Tuesday, 8 January 2019

(Part # 1)

I managed to watch a lot of movies in 2018. This makes me happy. As is now traditional, brief(?) write-ups on some of the best ones I watched for the first time follow. It’s quite a long list this year, so I’ve split it into two, just for the sake of convenience and sanity. (I could easily have easily have gone for a Top 50 if I had the time.)

As an aside, I like the way that a lot of the films on this list have ended up kind of “talking to each other” in some strange fashion that will perhaps become clear if you read both this post and its impending follow-up straight through.

Happy New Year everybody, and thanks as always for reading.

1. The Unknown 
 (Tod Browning, 1927)

Over ninety years since it premiered, Tod Browning’s ‘The Unknown’, which I reviewed here back in April, remains one of the strangest and most morbidly compelling stories ever told on screen; a still jaw-dropping testament to the kind of unsavoury obsessions that can be played out before a movie camera, anchored by an almost physically unbelievable performance from Lon Chaney. A cornerstone for all that would follow in the realm of weird/horror cinema.

2. Mandy
(Panos Cosmatos, 2018)

Fresh out of the cinema, you’ll recall that I really went to town on this one back in October.

I’m still putting off watching it for a second time at home, worried it won’t hold up and I’ll feel silly for flipping out over it so comprehensively. I dunno though - I have a feeling it will hold up. Anyway, for now, I’m still saying, believe the hype.

3. Cohen and Tate
(Eric Red, 1988)

Having already made a significant impact on ‘80s genre cinema via his scripts for ‘The Hitcher’ and ‘Near Dark’, 27 year old Eric Red made his directorial debut with this taut bickering-hitmen-in-a-car-with-a-kid thriller, and if you haven’t seen it, you probably should, because it’s absolutely great.

In fact, it is such an exceptional picture that I think the fact Red went on to spend the next few decades intermittently making low budget horror movies instead of following a Scorsese/Coppola career path tells you everything you need to know about the creative bankruptcy of ‘90/’00s Hollywood.

Coaxing career best performances from Roy Schneider (yes, I know, I’m standing by it) and Adam Baldwin, Red gives us a set of desperation-wracked, wise-ass characterisations worthy of prime Elmore Leonard, alongside a set of grand-standing action and suspense set-pieces that wouldn’t have embarrassed James Cameron (‘80s era, I mean).*

Happily, Red also totally nixes the sentimentality too, despite the presence of a (very well-played and non-annoying) child character, fronting with a kind of full spectrum reptilian brutality and a great feel for empty highway / road-to-somewhere-even-worse bleakness in which even the dim neon of a deserted truckstop signals some temporary, doomed hope. (Great, cap-doffing use of those Jim Thompson/’Touch of Evil’ Texas oil wells too.)

But, crucially, he never loses sight of the human empathy at the centre of his story either; those twenty-odd seconds it takes for the otherwise implacable Schneider to put his envelope in the mailbox are all it takes. Just brilliant writing; a few shots, no words, and more poignant than any number of pages of “my brother died in Nam” type drivel.

Representing perhaps the all-time high water mark of the perennial ‘kidnapped in a car’ sub-genre first instigated by Ida Lupino’s ‘The Hitch-Hiker’ (see below), ‘Cohen & Tate’ is a film that, weirdly, ends up feeling minimalist and maximalist at the same time. How does that work? I don’t know, but regardless - for my money it’s dancing a three way tango with ‘Thief’ and ‘To Live & Die in LA’ for the title of the best American crime movie of the ‘80s, so I hope that’s high enough praise to persuade you to check it out.

* Ironically, Red later accused Leonard of ripping off this movie’s central relationship for his novel ‘Killshot’ – he gets quite angry about it in his audio commentary. Having read the book in question though, I tend the feel the similarities are more likely to be an accidental result of the line of influence rubbing the other way, if you get my drift.

4. Mona Lisa
(Neil Jordan, 1986)

Essentially relocating the core structure of a classic film noir to the unsavoury environs of Thatcherite London, Neil Jordan’s admirably uncategorisible film posits Bob Hoskins’ small-time thug/mob patsy as a complete innocent – the thin skin of his unconvincing gangster bravado swiftly torn to shreds as he descends into the treacherous netherworld occupied by Cathy Tyson’s high class prostitute, attaining ‘experience’ in traumatic and heart-breaking fashion.

Alongside what now seems a historically potent tour of the sleazoid pleasure pits of VHS/peep-show era Soho and pre-regeneration Kings Cross (not to mention some great ‘80s motorway service station ambience and a shabby-chic Brighton sea-front finale), Jordon invests this ostensible work of gritty realism with a weird strain of fantastical/fairy-tale imagery and journey-to-the-underworld gel lighting, bringing a disorientating magical-realist feel to proceedings as the story’s harrowing threads of sexual abuse and teen prostitution are queasily juxtaposed with ice cream sundaes, white rabbits and adventure playgrounds, reflecting both the victims’ curtailed childhoods and the juvenile simplicity the characterises our protagonist’s preferred approach to life.

Like ‘The Long Good Friday’ before it, ‘Mona Lisa’ could easily be read as a commentary on the predatory underbelly of ‘80s capitalism, but it functions just as effectively as a more abstract journey from care-free ignorance to numb and devastated knowledge, applicable to any human environment – just like the ‘40s noirs that presumably inspired it.

Indeed, like the very best noir, ‘Mona Lisa’ remains an unflinching and upsetting experience, irrespective of vintage sheen, tempered with just enough mystery and bloodshed to get those crime movie endorphins flowing.

5. La Chute de la Maison Usher
(Jean Epstein, 1928)

Epstein’s take on ‘..House of Usher’ – which I was lucky enough to catch in 35mm with live musical accompaniment at the BFI back in November – represents the genesis (some might even say apotheosis) of what we tend to think of as European gothic horror cinema, just as much so as Dreyer’s Vampyr.

Whereas Dreyer’s meditation on death and spiritual dissolution was weird, ragged, and disorientating however, Epstein’s is more purely beautiful – a glimmering tone poem of haunting, oneiric imagery, as smooth as a still lake in the sun, and just as seemingly transparent too. It is also, somewhat surprisingly, one of the more faithful adaptations of a Edgar Allan Poe story to make it to the screen, conveying what I can well imagine to be an authentic impression of Baudelaire’s legendary French translations of Poe.

Amid a phantasmagoria of bare, lifeless trees, billowing curtains, guttering candles and mysteriously animated book shelves, Marguerite Gance’s Madeline Usher (looking uncannily like Daria Nicolodi) appears gaunt and robotic, possessed of life only when she appears within the frame of Roderick’s obsessive portraiture, blurring subjective and objective space without a care in the world. Once again, it is a vampishly attired femme fatale who provides the beating heart of the uncanny to this early horror landmark, and once again it is the slow, coffin-bearing march to a burial (hers, in this instance) that provides the stand-out sequence.

In purely technical terms, Epstein was a master, and he is not afraid to show it. Given the year of production, his use of sensuous, gliding slow motion and disorientating, surrealistic double-exposures is extraordinary, culminating in the other-worldly fresco of alien stars which forms a background to the final conflagration of La Maison Usher.

Given the extent to which the uncertain boundaries between art and reality are explored by the film’s compositions, it seems fitting that the whole thing feels, more than anything, like a film made an artist, in the old fashioned sense of the word – like the mad, tormented canvas of some attic-dwelling, paint-spattered visionary shocked through Franensteinian electricity into eerie, morbid life.

6. Vengeance Is Mine
(Shôhei Imamura, 1979)

One of the more rewarding “true crime reconstruction” type movies you’re ever likely to encounter, Shôhei Imamura’s return to fictional filmmaking after a decade or so concentrating on documentary presents a painstakingly detailed chronicle of the opportunistic series of killings and sundry other crimes committed by an unstable drifter named Akira Nishiguchi – here renamed Iwao Enokizu and played by Ken Ogata - across Japan during the 1960s.

Repeatedly interrupting the flow of his vérité-style reconstructions with jarring temporal disjunctures and startling outbursts of expressionist technique, Imamura stirs a dose or two of melodramatic fiction into his quasi-documentary aesthetic sensibility, mirroring his determination to trace out his own vision of the complex web of psychological motivations and societal failures lying behind even the most pathetic and seemingly random of crimes.

Indeed, the film takes on a whole other level of meaning once it becomes clear that Imamura intends to explain Enokizu’s crimes entirely in relation to the killer’s dysfunctional relationship with his father (Rentarô Mikuni), a flawed and guilt-ridden Christian believer who has established a chaste and tormented relationship with his son’s long-suffering wife.

Sounds like a real barrel of laughs, right? Well, yes – ‘Vengeance is Mine’ is a demanding and troubling film in many respects, but it nonetheless remains effortlessly captivating viewing – and not just in the prurient “scratching a bleeding scab” sense common to lesser examples of these portrait-of-a-serial-killer type movies either.

Though the film’s early scenes of violence are staged with a blank, factual neutrality that feels far more upsetting than the more emotionally-engaged material that follows later, the strange fires of passion that Immamura locates within this seemingly unedifying tale of wasted lives and random cruelty burns white hot, making ‘Vengeance is Mine’ (“..sayeth the lord” being the pertinent completion of the quote referenced by the title) a grand technical and dramatic achievement for all concerned… excluding perhaps the surviving participants upon whose unhappy history the story is modelled.

7. Cannibal Apocalypse
(Antonio Margheriti, 1980)

A malordorous, flaming cocktail of gore, random insanity, post-Nam PTSD anxiety and high velocity urban zombie mayhem, ‘Cannibal Apocalypse’ seems purpose-built to bring joy to the hearts of Italian exploitation fans across the globe. I didn’t think ol’ Margheriti had it in him, but damn, this one is a banger. I reviewed it back in October.

8. Killer Constable
(Chih-Hung Kuei, 1980)

Seemingly taking greater inspiration from Japanese samurai epics and the work of Sam Peckinpah than from his fellow kung-fu specialists at Shaw Bros, horror specialist Chih-Hung Kuei’s sole excursion into wuxia territory makes for an unusually dark (in both senses of the word) and thematically complex addition to Hong Kong’s storied historical swordplay genre.

A world away from the stage-bound hi-jinks of Chang Cheh’s Shaolin sagas, this tale of a merciless and nihilistic law enforcer (Kuan Tai Chen) cutting a bloody swathe across 19th century Manchuria in pursuit of a horde of gold stolen from the Empress Dowager finds room for a surprising degree of historical verisimilitude, brooding bitterly upon state hypocrisy and racial/class-based discrimination in Chinese society, as well as reflecting more broadly on the moral legitimacy of violence, the ultimate futility of vengeance and other things that never seemed to unduly concern Clint Eastwood.

Partially shot night-for-night and utilising some beautifully jagged, deep focus mise en scene, ‘Killer Constable’ is a richly atmospheric production, with a menacing blue and brown colour palette that adds greatly to the dramatic intensity. Martial Arts junkies however can be assured that, despite the more ‘serious’ tone, the action here remains frequent, blood-thirsty and hair-raisingly exciting, performed and edited with such consummate skill that you’ll feel like standing up and applauding each time the eviscerated body of a significant character falls lifeless to the ground (which is to say, often).

A curiously unheralded masterpiece of Hong Kong popular cinema – or indeed violent action cinema in general – ‘Killer Constable’ impressed me a great deal, and I recommend it highly.

9. The Hitch-Hiker
(Ida Lupino, 1953)

Having perhaps become tired of being pushed into directing quote-unquote “women’s pictures”, the formidable Ida Lupino here took the opportunity to helm what is essentially the least woman-y picture imaginable – a bitter, dust-choked low budget crime/suspense thriller in which two good ol’ boys on a fishing trip find themselves shanghaied by a wandering psychopath (brilliantly played by none-more-twitchy William Talman) and drawn into an extended ordeal of bullet-sweatin’, gun-barrel-behind-driver’s-seat tension.

By the standards of Hollywood 1953, this is very rough stuff indeed. The early sequence in which we see Talman doing away with a lone woman in her car is pure, pre-‘Psycho’ horror, and by the time the central hostage situation is in full effect, we get a gruelling “relations between men in desperate straits” drama that could have come straight from the darker moments of Hawks or Huston, allied to a sense of razor-sharp, b-movie brutality, with the looming threat of sudden violence ever-present. (Watching this, it’s little wonder Peckinpah held Lupino in such high regard.)

Run-time may have been cut back to a triple bill-friendly 70 minutes, but for a story like this, that’s all that’s needed. By the halfway point, it feels as if the camera itself has five days stubble and BO, and not even the studio-mandated cutaways to the neat n’ tidy police station (where they’re closing in on the guy and everything’s just dandy) can blunt the raw, nihilistic edge of the movie’s best scenes. Enjoy ‘The Hitcher’, ‘Rabid Dogs’, Hitch-Hike, ‘Road Games’ or ‘Cohen & Tate’? Well that whole thing began here, and it began in style.

10. Terror in a Texas Town
(Joseph H. Lewis, 1958)

There seems to have been a bit of a reaction in cinephile circles in recent years against the idea of considering “Wagon Wheel Joe” Lewis (you’ll soon see how he got his nickname here) as an ‘auteur’. I’m not too bothered either way to be honest – more pertinent I think is the fact that every Lewis film I’ve seen to date absolutely rocks, each of them embracing genre cliché with pulpy gusto whilst adding just enough perverse weirdness to the formula to make things truly memorable - and the director’s final theatrical feature, ‘Terror in a Texas Town’, is no exception.

True, the whole thing may be a fairly transparent low budget rehash of ‘High Noon’ and John Sturges’ ‘Bad Day at Black Rock’, complete with gratuitous stock footage, endlessly repeated establishing shots and time-saving cutaways… but at the same time, I sure don’t remember either of the aforementioned films kicking quite this much ass, nor generating quite so many laughs, whoops, boos, curses and sundry other expressions of excitement from my personal one man peanut gallery.

Sterling Hayden is bizarrely loveable here as the straight-laced Swedish whaler who turns up in our titular Texas town to discover that his father has been done in by a cabal of land-grabbing degenerates, but Nedrick Young is even better as his opposite number – a cynical, alcohol gunfighter, his professional prospects stunted by an accident that has left him with a cast iron right hand.

There’s a touch of almost ‘Johnny Guitar’-like camp about Young’s character, as he swaggers around in his all-black, leather bad guy uniform as if it were fetish gear, his remaining hand shaking as he raises his glass and an evil, Bogart grin smeared across his chops. But then, everyone in this movie is equally larger than life, from Carol Kelly’s frazzled bad-girl-with-a-heart to Sebastian Cabot’s venal, cigar-chewing capitalist gutlord, to Victor Millan’s salt-of-the-earth Hispanic family man (no prizes for guessing his fate, in a wonderfully blunt bit of anti-racist, pro-working man audience manipulation).

As in ‘High Noon’, there’s a potent bit of HUAC/McCarthy-era drama lurking behind the scenes here – Hayden infamously named names, whilst Nedrick Young, less famously, was one of those named – and, as the poster reproduced above so subtly implies, the resulting head of steam all builds up to a truly jaw-dropping variation on the old “man who brings a knife to a gun fight” chestnut, as the twitchy, one-handed leather-daddy gunfighter finds himself facing off against an indomitable Swede wielding an actual, honest-to-god whaling harpoon. (I mean, a proper, Moby Dick-style javelin harpoon too, not some fancy-pants harpoon-gun kind of thing.) Unforgettable stuff, to say the least. I mean, the Freudian implications alone…

11. Mr Majestyk
(Richard Fleischer, 1974)

Ah – all Mr Majestyk ever wanted was to pick his melons. He’ll give you a job too – if you know melons. Because apparently there’s plenty to know.

Yes folks, welcome to the best movie you’ve ever seen about melon-farming. Charles Bronson was never been cooler than he is here, heading up Elmore Leonard’s own adaptation of one of his more eccentric variations on the old mano-a-mano conflict template in classic, stone-faced fashion (“he’s round the back – I shot him”).

Notorious nutter Al Lettieri (whom you’ll recall from ‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Getaway’) is flat-out fantastic as the fuming, furious mob hitman our hero finds himself pitched against – a hyper-ventilating whirlwind of aggression who bounces perfectly off Bronson’s wall of stoic, zen-like calm.

Hearing Bronson give voice to Leonard’s clipped, taciturn dialogue is an absolute pleasure, and the wildly contrasting acting styles of the two leads adds a touch of hysterical humour to every scene they’re involved in. Combine this with Leonard’s tendency to make each one of the film’s many action set-pieces feel off-kilter, unpredictable and just a bit weird (you won’t believe the outrage you’ll feel at the sight of Lettieri’s goons machine-gunning Bronson’s melons), add Fleischer’s stolidly workmanlike ‘70s action direction and a great running gag about how both parties keep denigrating Paul Koslo’s smirking, would-be cowboy character (“who’s this asshole?”), and the result is a movie that had me grinning pretty much flat-out from beginning to end.

Set within a wonderful, lost world in which heroes wear double denim 24/7, dudes with too many rhinestones on their shirt are not to be trusted (especially when they talk too much) and anyone who’s anyone drives a sweet muscle car, ‘Mr Majestyk’ is a beautiful, big-hearted exemplar of everything that was good and right in American popular cinema during the 1970s. They sure don’t make ‘em like this anymore, and for that I shed a tear each night.

12. 52 Pick Up
(John Frankenheimer, 1986)

More Elmore Leonard here, as Frankenheimer relocates the Big El’s titular novel of kidnap and blackmail from the grey, industrial environs of ‘70s Detroit to the coked out neon sleaze haven of mid-‘80s L.A., a transaction carried out to what I think can be confidently termed “great effect”.

As usual, Roy Schneider pulls solid middle-aged leading man duty, whilst Ann Margaret does what she can to add some punch to the rather undercooked “relationship on the rocks” stuff, but it’s fair to say they’re both over-shadowed here by the villains Schneider’s character finds himself charged with out-smarting and taking down in order to both prove his manhood and assuage his infidelity-related guilt.

Clarence Williams III is convincingly wild-eyed and unpredictable as sleepy-eyed psychotic gang-banger Bobby Shy (the scene in which he menaces his girlfriend/trick-baby Vanity is flat-out terrifying), whilst Robert Trebor does the sweaty, wheedling low-life bit to perfection and John Glover plays amoral porn hustler and would-be criminal impresario Alan Raimy with all the subtlety of Alan Rickman on a coke bender. Together, this mob are as fine a gaggle of combustible, self-deluding scumbags as have ever been assembled on screen, simultaneously hilarious, clueless and genuinely dangerous, and it is their relentlessly OTT interactions that really make this movie.

Personally championed and dragged onto the screen by Frankenheimer after he read the novel on a plane, ’52 Pick Up’ finds the veteran slugger’s no nonsense “film the book” instincts tempered by the participation of the Cannon Group (who ended up financing the picture a year or so prior to their chaotic dissolution), and happily the trademark Cannon combo of slick action and wanton sleaze is in full effect here.

Several of the era’s most notorious porn stars writhe around in various states of chemical abandon at Glover’s movie shoots/parties, lending a ‘Body Double’-era De Palma feel to proceedings, whilst the videotaped murder that provides the plot’s main device is handled in a raw, queasily upsetting fashion that will stop most viewers in their tracks.

Though this rather, uh, full-on approach the story’s more exploitable elements has probably prevented ’52 Pick Up’ from gaining the kind of critical clout it deserves over the years, viewers happy to roll with the punches can chalk it up as a rock solid crime thriller, enlivened by both an exceptional set of performances and a period-specific aesthetic style so pumped up it almost feels as if we should be snorting the celluloid off a mirror.

13. Salvatore Guiliano
(Francesco Rosi, 1962)

Despite employing a similar combination of historical verisimilitude, challenging temporal dislocation and thriller-like construction to ‘Vengeance is Mine’ (see #6, above), Rossi’s ambitious reconstruction of the events surrounding the life and death of the titular Sicilian bandit and folk hero otherwise takes the complete opposite approach to Imamura’s film.

Rather than delving deep into the psychological make-up of his controversial subject, Rosi effectively removes him from the narrative altogether, concentrating instead upon the effect Guiliano’s decade-long campaign of partisan/outlaw activity had upon the world around him, the oft-excessive reaction of the authorities (both fascist and post-war varieties) to his troublesome presence, and the changes wrought as a result upon the remote, economically deprived milieu from which he and his gang of followers emerged.

Early in the film, a reporter for a mainland Italian paper tells his editor over the telephone that the only thing he can say for certain about the much-disputed circumstances surrounding Guiliano’s violent demise in 1950 is that “he’s definitely dead”. Two hours later, that remains about the only conclusive fact we in the audience can draw about him, in spite of all we’ve learned along the way about Sicilian culture and the power struggles underlying the establishment of the post-war Italian state.

Further highlighting the ambiguity of Guiliano’s legacy, I loved the way that Arrow’s blu-ray presentation of the film includes two contrasting interviews - one with a campaigner for Sicilian independence and proud descendent of Guiliano, who praises his ancestor as a patriot and champion of the people, dismissing his alleged involvement in an infamous massacre of unarmed left wing protesters as government disinformation… and the other with a historian who states in no uncertain terms that Guiliano was a hit man employed by the Mafia, who opened fire on the leftists at their command.

Of course, I know which of the two interview subjects I’m more inclined to believe, but with so many conflicting interests potentially creeping around taking turns with the ‘evidence’ in the immediate aftermath of the events portrayed in the film, it seems unlikely that the dust of this man’s conflicted life and death will ever be allowed to settle.

The genius of Rosi’s film lies in his understanding of the fallibility of recorded history, and his refusal to overlook it or to take sides merely for the sake of making a more conventional “bio-pic”. The result is both an invaluable portrait of rural Sicily in the mid-20th century and a fascinating meditation on the extent to which a man can change the course of both history and culture whilst remaining a complete enigma.

14. New Battles Without Honour & Humanity: The Boss’s Head / New Battles Without Honour & Humanity: Last Days of the Boss
(Kinji Fukasaku, 1975/76)

Whilst Kinji Fukasaku’s initial entry in Toei’s cash-grabbing ‘New Battles..’ trilogy feels like a slightly half-hearted rehash of the first ‘Battles..’ film, I’m inclined the think the two subsequent instalments (combined here for the sake of convenience) are actually pretty damn great, representing a real return to form for the series.

The decision to revert to entirely fictional, stand-alone yakuza stories, with Bunta-san and his pals portraying different characters in each, feels like a very wise one, allowing Fukasaku to sidestep the confines of jitsuroku “true account..” realism that tended to make the later entries in the original ‘Battles..’ quadrilogy feel like a series of board meetings punctuated by random violence.

Instead, the maestro here goes for a more melodramatic, all-out entertainment approach to blood-curdling Yakuza hi-jinks; cutting the labyrinthine narratives back down to simpler, emotionally-charged tales built around a core of central characters, indulging his oft-overlooked passion for extravagantly stylised lighting and production design, lavishing a bit more attention on this none-more-macho genre’s oft-abused female characters, and even taking the opportunity to throw in a bunch of what the Japanese film industry charmingly referred to at the time as “car action” (a tendency Fukasaku would take to its natural conclusion in ‘75’s aptly named ‘Violent Panic: The Big Crash!’).

Though the resulting films may by liable to catch some flak from fans as “jitsuroku-lite”, or for failing to match up to the harrowing and chaotic excesses of the director’s more acclaimed Yakuza dramas, I’d nonetheless defend them as extremely accomplished additions to the genre. Compelling, high octane gangster flicks with an absolute master of the form behind the camera and some of Japan’s most charismatic performers in front of it, all clearly having a blast, both ‘..Boss’s Head’ and ‘Last Days of the Boss’ earn an honoured place on my ever-growing list of “awesome Kinji Fukasaku films that anyone with the faintest interest in Japanese cinema and/or crime movies should watch immediately”.

15. Sinfonia Erotica 
(Jess Franco, 1980)

Given that period settings and gothic atmos often seem to have functioned as anathema to Jess Franco’s modernist / improvisational approach to filmmaking, it’s ironic that this Victorian hothouse stately home caper – complete with formal attire, horse-drawn coaches and classical music cues - turns out to be one of the most artistically engaged pictures to emerge from his second golden era in the early 1980s.

Having recently severed his ties with Erwin C. Dietrich’s Ascot/Elite organisation, Franco here takes full advantage of his new creative freedom to instigate a disorientating nightmare of mirror shots, reflecting glasses, transparent draperies and blinding, unfiltered sunlight, transforming almost every shot into a rulebook-shredding celebration of effervescent photographic mayhem.

Though the plot-line here is a familiar mash-up of quasi-Sadean hi-jinks, the sexual content is relatively restrained (despite finding time to throw in one of the only male/male sex scenes in the entire Franco canon), allowing Lina Romay to convey a sense of mental collapse and spiritual dissolution in a manner not entirely expressed through displays of naked writhing – which, by this stage, makes for a refreshing change.

Sharing the sense of bleak, dehumanised dread common to much of Franco’s best work from this era (from Doriana Grey through to Mil Sexos Tiene La Noche), ‘Sinfonio Erotica’ seems to some degree like a shot at a slightly more elegant / mainstream-acceptable project for Jess and Lina after a few years largely spent wallowing in the scummiest depths of exploitation – and for my money it achieves this goal surprisingly well (certainly more so than the bland, PG-rated thrillers Jess insisted on intermittently knocking out alongside his horror/sex work through the ‘70s and ‘80s), momentarily trespassing into territory more commonly inhabited by directors like Polanksi or Borowczyk, whilst revelling into a sense of psychedelic Victoriana that is all its own.

To be continued...


Tristan Eldritch said...

No fear of MANDY not holding up - I've watched it four times already and it becomes more and more a thing of strange, addictive beauty every time.

Elliot James said...

Nedrick Young looked and sounded like Bogart. Hayden would lose his accent now and then. The minimalist music and settings added to the bleakness. Excellent cinematography.