Tuesday, 26 December 2017

The 25 Best Films I Watched for the First Time in 2017.

Reminders of a better world, more or less.

1. Belladonna of Sadness 
(Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973)

Words like “astounding” and “inexplicable” don’t even begin to do justice to this one-of-a-kind motion picture, wherein a team of ambitious creatives working for manga godhead Osamu Tezuka’s short-lived animated film studio were somehow allowed to create a feature length psychedelic fantasia loosely inspired by Jules Michelet’s 19th century mystic reinterpretation of the European witchcraft mythos, ‘La Sorcière’.

Constructed principally around hundreds of ink & water-colour images created for the project by idiosyncratic illustration genius Kuni Kukai, the film is further enlivened both though the application of every kind of wild and ramshackle animation technique that anime circa 1973 had to offer, and by a hair-raising freak-rock/avant-jazz/enka score from composer Masahiko Satô.

The resulting exploration of feudal suppression, female empowerment, psychotropic delirium and manichean cosmology is by turns erotic, grotesque, harrowing, frightening, transgressive and almost overpoweringly beautiful, throwing weighty symbolic/sexual imagery around with the wild abandon of Alexandro Jodorowsky gate-crashing an acid test in the offices of Metal Hurlant magazine. It’s pretty damn far-out, and if you’ve not yet seen it, you really should.

2. Lone Wolf & Cub: Babycart at the River Styx 
(Kenji Misumi, 1972)

One of my greatest cinematic pleasures in 2017 has been finally getting around to watching the ‘Lone Wolf & Cub’ series in its original (non-‘Shogun Assassin’-ated) form. Though the first film (‘Sword of Vengeance’) is decent enough, it is with this second instalment that things really take flight, as the usually mild-mannered Kenji Misumi unleashes one of the most spectacularly surreal celebrations of extreme violence ever seen on screen.

Any sense of narrative structure or physical logic is soon lost as blood and limbs fly, colours dance and trampolined bodies pirouette through the air in slo-mo, transforming Kazuo Koike's austere manga into a psychedelic nightmare of bushido melodrama taken to ever more ridiculous extremes.

Utilising both sheer excess and an almost cartoon-like sense of visual imagination, Misumi and his collaborators take advantage of the unusual degree of freedom offered by Shintaro Katsu’s independent ‘KatsuPro’ studio to deliver a fantastical martial arts epic as jaw-dropping as anything achieved by Hong Kong’s more technically accomplished action cinema…

3. Lone Wolf & Cub: Babycart to Hades 
(Kenji Misumi, 1972)

….and, this somewhat less celebrated third movie in the series is just as good! Picking up exactly where he left off, Misumi & co. if anything go even crazier in this one, whilst the director also somehow finds time for some surprisingly tender moments, expanding upon Ogami and Diagoro’s father-son relationship and allowing us a glimpse of the latter’s fairly unique experience of the world, reminding us of the affecting mixture of bloodshed and pathos that defined Misumi’s best entries in the ‘Zatoichi’ franchise.

Also, the finale of this one, in which Ogami Itto literally takes on an entire army single-handed, is arguably the highlight of the entire series – a sequence so extraordinary and shamelessly absurd, you’ll scarcely have time to question where exactly Ogami went in Tokugawa-era Japan to get his baby-cart kitted out with a brace of apparently recoil-free sub-machine guns, before the next onslaught of carnage rains down. Rarely if ever have depictions of man’s inhumanity to man been so seamlessly transformed into pure, guilt-free, exhilarating entertainment.

4. Vampyr 
(Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1931)

I think I can just about get away with classing this as a ‘first time viewing’, because although I had  tried to watch my old VHS copy of Carl Th. Dreyer’s exceptionally strange film on a number of occasions, the picture quality was so bad I never made it to the end.

Catching up with ‘Vampyr’ a somewhat more watchable presentation was therefore long overdue, and, as you may recall, I wrote at great length about the film – particularly with regard to its status as a (conscious or unconscious) source text for ‘60s and ‘70s euro-horror – here.

5. C.H.U.D. 
(Douglas Cheek, 1984)

Speaking as someone who has been busy reading and writing about horror films for a number of years now, you’ll forgive me for asking: why did no one tell me about ‘C.H.U.D.’?

I mean, I realise that Douglas Cheek’s film does have a certain following in some circles of horror fandom, but I’m frankly amazed that a film this good doesn't enjoy a position in the canon of ‘80s American horror at least equivalent to that enjoyed by the work of directors like Frank Henenlotter, Stuart Gordon or Bill Lustig (all of whom are, to some extent, appropriate touchstones here). Maybe the stupid name has something to do with it? (Yes, I’m duty-bound to report that it’s “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers”, in case you were wondering.) I dunno.

Anyway, make no mistake, this movie is both a great achievement and a great time, mixing socially conscious, satirical scripting and down-on-the-street NYC location footage worthy of Larry Cohen at his finest with wild ‘80s monster splatter and tension-ratcheting action scenes that are a match for any of the aforementioned filmmakers.

The performances are excellent too, helping to create a cast of well-drawn, unconventional characters whose fate we really care about, thus allowing Cheek to pull off that extremely rare balance – a horror movie that treats people and their lives with appropriate weight and respect, without sacrificing any of the black-hearted fun and craziness we expect of a somewhat light-hearted ‘80s horror flick. Seriously, it’s great – check it out.

6. The Man Who Knew Too Much 
(Alfred Hitchcock, 1935)

Again, I’m not certain this really counts as a “first viewing”, as I’m sure I must have watched it when I made my way through all the Hitchcock classics as a teenager, but if so, I remembered so little about it that returning to it on blu-ray proved a revelation.

Approximately 200 times more palatable to a 21st century viewer than your average British film from 1935, this is seventy-something event-packed minutes of exquisitely crafted entertainment, proving that Hitch had his game honed to perfection even at this early stage, and making it abundantly clear why certain Hollywood big-wigs were soon competing to buy him a boat ticket.

The moment towards the start, when the sound of cracking glass turns the film from a comedy of manners into a cut-throat spy thriller in a split second, is unforgettable – as is the victim’s heroic demonstration of English understatement in announcing that he’d actually quite like to sit down, as the red stain expands across his chest.

Peter Lorre is absolutely wonderful (when was he not?), the Albert Hall sequence is as good as everybody says it is, and the intensity of the armed siege/shooting match that provides the film’s climax is decades ahead of its time. As for that matter is the inclusion of a heroine with enough gumption to grab a rifle from a policeman and use her clay-pigeon skills to blast the last remaining villain straight off a rooftop.

7. Scarlet Street 
(Fritz Lang, 1946)

Also seeming somewhat ahead of its time – at least in terms of raw emotional cruelty – is this singular highlight within Fritz Lang’s already quite highlight-packed post-war American filmography, turning a story that could in lesser hands have simply been an excruciatingly florid melodrama into one of the most heart-breaking achievements of the classic Hollywood era.

As is often the case, Lang’s exploration of the struggle of individuals to define and express themselves within the infernal machinations of the urban environment feel as contemporary as ever, and Edward G. Robinson’s performance as the mild-mannered amateur painter inadvertently blundering into a trap more comprehensively terrible than anything his well-meaning brain can conceive, is… well I can’t think of any suitably impressive hyperbole right now, but you get the idea.

Relentlessly cynical in its peeling back of the motives behind human enterprise and ambition, ‘Scarlet Street’ is pure Film Noir in thematic terms, but the pathos that Robinson brings to the film, together with Lang’s unique directorial vision, make it so much more besides.

8. Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence 
(Nagisa Ôshima, 1983)

Given the horror stories that have (understandably) surrounded all discourse concerning Japanese POW camps in the UK for so many decades, I was interested to see where a Japanese director would take such subject matter – failing to remember of course that Nagisa Ôshima’s condemnation of his own nation’s chauvinistic/nationalistic culture has been so strident over the years that he had pretty much become an outcast from the Japanese film industry by the time he embarked on this project.

As such, Ôshima’s take on things in moral/political terms doesn’t really depart significantly from what we might have expected of a suitably intelligent/unprejudiced Western director, but it is his aesthetic and emotional vision that sets the film apart.

Although the decision to go for the cleanest and calmest prison camp in cinema history may initially seem questionable, this gives the film a unique visual aspect that immediately situates it somewhere outside the usual conventions of war/POW movies, with swathes of carefully choreographed green and white giving the impression of some bizarre, perpetual cricket match taking place between guards and prisoners, lending a sense of tragic absurdity to the acts of ritualised brutality that are occasionally enacted, and providing a perfect counterpoint to Ryuichi Sakamoto’s indelible minimalist score.

Though everybody seems to remember the performances of Sakamoto and David Bowie here, representing their respective nations’ somewhat homoerotic ideal of the perfect soldier, personally I found the parallel relationship between Tom Conti (as the titular Mr Lawrence, Japanese-speaking surrogate for author Laurens van der Post) and Takeshi Kitano (making his dramatic debut as an initially feckless camp guard) to be far more interesting, and the real heart of the movie.

Echoing the stylised, almost abstract nature of its visual presentation, ‘Merry Christmas..’ eventually tells us very little about history or World War II or the assigning of blame for war crimes, but as a more general study of cultural differences and the intricacies of achieving meaningful communication across such divides, it is an interesting and rewarding piece of work that I feel retains great relevance in our bitterly disordered world.

9. Night Train Murders 
(Aldo Lado, 1975)

Can crass and derivative subject matter be elevated to a higher plain simply through the application of superior directorial skill and cinematic craftsmanship? YES, is the answer Aldo Lado enthusiastically throws back at us cinematic navel-gazers here, as I outlined in my review of this film just a few weeks ago.

10. Cops Vs. Thugs [“State Police vs Gangsters”/ ‘Kenkei tai Soshiki Boryoku’] 
(Kinji Fukasaku, 1975)

Made at the height of his success as mastermind of the ‘Battles Without Honour and Humanity’ series, this stand-alone jitsuroku flick sees Kinji Fukasaku mustering all of the frenetic style and production values he brought to those films, but narrowing his focus to concentrate purely on the mutually beneficial relationship that develops between Bunta Sugawara’s, shall we say, “easy going” police inspector and Hiroki Matsukata’s ambitious yakuza under-boss.

By foregoing the sometime bewildering patchwork of alliances and betrayals that can make the ‘Battles..’ films hard work and instead maintaining a central human focus, Fukasaku manages to turn this film into one of the very strongest expressions of his particular take on the corrupt foundations underpinning Japan’s post-war reconstruction, cannily subverting the usual moral assumptions that accompany such “cops & robbers” melodrama, and offering Matsukata one of the best roles of his career in the process. (Always wonderful to see Bunta do his thing of course, but Matsukata steals this one.)

Though not as extreme or unhinged as some of Fukasaku’s other yakuza pictures (if ‘Street Mobster’ and ‘Graveyard of Honour’ score 10 in this regard, you can maybe count this as a 7), ‘Cops Vs Thugs’ can still boast more hair-raisingly intense sequences of violence and chaos than any crime movies being made elsewhere in the world during the 1970s, and counts as yet another entry on the ever-growing list of Fukasaku films that can be considered essential viewing for anyone with an interest in crime films, post-war Japanese culture or... I dunno, life in general.

11. Lone Wolf & Cub: White Heaven in Hell 
(Yoshiyuki Kuroda, 1974)

If it had taken place in a stand-alone film, or as part of some other on-going chanbara series, the hi-octane ski battle that forms the centrepiece of this sixth and final entry in the ‘Lone Wolf & Cub’ franchise – wherein Ogami Itto and Diagoro (in his snowmobile-adapted baby-cart) slice their way through an entire armys-worth of ninja/samurai opponents whilst propelling themselves at speed down a seemingly endless 90-degree sloped mountainside – would be the stuff of absolute legend, whispered about in tones of cosmic reverence by fans of action movies, martial arts and wild, violent cinema in general across the globe.

Such are the lofty standards set by earlier ‘Lone Wolf..’ instalments however, we instead find ourselves merely shrugging, and chalking this up as the third best one. What an extraordinary series of films.

12. The Public Enemy 
(William A. Wellman, 1931)

Yes, I’d never seen this one before, but, as a fan of violent crime movies, I thought it was high time I went back to the source, and, what can you say? 80+ years later, this one still packs a punch.

It’s such an Alpha-and-Omega of American gangster movies that reiterating the plot and events within is almost surplus to requirements, but needless to say, all of the genre’s key themes are clearly set out here – most notably the depiction of a black market underbelly running exactly parallel to the economic boom experienced by the USA in the early 20th century, and initially presented here with all the get-up-and-go gusto usually reserved for more mainstream depictions “American dream” style capitalism, continuing to appeal to our sympathies for such ‘entrepreneurial’ spirit and implicitly inviting us to draw comparison between the legitimate and illegitimate forms of enterprise, even as the cut-throat brutality underpinning the latter is portrayed in fairly uncompromising terms.

As the aggressive desire for personal betterment initially embodied by Jimmy Cagney eventually leaps the fence into full-blown psychopathy, it feels like the dark curtain of the depression falling over the prohibition boom years, and his career-making performance here is utterly crazed, grotesque to the point of being almost goblin-like, as he reveals himself capable of unhinged, seemingly improvised acts of violence that remain shockingly unpredictable to this day. By the final reel, he’s less a human figure, and more like a distant, more disreputable cousin to Karloff’s creature in ‘Frankenstein’ – a lurking monster, temporary lord of his kingdom, but so utterly isolated from the world around him he’ll be lucky to life through the night.

If all this sounds pretty familiar, well, it would do. Everything from ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Mean Streets’ to the ‘Scarface’ remake and ‘King of New York’ to some extent draws from the blue-print established by this movie, but the old story has rarely been told with the kind of concise, under-cranked intensity that Wellman achieves here.

For all this dense network of influence and genre creation furthermore, I also need to give a shout-out to ‘The Public Enemy’s’ final scene/final shot, which remains utterly unprecedented – using a heavy dose of expressionist technique to create a deeply unsettling and ambiguous tableau that feels more like something from a post-‘Psycho’ horror movie than anything you’d expect to see in a ‘30s studio film, even one as controversial and violent as this. If Wellman was aiming to leave his viewers with busted chops and unanswered questions, he succeeded mightily.

13. Free Fire 
(Ben Wheatley, 2017)

And, this year’s “’Bone Tomahawk’ award for the new movie that even a grumpy bastard like me can get behind” goes to…

To be fair, I have yet to subject Ben Wheatley’s immoderately entertaining single location gun fight extravaganza to the scrutiny of a second viewing, but on the first go round it pretty much blew me away, as I recounted here back in April.

14. Rituals 
(Peter Carter, 1977)

Often unhelpfully classified as a slasher film, Peter Carter’s gruelling wilderness survival horror nightmare sees Hal Holbrook heading up a troupe of badly behaved medical professionals (think M.A.S.H. twenty years on), whose annual adventure camping weekend / rural booze-up takes a darker-than-unexpected turn when an unseen figure initially begins sabotaging/stealing their (poorly prepared) equipment.

As per ‘Night Train Murders’ discussed above, a convincing sense of realism and a set of engagingly naturalistic, New Hollywood-type performances help raise this one way above the pack of ‘Deliverance’ rip-offs (I’d probably put it neck-and-neck with Walter Hill’s ‘Southern Comfort’ for the position of the all-time best “city folks run into trouble in the woods” movie), and, when it tips over the edge into full-on horror territory in the final act, the preceding slow build lends a sense of grim intensity that makes it feel like an above-ground, male prototype for Neil Marshall’s ‘The Descent’ (2005).

Very much the epitome of a “gnawing yr finger nails to the root & wiping the sweat from yr brow” movie, this one comes highly recommended.

15. Inquisition 
(Jacinto Molina, 1977)

To the surprise of – well, myself at least – Paul Naschy’s directorial debut and sole entry in the witch hunter/tortures of the inquisition subgenre turns out to be one of the best movies he ever appeared in (if you put your ‘serious cineaste’ hat on for the occasion instead of your ‘whooping drunken horror fan’ one, at least). My review from October can be found here. (Pictures of my ‘whooping drunken horror fan’ hat are not available for public view.)

16. Woman On The Run 
(Norman Foster, 1950)

Truth be told, there are a number of films at the more artistically ambitious end of the critically-adored Film Noir canon that have always left me a bit cold, what with their top-heavy, flashback-based structures, overbearing literary allusions, cluttered, expressionistic mise en scene and so on.

Much of the time in fact, I tend to get more out of the kind of straight-forward, lower profile crime pictures that reside on the B or C lists of many Noir buffs; the kind of movies that establish a single, solid narrative through-line and pursue it to the bitter end 70-odd minutes later, letting all that miscellaneous fancy stuff accumulate around the edges. And ‘Woman on the Run’, recently rescued from near complete obscurity/oblivion thanks to the efforts of San Francisco’s Film Noir Foundation, is very much a case in point.

So basically: Ann Sheridan’s husband has dropped out of sight after witnessing a gangland murder. She teams up with a shady/charming wise guy reporter (Dennis O’Keefe) to find him before the cops do. That’s all you need to know, plot-wise, but, as this good little burner of a magazine story races to the finish-line, Foster’s movie also gives us the opportunity to enjoy a wealth of exquisitely observed San Francisco location footage, much whip-smart dialogue between the two leads and a succession of absolutely great one-scene-wonder character parts. Most pertinently meanwhile, it also allows us to gradually piece together a somewhat moving picture of a strained and unconventional love story between two rather complex and difficult individuals, as outlined with a good deal of feeling by script-writer Alan Campbell (better-known as the husband twice over of Dorothy Parker).

Although a beautifully played plot twist and a literal roller-coaster of a finale help cement ‘Woman on the Run’s credentials as a cracking crime picture, it could be argued that it eventually proves more memorable in its capacity as an extremely unusually structured romantic drama; either way however, it certainly makes for highly rewarding viewing, providing practically the dictionary definition of a “little gem” within the endless mountain of largely fogotten B&W-era Hollywood product. Well worth tracking down…

17. The Flesh & The Fiends 
(John Gilling, 1960)

…as is this unfairly neglected British Burke & Hare/grave-robbing extravaganza, which I discovered toward the end of my October horror marathon. Transformed into a bleak social allegory by writer/director Gilling, it is an accomplished piece of work, pretty damn grim by the standards of 1960, and blessed with excellent performances from both Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasence. (Review here.)

18. Tarkan & The Blood of the Vikings 
(Mehmet Aslan, 1971)

Do you think that a detailed knowledge of Turkish comic books, popular nationalist sentiment and period-set filmmaking in the ‘60s and ‘70s would possibly help me make some sense of this extraordinary motion picture, in which a heroic Turk-man with dyed blonde hair claims close kinship with Atilla the Hun, whilst virgin-sacrificing Vikings meanwhile dress like Asterix & Obelix cosplay participants, wolf-hounds cry tears of grief and imperfectly inflated giant octopi stalk the rocky coastline of Norway in search of human victims?

Probably not, to be honest.

What I can at least tell you is that this movie plays out as if the people behind films like ‘Casus Kiran’ and ‘3 Dev Adam’ were given about 20 times their usual budget to make a blood-thirsty historical epic, and the results are much as we might have expected. Which is to say, exuberantly action-packed, psychotically violent, shamelessly prurient, almost entirely mindless and wonderfully, joyously, unrelentingly crazy. Awe-inspiring stuff.

19. Burial Ground / Nights of Terror 
(Andrea Bianchi, 1981)

Though it is liable to live forever in cult film infamy for its truly bizarre adult-child/maternal incest sub-plot, it should not be forgotten that Andrea Bianchi’s unbelievably ragged zombie farrago is still more fun than the proverbial barrel of monkeys, even leaving aside this unsettling diversion.

Not so much “scraping the barrel” as chewing straight through the bottom of the barrel and drooling all over the floor, this really seems like a film that has grown into existence like some kind of out-of-control fungus, created without the input of any conscious human thought.

It’s as if Bianchi was hired to shoot a few minutes of “random zombie stuff” to be projected on the screen during a scene in another film in which the characters go to the cinema to see an amusingly bad zombie movie… but he enjoyed himself so much he just kept on rolling until the thing reached feature length.

Why did the zombies come back to life? Who are all the people in the house, and how do they know each other? Why is any of this happening? Viewers who feel they may demand answers to these fairly basic questions are advised to look elsewhere, whilst the rest of us can allow the paper-mache faced wonders of ‘Burial Ground’ to roll over us with all the crushing force of a rusty, flat-tired bicycle.

Heed the Profesy of the Black Spider, and behold the Nigths of Terror!

20. Werewolf of London 
(Stuart Walker, 1935)

A wildly imaginative and authentically weird addition to the golden age of Universal horror, I enjoyed this one a great deal, as discussed here.

21. La Papesse / ‘A Woman Possessed’ 
(Mario Mercier, 1975)

This extremely unusual, seriously intended French occult movie tells the tale of a young man in a remote rural area who gets mixed up with some sort of strange cult that purports to boast a history stretching back thousands of years, and furthermore claims to be able to bestow immortality upon its adherents. In reality however, the cultists seem chiefly concerned with instigating in a variety of wince-inducing public bondage/humiliation rituals as a means of ensuring quasi-fascistic obedience to the authority of their rarely glimpsed High Priestess / demi-goddess.

Under such circumstances, I for one might require some further convincing before signing up, but our man is so down with the programme that he even attempts to ingratiate himself with the cult by ‘offering’ his unwilling wife to them as some kind of non-consensual slave/victim. What follows is a series of drab, almost documentary-like BDSM ordeals that has me wondering at times whether I had accidentally wondered into a ‘specialist’ film intended for an audience to which I definitely do not belong.

I’m glad I stuck with it however, because the second half of the film, wherein the cult decamp to some ancient ruins for some proper, ‘70s style bacchanalian rites, is much more my scene. Things all get a bit Jean Rollin as the female cultists don colourful diaphanous gowns and start gyrating to wild, synth-heavy psychedelic rock, and, as psychotropic substances are imbibed and nude sacrifices prepared, things become pretty damn weird, with a succession of sequences that stick out in my memory as being so strange I wonder whether some of those psychotropic vibes rubbed off on me. Was there really a scene where the abused wife character runs away and ends up encountering some kind of invisible demons who life in-between the rocks on some craggy outcrop, or did I just fall asleep and dream that?

I probably need to watch this again, it seems. Preferably when no one else is around. Honestly though, from what I remember, I enjoyed it a great deal; pitched somewhere between a ‘70s erotic horror movie and a tripped out witchcraft documentary, it’s rich in that kind of low budget, shoe-string sense of Frenchness what I can’t quite find a word for (trace a line between Bénazéraf and Ogroff, and you might end up here). It’s pretty well made, not quite as horrible and rapey as I’ve probably made it out to be above, and certainly unlike anything else I’ve watched this year.

22. Fortress
(Stuart Gordon, 1992)

Word on the street (please don’t ask which street) is that this muscle-bound sci-fi prison movie began life as a vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger, before he dropped out and was replaced by Christopher Lambert, presumably precipitating a corresponding plunge in budget and prestige. Unexpectedly however, it turns out Arnie was a big fan of ‘Re-Animator’, and that it was he who recommended Stuart Gordon to this project’s producers as a potential director – a suggestion for which anyone who has ever sat down to watch ‘Fortress’ owes the big lug a considerable debt of thanks.

As is pretty much always the case, Gordon succeeds here in making the absolute best of unpromising subject matter and limited financial means, turning what could easily have been an utterly forgettable straight-to-video actioner into an accomplished and highly entertaining b-movie of a markedly superior stripe.

In fairness, the script for ‘Fortress’ was already quite a lot of fun, with a handful of genuinely good SF ideas thrown in alongside the expected clichés, but it is the steady hand and distinctive ‘feel’ Gordon brings to proceedings that really gets things off the ground, contrasting Lambert’s musclebound blandness with lively performances from solid ‘80s character players like Kurtwood Smith, Vernon Wells and (of course) Jeffrey Combs, crowbarring in an impressive abundance of gory special effects, and generally riding the wire between legit action/sci-fi goodness and “unintentional” STV hilarity with ease.

(The film’s finale, during which a liberated Lambert fights a robotically-controlled articulated truck with a flamethrower whilst his wife gives birth in a nearby barn, provides a particularly special moment of the latter.)

Though no one is ever likely to dredge ‘Fortress’ up as a lost classic, it stands alongside John Carpenter’s Ghost of Mars as proof that the arid plains of ‘90s American genre cinema could still turn up the occasional tarnished gem of good ol’ fashioned pulp movie-making, as tends to be found wherever talented directors are given the freedom to do what they do within the limits imposed by commercial necessity.

23. The Hanging Woman 
[‘La Orgia de los Muertos’] 
(José Luis Merino, 1973)

This fairly obscure Spanish horror film starts off looking like it’s going to be a bit of chore, mixing suitably moody location-shooting with some hum-drum “reading of the will” type stuff, but stick with it and you’ll eventually be rewarded with a séance, black magic, zombies, Frankensteinian experiments, gratuitous nudity, entry level gore and (for some reason) a great deal of fisticuffs.

The hero looks (and indeed behaves) somewhat like a younger, blonder version of Peter Wyngarde’s Jason King, there’s a bearded, pipe-smoking Sherlock Holmes stand-in, and Paul Naschy guest-stars as a perverted hunchback gravedigger. I think the word I’m looking for here is, “huzzah!”.

24. L’Ossesso / ‘Enter The Devils’ / ‘The Eerie Midnight Horror Show’
(Mario Gariazzo, 1974)

To be honest, I don’t remember all that much about this many-titled Italian horror oddity beyond the fact that I enjoyed it. When it comes to Italio-horror of this vintage though, that sense of total memory lapse and/or fading, half-remembered dream recognition is often a sign that you’re on to a winner.

Potentially a misbegotten attempt to transform an Erotic Castle Movie into an Exorcist clone mid-way through production, this one begins with a shapely young art historian being hired by a wealthy art collector to restore an unusual crucifixion sculpture extracted from a rural medieval church with a shady history of pagan/orgiastic goings-on. Back at her studio, the saviour comes to life (in the form of Ivan Rassimov!) and has his wicked way with her, after which she finds herself possessed by the lascivious evil spirit of …. something or other.

After that, you’re pretty much on your own, but like I say – I dug it. Just keep your wine glass full whilst viewing, and you can’t go wrong. Oh yeah, and Luigi Pistili plays the exorcist, which is splendid.

“Allegedly based on a true story,” states the trivia page on IMDB. Well I’m glad to hear it aspired towards some kind of story, at least.

25. Godzilla 
(Gareth Edwards, 2014)

Perhaps I’m just going soft in the head, but… am I alone in thinking this was actually pretty good? As may be gleaned from the fact that I waited three years and watched it on a DVD bought for £3 from the supermarket, my expectations were none too high, which perhaps accounts to some extent for my sense of being pleasantly surprised.

The action/destruction scenes here are tense and exciting, the monsters are imbued with genuine weight and presence despite their CGI origins, and the human drama hits all the necessary/traditional disaster/monster movie bases with an earnestness and lack of self-awareness that I found quite refreshing.

Also, I particularly appreciated the way that, much as the original ‘Godzilla’ tapped into the Japanese public’s (entirely understandable) fear of atomic energy and nuclear annihilation, Edwards here has the balls use his film’s ridiculous monster bash subject matter to touch upon such global, 21st century nightmares as unusually devastating natural disasters, electro-magnetic pulse waves, passenger jets falling out of the sky and colossal environmental fuck ups, dwelling upon the details of these (essentially plausible) catastrophes to an extent that occasionally becomes slightly uncomfortable for a Hollywood popcorn flick.


And on that note, Happy New Year everybody! Thanks for reading and we’ll see you back here at some point in January.

No comments: