Monday, November 13, 2017

Lips of Blood / Lèvres de sang (1975)

With his first four full length films, between 1968 to 1971, Jean Rollin forged his own brand of erotic and poetic vampirism. The one of a kind auteur painted over the ‘in vogue’ gothic horror tropes, changed up the rules, and gave his vampires reign over dark and melancholic vistas far removed from the familiar world. The experience ends up being fantastically vampiric while also seeming at odds with the classic notion of a vampire movie.
  
Rollin would shed his brand of tragic vampire lore for a time to experiment with new dark takes on death (The Iron Rose (1973)), adventure, and revenge (The Demoniacs (1974)). To compensate for box office failures, and in order to have steady work between more personal projects, Rollin also directed several porn films under a different name (Michel Gentil).

In 1975, Rollin returned to vampires with the exceptional Lips of Blood, which also ended up being a commercial failure, and so to try and bring in money, Lips of Blood was reformatted with new hardcore pornographic inserts and transformed into the more exploitative movie Suce moi vampire (1976). For me, the existence of Suce moi vampire undermines the significance and spirit of Lips of Blood, and, kind of similar to my feelings on House of Exorcism (1975) (the reworking of Bava’s masterpiece Lisa and the Devil (1973)), I don’t have much interest in seeking it out.


Written by Jean Rollin and the film’s lead actor Jean-Loup Philippe, Lips of Blood puts a touching spin on the vampire mythos. It takes the vampire concept and amplifies the beauty and grace while diminishing the monstrous side. The evil is still there, but it is nostalgically seductive.

Although it’s not as experimental as Rollin’s previous vampire movies, it has a simple, coherent goal driven narrative that also maintains that essential surrealism, making it possibly one of the more accessible Rollin movies. The main characters are alluring, and it is worth taking emotional stock in the story’s conflict.


Being a hopeless nostalgic myself, I found the lead character Frédéric (Jean-Loup Philippe) relatable. One cannot deny that there is serious folly in his quest for the seductive past that calls out to him. Everyone should always be looking forward and not back, but we sometimes still tend to shoot for that warm place from a different past time where we feel we belong instead, no matter what resistance befalls us, and Frédéric does face some serious resistance.

A Blink-and-you-miss-it Betty Boop cameo appearance!

I also like the idea of triggering previously suppressed memories, memories of something personal and important that may or may not have been a dream. A childhood era suppressed from his memory calls out to Frédéric. There is something inherently beautiful and bittersweet about this. The way Frédéric remembers after seeing a promotional landscape photograph for a newly launched perfume product is so poetic, with the echoes of a lost child’s voice on the wind and a closeup of Frédéric’s eyes as he’s transported back to those hauntingly gorgeous castle ruins. The contents of this memory become his new obsession and consistent focus for the rest of the movie. Actually, he’s pretty intense with his focus. He’s quite the gentleman, but the look on his face when anyone tries to sidetrack him or change the subject when he waxes about his estranged childhood really shows that he means business.



At the core of Frédéric’s obsessive childhood memory is a beautiful, mysterious woman in white, Jennifer (Annie belle), an angle-like apparition who offered Frédéric’s lost childhood self (Rollin’s own son Serge Rollin) refuge, warmth, and a comfortable place to sleep in her ruinous castle. It’s never addressed just how Frédéric forgets all about such an important epoch in his life, but a strong bond develops nonetheless. The resurgence of something personal from a seemingly different life is still what makes it intriguing, something unreal that actually happened. When Frédéric remembers her twenty years later, she is able to appear to him but cannot speak to him. Jennifer’s physical manifestations in front of Frédéric are some of the most beautifully haunting images in the film. Annie Belle just feels like the perfect choice for the role of Jennifer, an enigmatic beauty capable of completely arresting a gentleman’s faculties.



He gets the message that she is imprisoned somewhere, and if he wants to be with her, he needs to find where she is hidden. Of course, external agencies will not have this, and since many will attempt to deceive and even execute Frédéric for his efforts at rescuing his princess, Jennifer guides him first to a crypt of imprisoned colorful female vampire warriors (among them Rollin’s Gemini muse, the Castel twins: Catherine and Marie-Pierre) whom he unknowingly releases into the world. They become his protectors to ensure he reaches his lost love (and most likely their great queen of sorts) and uncover the mystery.



It is not only a quest for the girl from that warm place from his childhood, but it also becomes a quest for a truth that he is barred from. A conspiracy to keep Frédéric from the truth begins to develop. He ends up at peril not from the monsters but from humans. Even his mother (Natalie Perry) lies to him and even has him committed for his troubles. In fact, Jennifer seems to be the only honest one in his life. 

In the struggle between humans and vampires depicted in the film, there’s a lot more compassion from the vampires. We sympathize and feel more for the monsters. The role of heroes and villains feels reversed, as the brutes who slaughter the vampires don’t seem like the righteous.



With the loss of significant financial backing shortly before filming, Lips of Blood ended up a lesser film than it could’ve been, but Rollin could create something grand from virtually nothing. Heart, a bittersweet concept, natural locations, and the night don’t cost a thing. There is an attempt at effects and violence that don’t quite hit the mark as far as horror and gore goes, but it is all still emotionally evocative. The images of the nightgown clad vampires travelling like sleep walkers over windy gothic landscapes in this film are precious visual poetry. 

© At the Mansion of Madness







Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Terror Creatures from the Grave / 5 tombe per un medium (1965)

The onset of the Halloween season this year has really put me on a black-and-white horror kick for some reason. I’m looking forward to checking out some classics I haven’t seen yet, such as City of the Dead (1960) and Eyes Without a Face (1960), and revisiting some favorites like Carnival of Souls (1962) and Night of the Living Dead (1968).

I used to approach black-and-white movies apprehensively, thinking that they would likely be a boring chore to sit through. I missed out on discovering a lot of classics when I was younger with this mindset, a mindset that surprises me considering that I had always been able to enjoy black-and-white TV-shows as a kid like Lassie and The Three Stooges, which happened to give me the false perception that the world must’ve been in black-and-white back then. I had always preferred color, but nowadays I really have no preference. There’s something both oppressive and romantic about black-and-white cinematography, a separate experience with its own charm that I don’t think is inferior to color cinematography. What finally gave me a taste for black-and-white film and caused me to not see it as a diminished experience due to technological limitation was Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960), which also turned my interest to the black-and-white Italian horrors of the ‘60s that I probably would’ve had no interest in otherwise.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Fruit of Paradise / Ovoce stromů rajských jíme (1970)

After realizing film was her true calling, the first lady of Czech cinema Věra Chytilová enrolled in the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU) in 1957. At the time, she was the only woman at the school and was faced with resistance. She was pushed back, but she wanted to direct and had ambitions to make different kinds of movies. Chytilová recalls potentially upsetting the directors at the academy when she told them the reason she wanted to study was because she didn’t like the films they made, feeling that they were predictable and arranged. When the Academy wanted to throw her out, it was a major blow for her that resulted in depression and a suicide attempt. She ultimately resisted being driven out and graduated, in the process directing successful medium length films Ceiling (1961) (of which she also wrote) and A Bagful of Fleas (1962). A Bagful of Fleas and her first feature length film as director Something Different (1963) both won film critics awards.
  
Chytilová married cinematographer Jaroslav Kucera (Morgiana 1972); they worked well together and collaborated on The Restaurant the World (1965), Daisies (1966), and Fruit of Paradise (1970).
  
Daisies is Chytilová’s most popular and well-known film. It is a staple in the Czech New Wave movement that’s a fun, technically impressive film with an unconventional narrative about two young, disorderly female leads sticking-it-to-the-man, with copious amounts of style and entertainment ensuing. The movie is supposed to be a cautionary tale on the consequences of destructive behavior, but for me, it’s one of those films you fall in love with and get hooked on.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Mania (1974)

When it comes to the unique definitive Renato Polselli experience of histrionics, eroticism, violence, and sadomasochism, movies like Delirium (1972), The Reincarnation of Isabel (1972), and even The Truth According to Satan (1972) are the best examples of Polselli films that have created a small but loyal fanbase. These have long been some of my favorite cult films, but I also adore the romantic black and white early Italian horror efforts from Polselli The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960) and The Monster of The Opera (1964). The seed for this auteur’s characteristic style of madness and set spectacles was planted in Monster of the Opera, the film itself still planted in the fun dance-meets-classic-monsters gimmick featured in Vampire and the Ballerina, but something wildly unhinged was taking shape. The entertaining delirium, screaming mad characters, and disorienting editing that is Polselli’s signature would essentially be fully realized in Delirium and Reincarnation, but for the longest time there was a missing piece of the filmography that Polselli fans were literally deprived of for many, many years, a once lost film called Mania.

Sanitized by the censors and given a limited theatrical run in 1974, Mania quickly disappeared and was long considered lost until a 35-mm print surfaced in 2007 in a film archive in Rome, Cinema Trevi – Cineteca Nazionale. It was going to be released on DVD by No Shame soon after, but they went out of business before that could happen. Miraculously a crude version of Mania showed up on YouTube without English subtitles back in September of last year. Thankfully, just recently, Terence linked me to a decent version with subs (which is also now on YouTube), and I honestly now feel like a significant void in my life has been filled.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Byleth – Il demone dell’incesto (1972)

I’m not much in to demonology; I only remember a couple names of demonic entities off the top of my head, like Beelzebub, Belial, and Astaroth, but I had only heard about the demon Byleth in reference to the Italian horror film Byleth – The Demon of Incest (1972), and with the title to go off of, I pretty much thought of Byleth as some sort of ghastly, incest inducing demon. I tried to look in to it a little, but other than this film, I found very little relating Byleth to incest. The connection of the theme of incest to Byleth in this film is perhaps more in reference to the belief that the demonically possessed display sexually deviant behavior. 

As far as lore goes, the demon Byleth (sometimes spelled Beleth or Bilet) is a monarch of Hell and a fallen angel. He rides a pale horse and commands eighty-five legions of demons. The sounds of trumpets and melodies precedes his presence when he is conjured. His pale horse suggests he could possibly be one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Death.

When summoned, Byleth will test the courage and worthiness of the conjuror by appearing most intimidating, frightful, and extremely pissed off, and if they are too inexperienced and unprepared, the ritual will likely result in the conjuror’s death (although it’s said that Byleth can be softened with a bottle of wine). If through all manner of advanced esoteric ritual, they manage to subdue Byleth, he reveals his true form, which is supposed to be that of a beautiful young girl who has the power to make someone fall in love, kind of like a love genie.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Devil’s Wedding Night / Il plenilunio delle vergini (1973)

For me, The Devil’s Wedding Night is kind of like a Dracula movie but with Rosalba Neri playing Dracula, which is just a prepossessing idea. However, that’s not quite what it is, as it plays more like a spinoff, fanfic, or sequel to Dracula, where Count Dracula is the stuff of legend, with his power being the focus of archeological research. It’s interesting that in the film’s story Edgar Allan Poe seems to be an upcoming new sensation, which sets it around the first half of the 19th century, making it predate the events in Bram Stoker’s novel that occur around the 1890s. So, The Devil’s Wedding Night could actually be a prequel to Dracula. I mean, who was that mysterious smirking man in the woods, at the tavern, and on the castle grounds we kept seeing? The mysterious man is a nice touch who’s most likely a servant to the ring, but there’s nothing ruling out that he could have been Dracula the whole time, perhaps a powerless Dracula who needs the black mass wedding ceremony to be reborn.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Help for a Friend in Need

A dear friend of mine has fallen on to hard times and is in danger of losing her job now that her car has broken down. It’s looking to be a costly clutch repair. I’ve never asked for any money in the past for my work here, but please, if anyone has appreciated anything I’ve written on this site, the best tip to me would be to help my friend with a GoFundMe donation by clicking HERE or on the image above.

Thanks,
Gio

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Manhattan Baby (1982)

Manhattan Baby marks the end of an era, which was Lucio Fulci’s most prolific filmmaking period that included classics such as Zombie (1979), The Gates of Hell (1980), The Beyond (1981), and The House by the Cemetery (1981). This isn’t to say these were Fulci’s best films; they were just some of the most commercially successful, not to mention big hits with the general horror audience. 

With Fulci being synonymous with gore, zombies, and various sorts of gateways to hell, viewer expectations of Manhattan Baby were probably different than what they got, as it abandons the gothic, supernatural zombie film altogether. It was scriptwriter Dardano Sacchetti’s attempt at moving away from what he considered conventional horror, to try and close up the gates of hell and open new gates of time and space. Although there are obvious influences from The Exorcist (1973) and The Awakening (1980) (and surprising similarities to Poltergeist which came out the same year), Sacchetti wanted to create something different, and for the most part he succeeded.

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