictionalised versions of themselves, and are  conniving and backbiting while also still remaining likeable and friendly. They have great chemistry, and make for a duo almost as fun as Hope and Crosby. Doris Day rounds out the trio superbly, lending an air of innocent fun. She gets to be happy, sad, exasperated, and pissed off. Bill Goodwin is funny as the increasingly neurotic producer, and Claire Carleton is nice, though sorely underused.

The songs here are few and far between, but in a nice way. There's a decent amount of tracks, and while this isn't a full musical, they make for an occasional treat. The performers all do well, The score is very nice too, with good tunes throughout. The funniest is the Fats Waller-esque Big Fat Lie, although it scared me at first when Jack recommends singing it in French! As someone who's seen Doris Day sing in another accent for real, I can tell you I never want to see it again! But thankfully it's funny when it's for laughs, and Carson does the goofy singing for that part.

The direction here is great! There are many stylishly shot scenes, with my favourite being the moonlit night out by the Hollywood Bowl. There's also an amusingly bizarre dream sequence, and fun scene transitions too.

Whether you're into old Hollywood, or are just a fan of Doris Day, It's a Great Feeling is best summarised by its title. Great to watch, and never dull...

Please Don't Eat The Daisies (1960)

I had a reasonably good childhood, in that I saw at least a few Doris Day movies when I was a young'in. I was always eager to catch any classical films I could. One such movie was Please Don't Eat the Daisies, and I had a fun time with it, and yet was unable to finish it, since the movie ran to almost 2 hours, 3 with adbreaks! Some things are beyond a child's patience, even one who loves classic cinema! But for years I've been eager to revisit the film, all the way through this time, and now I've finally got the chance...

Kate and Larry Mackay are a married couple with four misbehaving kids, smack dab in the city centre, trying to earn a living. While happy, there are problems they face, such as rarely seeing each-other due to Larry's demanding job, and =. Things change when he quits his teaching position to become a theatre critic, and despite his protests to the contrary, a change begins to come over Larry, and he develops more of a mean streak. =...

Based on the book of the same name, Please Don't Eat the Daisies is a fun time. It's funny, has a good story to tell, successfully captures the stress and frustration of this couple. You really feel for them, and are invested in their struggles.

Kate and Larry are fine lead characters. They're likeable, but with believable flaws. Kate is nice and supportive, but also isn't assertive enough, not putting her foot down enough with either Larry or the roughshod kids. Larry is nice and caring, but begins to grow colder and snobbier as hs job takes him up in the world. To some it might seem a bit out of character how this guy who swore he'd never change ends up changing so quickly. Although on the other hand this is perhaps a  strength of the film, showing just how easy it can be for even a regular person to fall into such a trap, saying they'll be ok one day, then ignoring their own advice the next.

Kate's mother is nice and reasonable, often acting as a font of wisdom, namely in the reverse psychology laden ending (at least, I hope that's what she was going for!). The kids meanwhile are mercifully a fun presence. They're misbehaving and spoiled, but are never too bad, and never brats. The movie nails a good balance between naughty, but not too much.

Actress Deborah Vaugh seems like the stereotypical homewrecker, but is actually surprisingly nice, not to mention fun. While she may give off looks that say "I want you below me in the bedroom, stud!", she never once actually makes a move on Larry, and the two have cool interactions. I would've liked to see more. I also dug her exchanges with Joe at the end.

Alfred  townspeople  so what we think it's a good enough play to perform

Where Daisies doesn't excel in is the length. Some movies can be 2 hours long, but this isn't one of them. It's never boring or overlong, and I was never wanting to throw myself from a balcony, but it's still too long for a movie with this story. It could have easily lost 20 minutes. I also thought the ending was a little quick, which is something that should never happen with a film this long. I'm also bummed ou that we/Larry never actually get to see the play in action.

I also had a problem with the country move. It's not that I don't like that story, or thought it was a bad idea, but just didn't like the execution as much. This is because the movie builds up this negative critic storyline, only for it to be interrupted by the move, then the move gets interrupted by the critic storyline. In trying to focus on both, it instead can't pay enough attention to either.

This was an interesting role to see Day in. It's nothing too out of the norm, but she gets more of a chance to flex some genuine drama skills, moreso than in her usual domestic comedies. David Niven is great too, both as an affable nice guy, and as a more frayed and grumpy one. This was the angriest I've seen him at times! He and Day share good chemistry, even if I do find the idea of them dating weird. It's not that they're a bad item, but you always imagine Doris Day as young, and David Niven old, and have a hard time = that they were actually in the same age range, more or less.

The rest of the performers all do well, from Janis Paige as the sultry vamp, to Spring Byington as the wise mother/in-law, Richard Haydn as the long-suffering producer friend, Jack Weston as would be playwright Joe, and all the actors playing the kids. And of course it would be remiss of me not to mention the amazing dog!

While the film isn't a musical for the most part, Doris/Day still gets to show off her musical skills, from a cheery stage rehearsal, to a fun recital of Please Don't Eat the Daisies with a group of schoolchildren.

To finish, Please Don't Eat the Daisies is a charming movie, and well worth a watch for fans of Day and Niven, as well as anyone else who's interested...