Thursday, June 30, 2022

KILLER APE (1953)


 





PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological*


KILLER APE pits Jungle Jim (Johnny Wiessmuller) against three threats in one B-film. One set of opponents are a group of white scientists capturing animals on which they're running experiments, as they seek to perfect a mind-control serum for purposes of eventual world conquest. A second opponent, a lone wolf type, is a towering "man-ape" who goes around interfering with the scientists and killing anyone who gets in his way, including one of the local natives. The natives-- all of whom are dressed like South Sea islanders-- comprise the third threat, because somehow a young girl of the tribe gets the idea that Jungle Jim killed the guy whom the man-ape killed.

To be sure, the natives as a group don't ever go after the beleaguered Jim; most of them it's just feisty Shari (Carol Thurston) who keeps trying to stab Jim with her knife. Writer Carroll Young, notable for three or four cool TARZAN film-scripts, does a nice job of dovetailing Shari's story with that of the colossal man-ape, since after a while the big guy gets interested in the girl and tries to play King Kong a couple of times. Thus Jim has to fight both the evil scientists and the man-ape, who despite his common humanity is treated like no more than a destructive animal. In comparison to some of the other late entries in this series, APE at least boasts a few decent action-sequences amid all the re-worked stock jungle footage.

The most interesting thing about the film is the man-ape's origin, since at one point Jim tells Shari that he suspects that wild apes stole the big fellow when he was a baby, and raised him as one of their own kind. I rather like that Young didn't go the obvious route, that the man-ape was just a leftover caveman, which would have better explained both his unusual size and his primitive clothing. The ape-adoption trope doesn't make much sense, but it's a nice shout-out to the Tarzan mythos, without which Jungle Jim in any medium might never have existed.



Wednesday, June 29, 2022

RUNNING DELILAH (1993)


 





PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, psychological*

Two raconteurs on this failed TV-show pilot-- director Richard Franklin and writer Ron Koslow-- collaborated with far more success on the pilot episode for the eighties BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. To say that RUNNING DELILAH does not catch the same creative lightning would be an understatement.

The star and her main support-character are played by Kim Cattrall and Billy Zane, both of whom would go on to greater fame elsewhere, so the failure of the pilot was all to the good for them. They're American agents spying on the activities of a suspected weapons dealer, with Delilah (Cattrall) going undercover at the dealer's place of business. Delilah rendezvouses with her handler Paul, and they go back and forth about how she's the only woman in the unit with whom Paul hasn't slept. However, the next night the villain uncovers Delilah's identity and has her killed.

The grief-stricken Paul takes Delilah's body to the laboratory of his agency, where one of the scientists has a special process for making dead people into cyborgs. After a recovery period, Delilah becomes more than a little torqued that she's become mostly machine, with only her head and a shoulder still being human. She rails against her unfair destiny for a while, but eventually Paul and the department head Judith (former "Emma Peel" Diana Rigg) get her to come around and use her powers to take down the man who killed her and his operation.

In comparison to light-hearted productions like SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and BIONIC WOMAN, DELILAH makes an effort to show the heroine grappling with the realities of losing most of her human parts-- not least her sexual organs, which she implicitly will never get to use with Paul. (At the end there's a sort of cyber-ability that compensates slightly for lack of the naughty parts, but I have a feeling this would have been glossed over had this become a series.) However, Franklin and Koslow are so preoccupied with showing Delilah's travails that the main conflict gets shoved to one side until the heroine's ready to deal with it. There's very little decent humor to mute the tragedy. except for a moment when Delilah alludes to the breakthrough feminism of Emma, I mean Judith. And most of Delilah's action-scenes fall into the context of her training. I have to admit that BIONIC WOMAN's simpler approach had the advantage of not stinting on the adventure elements.



NOTHING UNDERNEATH (1985)


 




PHENOMENALITY: *uncanny*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological*


I have the general sense that by the time NOTHING UNDERNEATH was released in the mid eighties, the bloom was off the rose for the giallo subgenre. UNDERNEATH also seems to be the only work of the film's Italian director/co-writer Carlo Vanzina to be released to American venues. It's an interesting work, sharing some of the features of the better Argento movies, though it falls short of reaching those heights.

The plot is predicated on a species of psychic phenomena I deem so limited as to fit the domain of the uncanny: psychic intuitions between twins. It begins, atypically for a giallo, with an American viewpoint character, Park Ranger Bob Crane (Tom Schanley) of Wyoming. Bob's twin sister Jessica (Nicola Perring) is no longer in the States, but in Italy, where she's made a successful career as a model. However, one day Bob has an overwhelmingly vivid vision of someone stalking Jessica with a pair of big scissors. He's unable to contact his sister by phone, so in no time he flies to Milan to look for the missing sibling.

One thing I notice about the English dub of UNDERNEATH is that the various characters Bob encounters have an Italian tonality to their dialogue, but not in such a way as to be distracting. When Bob finds a friendly ear in a Milanese police commissioner (Donald "I'm the only big name here" Pleasance), the top cop routinely calls the American "Wyoming." Bob also makes the acquaintance of a beautiful model, one Barbara, in his quest to locate Jessica, and some of Barbara's lines also have that Italian flavor ("I only notice men who don't notice me.") She also has an incomprehensible line about Porky Pig, but I guess you can't have total clarity.

Bob doesn't find Jessica, but two other models are murdered with scissors, so Bob finds himself working with the cops on the case. The movie's title is supplied by a sarcastic designer who tells Bob that all the models are entirely superficial, that they have "nothing underneath." If Vanzina had any intentions of satirizing the Italian fashion industry, he fails in that objective, Still, it's a very well made thriller with a bracing climax and a good solution to the mystery, though the gore aspect of the murders is somewhat downplayed. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

SUPERCHICK (1973)


 


PHENOMENALITY: *uncanny*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*

"No one person can give another person everything he or she needs in this life."

Protagonist Tara B, True (Joyce Jillson) utters this line to one of the three lovers she visits as she jets from city to city in her peripatetic adventures as an airplane stewardess. She's justifying her refusal to be tied down by that particular lover, though he doesn't know about his competition. As movie lines go, this one does a fair job of summing up the ethic of free love. Had there been a greater quantity of such insights, then SUPERCHICK might have garnered a reputation as a Fielding-esque romp in the realms of Eros, rather than being just another tepid skin-and-sex comedy. 

Not that SUPERCHICK isn't reasonably entertaining, even when Jillson isn't getting naked on screen. Like other sex-films, its characters exist in a world where the beautiful people never "lose their charms in the end," and pretty much everything that happens to them evokes lubricious associations. The original idea for the spoofy flick is credited to its producer John H. Burrows, and it's his only writing credit among a long list of production credits ranging from 1950s westerns to the first NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET to the 2004 RAY biopic. 

While Tara is not any deeper than the average CANDY-like naif, she's atypical in being a mistress of the martial arts, able to repel any and all unwanted attentions. She's not strictly speaking an action-heroine, in that she simply defends herself against the three or four attacks made on her-- defeating a karate master at her dojo, or beating up a half dozen motorcycle toughs (albeit offscreen). Jillson's judo probably wouldn't convince anyone looking for believable fighting, but for the purpose of showing her in charge of her body in all respects, her skills are as efficient as her cornfed good looks.

Tara's one encounter with the metaphenomenal takes place when she decides to spice up a boring afternoon in Hollywood by answering a newspaper ad offering a "unique experience" to anyone who responds. Tara legs it out to a creepy old house and meets former Hollywood thespian Igor Smith. By an amazing coincidence, Igor made his bones playing characters in "cheap horror films," just like the fellow playing Igor, the ever-busy John Carradine. Igor's idea of a unique experience is to escort Tara to a room full of torture implements, which he plans to use on her. When she asks what his mother would think, he does a PSYCHO bit, asking for his mother's approval and getting it from some upstairs room. Tara beats up the old goat and imprisons him in his own chains for later incarceration, though she also manages to convert him to masochism. All of Tara's other adventures are entirely mundane, including her final meeting with all three beaus, who agree to continue their mutual relationships with her.

I said Tara B. True (whose name evokes old timey melodrama-names like Tess Trueheart) was not technically a hero. However, the script justifies the title "Superchick" (a nickname given her by one of her lovers) by having Tara wear dowdy clothing and a dark wig to conceal her hotness while she's working as a stewardess. In the opening scene, she gets off work, enters a convenient phone booth, and emerges as a black-clad, blonde-locked hot chick. For good measure, in place of the Superman "S" chest-emblem, Tara wears a tiny "S" locket around her neck-- though the letter could stand for "sex goddess" as much as "superchick."

THE WORLD OF THE VAMPIRES (1961)






PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical*


About a year before Miguel Morayta directed the first of his vampire flicks, Alfonso Corona Blake got into theaters first with his equally individualistic take on vampire mythology. That said, WORLD OF THE VAMPIRES is more strongly derived from the Universal revisions of the Bram Stoker original, and Blake's not quite as vivid a stylist as Morayta, a lack also evident in the director's second and last vamp-film, SANTO VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN.

In his name and attire Count Sergio Subotai echoes the Universal version of the master vampire, though the actor playing him, Guillermo (Bill?) Murray, is more the super-handsome bloodsucker one might expect to find in the John Badham DRACULA. As soon as Subotai walks into a party being thrown in a Mexican villa by European expatriate Colman, both of Colman's nieces, Mina and Lucy-- I mean, Martha and Leonor-- instantly want to get to know him better. 

Subotai, however, has come to Colman's home to exact vengeance. The vamp nurtures an old family grudge, because Colman's ancestors almost wiped out the Subotai clan of vampires in Europe. It's not clear from Subotai's monologues how old he is. But if he descends from a family of bloodsuckers, then it would seem that his people are able to propagate the old fashioned way, as well as by transforming the living into the undead. Subotai plans to avenge his ancestors by vampirizing the old fellow's nieces and letting Colman see their degradation before he Colman perishes.

By chance, though, Colman's future savior also attends the party. The script is not clear on the profession of Rodolfo Sabre; all the viewer knows is that he has esoteric knowledge of folk music. Rodolfo plays a certain tune for the guests, telling them that in older times the melody repelled vampires, but he evinces no actual belief in vampires. When Subotai reacts to the music as Bela Lugosi reacted to a mirror, Rodolfo doesn't immediately tick to the count's true nature. Similarly, despite all the party-talk about vampires, Martha says nothing to anyone when she sees that Subotai casts no reflection in a big mirror.

Leonor, though, is totally enthralled by the count. She meets him alone, and he instantly makes her his slave. Later he makes her into an undead in a quasi-Aztec ceremony, having one of his many slaves knife Leonor to death. Leonor is then transformed into Subotai's "inside woman," and when Rodolfo seems to be getting too close to the truth, she visits him in his sleep and fangs him. Yet Rodolfo's will to oppose Subotai seems uncompromised, and the only result of the vamp-bite seems to be-- if I understood the allusions-- that the musicologist grows hair on the back of his hands.

Subotai captures both Colman and Martha, planning to turn the second niece as well. Rodolfo beats the hell out of the count's hunchbacked servant-- perhaps on loan from a FRANKENSTEIN flick?-- and invades Subotai's lair. There's some minor use of the anti-vampire music against the count's fanged groupies, but the main clash is just as a straight-up fistfight between the music master and the tuxedoed terror. (This seems to indicate another divergence from vamp-lore: Subotai seems no stronger than an ordinary man.) Subotai is destroyed, Martha-Mina is saved but Leonor-Lucy is not, and the film ends without even having suggested a normative romance between Rodolfo and Martha. 




 

Monday, June 27, 2022

THE THREE FANTASTIC SUPERMEN (1967)


 




PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological*

Most "make-it-up-as-we-go-along" films turn out poorly, but at least the first entry in the "Fantastic Supermen" has a certain comic brio that sustains it even throughout the most nonsensical situations.

So the concept here is James Bond crossed with Superman, if Superman only got his bulletproof powers from his costume. FBI agent Brad McCallum (Brad Harris) learns about two acrobatic thieves who wear bulletproof uniforms during their crimes. Brad tracks down the twosome, who also sport the same names as the actors playing them, Tony (Tony Kendall) and Nick (Nick Jordan, though Jordan's original cognomen was Aldo Canti). Unlike the two super-handsome guys, Canti's character is kind of geeky as he's a mute who makes a lot of nonsensical gabbling sounds all through the film. Canti only played this role once, bequeathing it to other actors.

Once Brad gets the thieves' attention, he convinces them to work with him and the FBI to ferret out a counterfeiting conspiracy, in exchange for clemency. The cheery crooks agree and they either give Brad a spare costume or he makes his own, for in jig time they've become-- the Three Fantastic Supermen!

So they alternate between "James Bond mode," as they wear plain clothes and follow down clues, and "Superman mode," where they don their costumes, wade through bullets (since the costumes can apparently protect their heads), and get into lots of acrobatic fights. The film's quotient of beautiful women is more appropriate to a Eurospy film than a Euro-super flick, suggesting that Golem, the evildoer behind the counterfeiting plot, has better taste than the usual Euro-super villain.

Though it's unclear as to why Golem (portly Jochem Brockmann, very reminiscent of Gert Frobe's Goldfinger) builds his hideout under a children's orphanage, but it may be that the scripters just wanted to use kids in the film to lure in a kid-audience. Once the Supermen find their way to the hideout, it's revealed that Golem's counterfeiting is just the iceberg-tip. The villain possesses a universal duplicating machine that can make copies of anything, even living humans, and his sci-fi lab easily excels all of the evil lairs of other Eurospy villains put together. Perhaps inevitably, Golem even makes copies of the Supermen and makes them fight their real models-- though as a side-note, the copies degrade and turn into piles of gemstones.

There are a few choice lines here, as when Golem complains that one of the orphan-kids got in trouble because he got hold of a henchwoman's "laser-compact." There's a cute if pointless scene in which one of the heroes wanders into a gymnasium full of pretty women practicing judo and boxing, and though one woman (carrying around a short-handled whip for some unknown reason) calls them the "Acrobatic Resource Team" or something like that, the ladies never appear again. I also appreciated that even by the end of the film, Tony and Nick are still rogues. They make off with a bunch of cash from Golem's lair, and are only foiled because they realize it's all counterfeit.

I don't think the later SUPERMEN films are quite this lively, and I certainly don't remember any of them having as good a villain as Golem.


ALIEN VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM (2007)


 




PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological*

For once, the largely meaningless subtitle of a high-profile franchise film received meaning after the movie came out, for AVPR did indeed provide a "requiem" for this short crossover series by killing it dead. The previous film had only a few entertaining sequences, and its decision to bring the two ETs together on modern-day Earth was a mistake that had even worse results for the sequel. But at least it told its simple story with formulaic efficiency.

While there have been special-effects technicians who went on to other creative endeavors, the Brothers Sprouse may have been a textbook example of the almost forgotten Peter Principle, having been advanced to a level far beyond their capacity. I've seen various FX-people who made competent but unexceptional film directors, but the Sprouses couldn't tell a story to save their lives. 

For instance, it's more than a little important that the Predators' experiments with the Aliens lead to the creation of a combination of their species, a creature termed "the Predalien" by the film's marketing. This idea of the Aliens as genetically metamorphic was an idea thrown out by ALIEN RESURRECTION, and it was a very bad one in that it contradicts the biological conceit of the original ALIEN film, in which the ET is laying its progeny in its victims purely as a food-source, not as a gene-splicing endeavor. But the Sprouses couldn't make even a bad idea clear with their fuzzy direction and their overdependence on quick-cuts. 

I never saw AVPR on a large screen, so maybe a viewer could make more sense of events if they were on theatrically sized. But on DVD I could hardly see what was happening in the night-time scenes, of which there were far too many. I suspect that the prevalence of shadowy scenes may have something to do with someone's decision to shoot the film in Vancouver, for in the commentary the Sprouses complained about the recurrent raininess of their venue. But other filmmakers have managed to make competent films under arduous circumstances. The Sprouses aren't among them.

The script is equally at fault. At least in the previous film, a few characters had some ideas about what the rival races of extraterrestrials were doing on Earth. Here, the Predalien gets loose in rural Colorado, and is pursued by a noble Predator-- but the workaday humans have no idea what they're dealing with. In addition, none of them, least of all the ex-con viewpoint character, are any more interesting than the ciphers of a SYFY channel critter-film. 

Lacking good characters or effects that one can actually see, AVPR is a total washout.


Sunday, June 26, 2022

BLOOD SABBATH (1972)

 





PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *good*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical*


I doubt that anyone ever interviewed female exploitation filmmaker Brianne Murphy, given that most of her work was in cinematography and her one theatrical movie, BLOOD SABBATH, barely got a decent release. But I like to think that if anyone had asked her for a rationale as to why a woman director would make a "sex witch" film in which roughly half a dozen young women put their goods on display for male objectification, I like to think she'd have said, "The better to empower women by showing their total ability to destroy men."

The film opens as spacey-looking Vietnam vet David (Tony Geary) wanders along a country road in what's supposed to be Mexico. A van drives up, and a half-naked girl (Uschi Digard) offers him a beer, only to spray it all over him before the van drives off. The arbitrary meanness of the van-people serves to mark David as a patsy for future female domination. Night falls as David makes a campfire and goes to sleep with his shirt off. Three naked women-- presumably part of the witch-cult we see later-- swarm over him to "have some fun." David is shocked rather than pleased by their forceful attentions-- maybe too much like an attack for his taste?-- and runs off. The three girls chase him for a while, suggesting that they'd be just as happy with non-consensual as consensual sex. 

David takes a fall and knocks himself out, so his pursuers leave him alone, apparently not willing to do it with a possible corpse. He dreams that he meets a white-clad woman named Yyala (Susan Damante), and he's immediately taken with her, asking her to meet him again before she disappears into the waters. Then the fellow wakes up and meets a forest hermit named Lonzo, who tells him he ought to stay away from the lake. ("This place means only loneliness," says Lonzo.) Lonzo offers to take David to the nearby village before he gets moving on down the road. 

David, whose internal dialogue suggests some PTSD from Vietnam, doesn't go to the village, but shows up at the lake at the appointed time, and Yyala is indeed waiting for him, leading to this trippy exchange.

"You are real."

"Do you think I am?"

"I want you to be."

"Then I am."

David becomes totally enthralled with Yyala, but she tells him she's a soulless creature of the waters and cannot love a mortal man, possessed as he is of a soul. (Writer William Bairn was perhaps trying a little inversion on Anderson's "Little Mermaid.")

While this assignation goes on, we meet the ruler of the witch-cult, the risibly named Alotta (Dyanne Thorne), first seen approaching Lonzo at his humble hut. When Alotta shows interest in the newcomer, Lonzo tells her that she's overstepping the bounds of their agreement, which includes Lonzo providing the witch-queen with children-- though it's not specified what Lonzo gets out of the arrangement. The viewer may assume that child sacrifice is involved, though a later exchange claims that the witches induct the sacrifices into their own ranks, which means that all the victims must be females. 

More details of the arrangement come forth when Lonzo and David visit a cantina in the village. Lonzo's dialogue suggests that the town is giving up a child once a year to be sure that their harvest prospers; it's not clear whether the witches bless the crops or just don't curse them. At the cantina the local padre rails against Lonzo and the locals for colluding with the witches.

However, the unnamed priest has actually been in Alotta's power for some time as well, accepting booty calls from the nubile young lasses under the queen's command. But the priest finally gets his courage back and swears to cast out the cult. Alotta puts a voodoo curse on him, though later he seems not to be affected.

However, once David hears that the witches remove the souls of the sacrifices, he goes to Alotta with a proposition: he wants the queen to spare their current sacrifice and to take his soul instead, reasoning that once his soul is gone his body can be united with Yyala, Surprisingly, Alotta agrees to this bargain, though it doesn't seem to profit her in any way (there's no mention of her yielding up souls to a Satanic master, nor any other references to Satan). The only explanation would seem to be that she's amused by this damaged male trying to use dark powers to win love, She agrees to the bargain, with the stipulation that if Yyala (whom Alotta calls "inconstant") deserts David, he'll have to enter Alotta's service. 

Deprived of his soul in one of SABBATH's most nudity-heavy scenes, David seeks out Yyala, and sure enough, the nymph told the truth, and they're joined in love. Then for some unexplained reason, David spies upon one of Alotta's ritual convocations in the forest. (Does he have some doubts of Yyala's love, and wants to check out the group he might be forced to join? Or does he just want to see more titties?) Because he's there, David is pulled into the ritual. On a sacrificial altar, Alotta cuts the throat of one of her own witches and obliges David to drink some of the blood. Moments later, he seeks out Yyala, and she runs from him, aghast at his blood-stained mouth. (This shouldn't count as "inconstancy," but Alotta probably thinks it does.) David has a fever dream in which he imagines himself watching Alotta do a sexy hip-thrusting dance, and his dream-self becomes very interested, particularly because Dream-Alotta briefly transforms into Yyala-- which may be the script's way of saying that all women, good and evil, are of the same nature.

We see that Yyala only ran off to ask for Lonzo's help, but he only wants to lecture her. David seeks out Alotta to tell her that he doesn't think Yyala betrayed him, so Alotta changes the agreement again. She sends him to the village, where in an offscreen scene, David kills the priest in his sleep and delivers his (not very believable) severed head to the witch queen. Lonzo finds out and accuses Alotta, but the queen blames it on Yyala. For some reason Lonzo believes her lie, and tries to kill the water nymph, which results in him fighting David and being slain by Yyala. 

The death of Lonzo reminds David of the tragedies he witnessed in Vietnam, which gives him the gumption to beard Alotta in her den and knife her. Even dying, the queen is powerful enough to lay a curse on the veteran, and to bring things almost full circle, David's mortal body is slain when he's run down a killer hippie van, possibly the same one seen at the outset. However, as the film ends we see David somehow reunited with Yyala in her watery domain. At least it appears to be a happy ending, though one is reminded of Greek lore about water nymphs, whose favorite thing was pull men down to their deaths. So Yyala is the only major character who doesn't suffer some sort of mortal blow-- and the witches are still extant at the film's end, last seen swarming over the dead body of their leader and apparently cannibalizing it. So male authority perishes, and females reign supreme in the end.

This is another of those inspired trashy films in which I had to ask myself if the symbolic discourse was sustained enough to earn a good mythicity rating. And my answer is yes; despite the sillier moments of excess and the plot-holes, the script is more than just another seventies sex-film in which some mook got a bunch of young chicks to cavort for the camera out in the forest. A great film BLOOD SABBATH is not, but it is a mythic film nonetheless.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

YAMBAO (1957)

 





PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical*


YAMBAO, issued in some markets as CRY OF THE BEWITCHED, was a Mexican-Cuban collaboration shot in Cuba and starring popular Cuban-born Mexican actress Ninon Sevilla as the title character. Taking place in the early years of Mexico's first horror-boom, the script had a chance to produce an original take on the Cuban customs of the Santeria religion, which had barely if at all been portrayed in commercial cinema.

Short take: because Sevilla was popular for her singing and dancing, YAMBAO is dominated by such scenes, whether by Sevilla or by various collections of Cuban sugar-cane workers. Thus, the movie tries more to bewitch the viewer with terpsichorean rhythms than with lore about Cuban witchcraft.

The action commences in Cuba back in 1850, on a sugar plantation owned by Jorge (Ramon Gay) and his wife Beatriz. They maintain a benign and enlightened hold over their slaves, who show no desire to revolt against anything but the scourge of local witchcraft. Jorge does not believe in magic, and he resents that the authority of his family was impugned fifteen years ago, when the locals tried to execute a suspected witch Caridad. Everyone on the island believes Caridad is dead, but they're still leery of her granddaughter Yambao (Sevilla)-- except for a few of the young blades, who would like to lure her to the wedding altar.

However, long ago young Yambao fell in love with the married master, and that may be one reason that she has helped her ancient grandmother hide in a cave, to shield Caridad from another attempt on her life. At Yambao's insistence, Caridad puts a love-spell on Jorge, though its first effect is to make the master deathly sick. Beatriz is obliged to accept Yambao's help in curing Jorge, though Yambao's ritual has the long-range effect of enthralling Jorge.

Though Jorge falls in love with the vixen, it's not clear how far they go-- and in any case, Beatriz, who's been expecting since the film's beginning, dispels the magic when her child is born, shocking Jorge back to his normal personality. The rest of the story shows how Yambao's fortunes decline, and though she's somewhat sympathetic in that she did it all for love, she's still a figurative "monster" who must be destroyed.

I grade the mythicity here as "fair" largely because YAMBAO, in creating a sympathetic love-witch, makes an interesting contrast with the totally negative image of a sexy female native seen in the 1942 Hollywood exotica, WHITE CARGO.


ALIEN RESURRECTION (1997)

 






PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*

Though ALIEN RESURRECTION was the least successful of the "Ellen Ripley series" at the box office, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and writer Joss Whedon put together a film far superior to ALIEN 3, albeit nowhere good enough to rate with ALIEN or ALIENS. Though Whedon leaves open the possibility that the reborn Ripley might have gone on to further exploits, the lack of direct cinematic sequels had the effect of giving the tortured heroine a "happy ending" of sorts. To date Weaver has not reprised the role except in a few video games, and RESURRECTION certainly brings her association with the Xenomorphs full circle.

Two hundred years pass following the events of ALIEN 3, in which Ripley and her Alien spawn perished together in a smelting furnace. I'm not sure why Whedon thought that such a long interval was necessary, given that Ripley was already alienated from the Earth-culture into which she was delivered at the onset of ALIENS. Was the interval needed for Earth-people to perfect a form of cloning so radical that it could clone new Aliens from the bio-matter left behind in the foundry? Moreover, for some reason the scientists-- who are still working for the same corporation that menaced Ripley in ALIEN 3-- couldn't separate the genetic material of Ripley from the genetic material of the Xenomorph inside her. This selective expertise results in Clone-Ripley-- who possesses many memories of the dead original-- being a hybrid of a human and an Alien. Thus Clone-Ripley has greater physical strength and an intuitive awareness of the Xenomorphs.

Clone-Ripley receives a deliverance of sorts when a gang of space mercenaries dock their ship with the scientists' own experimental vessel, dropping off a quantity of abducted humans in whom the technicians breed new Aliens. The mercenaries recall the raffish marines of ALIENS, even to the extent of having a synthetic member in their group, Call (Winona Ryder). When the captive Aliens break free and decimate the scientific team, Clone-Ripely convinces the mercenaries to help her destroy the vessel with the Aliens aboard. To further complicate things, the Alien whose genetic info was taken from Ripley's body cells is another Queen, though when the Queen gives birth, she spawns a human-Alien hybrid in whom the Alien aspects are dominant. For reasons I did not follow, this new being does not represent its real mother as its sire, but bonds with Ripley as its maternal unit. 

The convolutions of the Alien plot interested me less than Whedon's ability to give a little personality to the mercenaries, which I found as effective as the cannon fodder from the 1979 original. To be sure, there is one dull doll in the group: the aforementioned Call, played listlessly by Winona Ryder. But Ron Perlman and Michael Wincott provide some good moments, particularly the basketball duel between Clone-Ripley and Perlman's character.

Once again, since the Xenomorphs are nearly invulnerable, the plot-thrust once more consists of "get out and blow up the ship behind us." Jeunet's direction is more sensitive to the mythic potential of the Alien franchise, but RESURRECTION never quite brings the potential into the actual. In one scene, Clone-Ripley and her Xenomorph "son" are loosely intertwined, which may remind one of the perverse sexuality seen in the original 1979 film. But this level of resonance is not sustained, and so what we have is just a decent thriller, noteworthy largely for the redemption of Ripley, who's at least able to put the vile E.T.'s behind her and seek a new life.


ALIEN 3 (1992)


 

e




PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*


ALIEN 3 is a strange follow-up to the successful ALIENS, given that the second sequel made a lot of money. 3 eschews the combative action of ALIENS and returns rather to the model of the 1979 ALIEN, in which most of the narrative consists of Ellen Ripley and her allies running through enclosed spaces trying to either escape or execute a killer E.T. It may be a testimony to the strength of the O'Bannon/Shusett concept that 3 is fairly watchable despite having many hands working on the script(s), and director David Fincher becoming so disgusted with studio interference that he renounced the film (though he didn't go so far as to remove his name from the project). 

At the end of ALIENS, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) escapes the conflagration on the space marines' ship in an escape pod with a few other survivors. Unfortunately, an alien sneaks on board the ship and in some manner transfers an alien egg into one refugee, though for some time the viewer does not decisively know that the victim is Ripley. The pod crash-lands on Fiorina, a planet dominated by an ore foundry, and every living being aboard dies except for Ripley, while the benign android Bishop is damaged beyond repair. 

Of the twenty-six men on Fiorina, all were either prisoners or guards from a men's prison, though most of the personnel was evacuated years ago. A small handful of the males remain to monitor the activities of the prisoners, who became organized into a quasi-religious order that maintains the foundry's activities. Before Ripley knows about the Alien's infiltration, she stands in danger of being raped by all the former prisoners, since all are double-Y chromosome males with extreme hostilities, just barely controlled by their religious leader Dillon (Charles S. Dutton). Since the foundry and its installation barely remains functioning, the government has no interest in what happens on Fiorina, and the "guards" have no weapons since the religious prisoners freely chose their confinement on the lonely world.

Ripley soon learns about both the grown Alien's presence and the incubating "alien queen" in her own body. On top of those problems, Ripley finds out from the still sentient Bishop that the same corporation that fomented the original alien-finding mission plans to come and take possession of the creature-- which Ripley foresees as a disaster for the people of Earth. 

While all of these conflicts keep the pot boiling well enough, Ripley is the only interesting character, while everyone else is just there to be killed or to make a noble sacrifice to the goal to slay the dragon. There's never a payoff regarding the notion of a society made up of "double-Y chromosome" men; the inhabitants of Fiorina just seem to like standard prisoners and guards. minus any heavy weaponry. Ripley concludes the film with a grand sacrificial gesture, as well as a giving the middle finger to the corporation that ruined her life. But despite increasing the role of the evil manipulators-- who played a rather retiring role in ALIENS-- the narrative as a whole is largely uninvolving. The setting of ALIEN was grim and forbidding as well, but the relatively interesting characters kept the setting from becoming as dispiriting as it is here.

Friday, June 24, 2022

HELLHOLE (1985)

 





PHENOMENALITY: *uncanny*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*


"I want you awake to hear your brain scream in your head!"

Such is one of the many ripe lines delivered with great brio by mad scientist Mary Woronow, and she does it so well that I wished she had been the headliner of this wild, cheesy chicks-in-chains effort.

Alas, HELLHOLE follows the by-then well-trod trope of focusing on an innocent "new fish" sent to durance vile. In this case, the innocent is Susan (deer-in-headlights actress Judy Landers). Susan's mother gets some evidence on a prominent doctor, so the doctor sends some hirelings to steal the evidence and kill Susan's mother. However, the murderous thug Silk (Ray Sharkey) gets the order wrong and kills the woman before getting the evidence. Susan witnesses the murder and loses her memory soon after, so that she's committed to an asylum despite the fact that she's not crazy, just amnesiac. But because Susan is the only one who knows where the vital evidence is, the hired goons want to both question her and then kill her. So Silk goes undercover as an orderly in an asylum devoted to female mental patients who all act like they're in a women's prison-- dealing drugs, having frequent lesbian affairs, etc.

If this was your ordinary faux women's prison, Silk would probably knock off the hapless Susan in the first half-hour. However, the asylum is ruled by queen bee Doctor Fletcher (Woronow). The doctor and her aide (a wasted Marjoe Gortner) are conducting illegal lobotomy experiments on many of the inmates, and some of their "rejects" end up imprisoned in a basement level called "the Hellhole." Prey Susan and predator Silk don't square off until the final reel, as the script focuses on Fletcher, on the terror she wields over the inmates, and on another fellow who enters the asylum under false pretenses-- Ron (Richard Cox), an investigator trying to get the goods on Fletcher. Still, I guess I have to assert that Susan's still the main character here, since her presence in the nuthouse is the main reason many of these characters cross paths.

Both the scripters and director Pierre de Moro try to crank up this pulp craziness up to the max, but they're not quite good enough to really exploit the madness as would a pulp master like, say, Russ Meyer. Thus what we get is a bunch of rambling scenes that don't cohere very well, though I certainly can't fault the filmmakers for giving fans of babes-behind-bars flicks what they really want-- lots of nude female flesh, and even a short but vivid catfight between Edy Williams and another chick.

Speaking of actors, I can't deny the dominant online opinions that Woronow and Sharkey get the utmost out of their meaty roles, though I think jobbing actor Richard Cox does well with the unrewarding role of the determined good guy. Other names of interest, however brief the roles, include Dyanne Thorne, Robert Z'Dar, and Terry Moore.

While HELLHOLE wouldn't make it to my top ten chicks-in-chains movies, it might at least rate a mention in the top twenty.




Wednesday, June 22, 2022

GOLDEN QUEENS COMMANDO (1982)


 





PHENOMENALITY: *naturalistic*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*


This Hong Kong genre-mashup was one of the first teamups of director Chu Yen-Ping with writer-producer Geoffrey Ho, as well as one of the first "girls with guns" flicks from HK. Like most of the Ho-films, QUEENS is erratic in plot and confused in its characterization, not least because it supposedly takes place in World War Two even though all the characters (who aren't in military uniforms) have eighties hair and clothes.

Black Fox (Brigitte Lin) brings together a dirty half-dozen of criminal specialists, all women, whom she finds in a Manchurian women's prison. This works out well because Fox wants the specialists to help her destroy a weapons plant in that country, and it's not beyond doubt that Fox somehow gets all of the other women set up for jail just so Fox can recruit them. 

Like the original Dirty Dozen, the specialists only reluctantly join the team, though by the climax the ladies become more bonded than the male soldiers did. Most of the women have mundane talents-- expertise with guns or explosives-- but there's one character, Brandy (Hao-Yi Liu), who can perform various katana-stunts-- but only when she's drunk. But as if the script doesn't want to play her up too much, her stunts aren't wild enough to verge into the realm of the uncanny.

Similarly, there's only one other potential metaphenomenal content of QUEENS. During the nearly aimless progress of the commandos toward their target, they come across people dressed up like ghosts. Are they crazy priests, or bandits? The phony ghosts appear so briefly that I can't even consider them part of the main narrative.

Some of the music is also derivative of the eighties, with a few strains stolen from John Williams' "Raiders" theme. However, the main aesthetic influence (if one could call it that) is clearly Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns, with many swipes from Morricone's "Ecstasy of Gold."

Given that it's such a wild devil-may-care adventure, I'm surprised that the stunts and fight-scenes are pretty mediocre for an eighties HK flick.


SANTO IN THE VENGEANCE OF THE MUMMY (1971)


 




PHENOMENALITY: *uncanny*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*

Santo's encounter with an arrow-shooting mummy lacks the kinetic strength of the wrestler-hero's classic metaphenomenal adventures of the sixties. Yet it's at least a decent timekiller, thus putting it ahead of a number of dull seventies Santos.

Santo accompanies an archaeologist-friend, Professor Romero, as Romero and his expedition journey to what I assume is some Mexican jungle to look for an "Apache" mummy's tomb. Yes, the streaming translation I watched said at least three times that the people who built the tomb were "Apaches," and never used the word "Aztec," though I feel fairly sure the original Mexican script would have used the latter term. I wonder if giving the mummy a bow and arrow confused some translator? Maybe the translator was thrown by the very idea that an undead creature would use arrows even if he was "Apache."

Given that everyone in the expedition (except Santo) is a boring stereotype, it's surprising that there's a fair amount of tension as the explorers make their way to the tomb and discuss the legend of the mummy. The history of the mummy is known to the professor long before the expedition begins, though it is of course recapitulated once the tomb is discovered. The "Apache" warrior Nonoca-- whose name sounds quite a bit like that of Popoca, The Aztec Mummy-- has a love affair with Lua, a sacrificial victim who's supposed to remain pure before she's killed and sent to the gods. Nonoca and Lua, who are probably strongly influenced by the story of Universal's classic mummies, are captured and Nonoca is killed and mummified.

After the tomb is profaned in modern times, the arrow-wielding mummy shows up and starts killing the explorers. Santo never manages to prevent any of these killings, no doubt because if he tried, he would have won too easily. Given that I already categorized the film as uncanny, it should be a given that the evil mummy is really some crook in mummy-garb-- though he does give the luchador a pretty good fight at the climax. Just in case any viewers thought Santo didn't get enough action, the film's main story is bracketed by two lively Santo wrestling-bouts.

HAWK THE SLAYER (1980)

 






PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *good*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, psychological*

I'm amazed that anyone would consider HAWK THE SLAYER a "bad" movie. It's certainly a cheaply made film, and it does have a glaring disadvantage in that its one "name" actor, Jack Palance, horribly chews the scenery in his role as the villain. But it's a well made film, which unlike most sword and sorcery films has strong plot-momentum and memorable characters.

(Side-note: I kept wondering why the filmmakers gave the bad guy the name "Voltan," which sounds like a combination of "volt" and the name of the Greek blacksmith-god. Then I realized that his name, and that of his heroic brother the titular Hawk, had very possibly been borrowed from the world of Alex Raymond's FLASH GORDON, whose adventures included a sojourn among the HAWKmen, who were ruled by Prince VULTAN. The association, conscious or not, may stem from the fact that in the comic strip, Vultan ends up rebelling against the reigning emperor of Mongo.)

The core conflict between Hawk (John Terry) and Voltan begins years before the action of the film proper. Voltan, the elder son of a king in some fantasy-realm, goes to war while Hawk remains behind. Voltan incorrectly believes that the Lady Eliane loves him, and in his absence Hawk and Eliane are married. Voltan believes that Hawk stole Eliane, and he kidnaps Hawk with the idea of forcing Eliane to surrender to him. When Voltan tortures his younger brother, Eliane strikes back by shoving a blazing firebrand into Voltan's face. Hawk and Eliane try to escape, but Voltan shoots Eliane dead with an arrow. For years thereafter, Hawk devotes himself to finding and killing his brother, but (in one of the less praiseworthy conventions) can't seem to find him. 

In the film's present-- also the first scene-- Hawk has returned to the side of his (unnamed) sire, but the younger brother is off to one side when Voltan, now wearing a half-helmet to hide his disfigured features,  ambushes their father, demanding a prized "elfen mind stone." The sire won't yield the stone to Voltan, and Voltan kills the old fellow and escapes before Hawk makes the scene. The sire then rejects primogeniture in favor of ultimogeniture, causing the mind-stone to imbed itself in the pommel of Hawk's sword. (Curiously, the pommel of Hawk's sword looks like a human hand, and a little later, one of Hawk's minor allies loses a hand.)

Voltan doesn't really seem to have any specific need for any magical stones, for he's in no way a sorcerer, though there's a mysterious unnamed mage who tends the warlord's wounds and who may be manipulating Voltan to covert ends. Voltan assembles an army of raiders and begins seeking the brother who stole Voltan's bride and his patrimony. But Voltan also needs money-- implicitly to pay the raiders-- so he raids a convent, kidnaps the revered Abbess, and holds her for a huge ransom. A swordsman named Ranulf (the guy who loses his hand) reaches the convent after this has happened, and the nuns direct him to a high priest, who in turn tells the guy to go looking for Hawk. Once Ranulf finds Hawk and lets him know what Voltan's doing, Hawk gets some help from a sorceress in order to assemble a small coterie of warriors with whom Hawk served in other adventures. Ranulf fades into the background as these more colorful allies join Hawk: a grim elf who (like Tolkien's Legolas) is a master archer, a dwarf who can use a whip really well, and a giant (actually just a really tall man) who wields a war-hammer. These three characters serve to give the film a little more human characterization, given that Hawk remains largely defined by his obsession to have revenge. (For instance, Hawk himself is humorless, so the script has the cunning dwarf pull some fast ones on the bluff, none-too-witty giant.) 

Most sword and sorcery flicks depend either on the location of some magical talisman to defeat some menace or on the rescue of some innocent from a tyrant. HAWK follows the latter pattern, but this time the innocent is a mature priestess rather than a sexy princess, so there's no suggestion that the hero is ever going to find a replacement for his lost wife. Indeed, Hawk's only payoff for his heroic action is his reunion with his fellow war-buddies, some of whom perish in the course of the adventure. The saving of the Abbess does not change anything about the fantasy-world; it's just presented as the right thing for heroes to do. However, Hawk still has a better outcome than Voltan, for his disfigurement prevents him from continuing his line (or at least he makes that claim). So he adopts a son, one Drogo, whose only action in the film is the attempt to betray his adoptive father-- showing that Voltan was not exactly good father-material no matter where he got his offspring from. The film of course ends with Voltan's defeat-- though the unnamed sorcerer makes noises about reviving the warlord-- while Hawk and his surviving friend (the "giant") depart for further adventures.

The biggest surprise about all the fights between Hawk, Voltan and their respective allies is how little the "mind-sword" affects the plot, though it does set Hawk free at a vital moment. Director/co-scripter Terry Marcel doesn't really expand on any of the magical aspects of his world, least of all the unnamed sorceress who is in part responsible for the good guys' triumph. But I grade the movie's mythicity high because the script maintains an interesting parallel between Voltan's losing out on both his bride and the mind-stone, which lack puts him in his own private hell. Despite Palace's over-acting, the sibling rivalry gives this film more psychological content than one usually finds in the cinema's attempts at sword and sorcery. HAWK THE SLAYER can't touch a deeply mythopoeic film like 1985's LEGEND, but it represents a decent "stab" (so to speak) at the genre.





Tuesday, June 21, 2022

SUPERSONIC MAN (1979)


 




PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical*


The colorful ad for this ripoff of the 1978 SUPERMAN may be the only good thing to come from this time-waster. That, and noting that once you've seen this clumsy, brain-deadening superhero swipe, you may yearn for the comparative brio of Italy's punchy action-flicks. At least the Italians, unlike the Spaniards who made this turkey, consistently offer good fight-scenes.

Since SUPERSONIC MAN duplicates none of the psychological, sociological or cosmological aspects of the Superman series in both films and comics, all that's left is the metaphysical. The early section of SUPERSONIC establishes that the red-hued superhero is sent to fight evil on Earth by his hyper-advanced people, which is essentially an abbreviated version of the "only begotten son" elements of the Superman mythology. SUPERSONIC of course gets across no mythic resonance whatever, but that's the closest the flick gets to any sort of abstract concept. Oh, yeah, once the hero's "alien" name is said to be Kronos, but nothing about him compares with any of the motifs from the narrative of the Greek Titan.

One amusing touch is that the hero (played by Richard Yesteran) is only called "Supersonic" in the film proper, though no reason is given for the origin of the name. Like Superman, Supersonic has a mortal identity, known only as Paul (Michael Coby), who looks nothing like Supersonic and who apparently has no powers when he's in his mortal form. Others before me have observed that despite his lack of power Paul often charges into trouble and gets beat down, until he can change into Supersonic. Maybe they should have named him "Lois?"

For the span of this happily one-shot film, the great evil faced by the hero is mad scientist Doctor Gulik (a wildly overacting Cameron Mitchell, whose English lines are dubbed by some other voice). Gulik can create many wonders, such as a pokey robot with some vague weapons-systems, but he needs the help of another scientist, Professor Morgan, to synthesize the fuel needed for a death-ray satellite. Gulik's men kidnap Morgan, who refuses to work for the madman. So Gulik also sends henchmen to fetch Morgan's hot daughter Patricia (Diana Polakov)-- and as it happens, Supersonic makes it his business to follow Patricia around foiling her kidnappers, with the clear implication that down the road Paul is going to get some as a reward for the hero's actions. 

There are several opportunities for Supersonic to trace the thugs back to their master, particularly since the hero can pull just about any super-ability out of his ass. True, the early Superman sometimes did similar things, though I think even Jerry Siegel would have restrained himself from having his hero change a gun into a banana. There are some amusing sequences to allay the boredom-- Mitchell's bad acting, the clunky robot-- but such scenes are few and far between. 



Monday, June 20, 2022

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (2010)

 





PHENOMENALITY: *naturalistic*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*


SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS


In drawing comparisons to the 1978 I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, I don't want to fall into the trap of saying that the 2010 remake was not good because it didn't duplicate Meir Zarchi's original. Indeed, I criticized the 1998 "shot for shot" remake of Hitchcock's PSYCHO for its lack of "fresh ideas." For any remake of a famous story or iteration of a story, the best outcome is when the persons doing the remake show some understanding as to what aspects made the famous version popular, and then to play off those aspects creatively. In many ways the 1955 KISS ME DEADLY is an inversion of the original novel's theme, but the film didn't entirely lose track of the source work's appeal. The changes made by the 2010 GRAVE are entirely comprehensible as far as what the filmmakers were attempting, but their original effects lack resonance, and their execution of Zarchi's ideas is pedestrian.

This GRAVE is a more straightforward melodrama, lacking any of Zarchi's distanced, Olympian view of the narrative. Again, this by itself is not a failing. But other alterations hurt the consistency of the narrative.

The base conflict of the 1978 movie is as follows: when a relatively well-off city woman rents a cabin in the wilds of Connecticut, three less well-off rural goobers decide to rape her, for good measure drawing in the participation of a fourth local with diminished mental capacity. The woman escapes being killed after her ordeal, and then tricks two of the four men into death-traps before killing the other two more overtly. For feminist audience then and now, the most objectionable part of the female's plan is that she cozies up to one of the killers in order to make him completely drop his guard.

In the newer GRAVE, city woman Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) once more rents a cabin in the country, and once again three good old boys decide that she's easy pickings, and they draw a mentally retarded fourth guy into their plot. However, in 1978 their action seems fairly spontaneous, the result of the men holding verbal pissing contests with one another, daring each other to assert male dominance over Jennifer. However, this time not only is there very little sense of the city-country conflict, but the bad guys draw a fifth cohort into their shenanigans, the local sheriff. This twist has the presumably unintentional effect of making the rape attack more deliberate, as if the local boys had done this kind of thing with the local law before. Admittedly, verisimilitude is not a main concern in a rape-revenge melodrama, but when its lack causes the viewer to become divorced from the narrative, that's not something one can wink and smile about.

The other major change is that after Jennifer survives her ordeal, she doesn't disappear for a time and then come back to town as if nothing had happened, the better to deceive her attackers. She falls into a river, so that her assailants think she may be dead, and when she comes back, she executes each offender in well-thought-out murder-scenarios. Arguably the methods of 2010 Jennifer are more overtly sadistic than those of 1978 Jennifer, but this strategy has the effect of making the character seem less like an ordinary woman pushed to the brink. Again, for me there's nothing wrong with colorful acts of sadism in a more purely escapist context, as one sees in, say, the ILSA films. Here, though, the most one can say is that the sadistic scenes are well filmed and get across the basic revenge motif.

The performances emphasize a generally down-to-Earth quality rather than shooting for grand melodrama, and this may have been a creative decision based in the desire to make GRAVE somewhat palatable to the last of the third-wave feminists (given that the fourth wave that followed could never embraced this product under any circumstances). I imagine some viewers may even have preferred the 2010 iteration to that of 1978, but I definitely am not one of them.


Wednesday, June 15, 2022

SOMEBODY'S STOLEN OUR RUSSIAN SPY (1968)


 




PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *irony*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*


In my review of the first film in this series, THE SECOND BEST SECRET AGENT IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, I went into great detail as to why I felt the arch humor in the movie qualified it for the literary category of the irony. At the time I had not seen either of the two sequels, both of which starred Tom Adams as secret agent Charles Vine, and I still have not seen the second in the series. I can't be sure if that movie maintained the ironic tone of the first one, but to my surprise, SPY does. The only personnel who seems to have been associated with all three flicks, aside from star Adams, is producer James Ward, so maybe the continued tone owes a lot to his co-writing credits on the third film-- all of which was shot in Spain and Portugal by a Spanish director, whereas the first two originated in the UK.

For once, the plot does not revolve around finding some vital super-weapon, but rather, the "Russian spy" of the title (actually, an ambassador). Vine learns that the Russian ambassador was kidnapped as part of a complicated plot designed by the Chinese and the Albanians to pit Russian and British forces against one another. This gambit gives Vine the chance to travel to various exotic locales and become inveigled with various exotic women, with only one or two fights to interrupt things. Eventually Vine is taken prisoner and shipped to a Communist refuge in Albania, where he's held not by Chinese but by their Russian allies. (A breakaway group? Who knows?) The Russians become overly preoccupied with forcing Vine to defect to their side, rather than just killing him, and they use on him both foul means (a torture device that spins him around in place) and fair (a sultry female spy who ends up liberating Vine from imprisonment). Once Vine and the lady spy (Diana Lorys) escape from the installation, they spend an inordinate time dodging the military on their way back to the free world. The pursuit-section doesn't have much to do with the main plot, but for a cheap B-flick the military tanks and trucks look impressive.

There aren't as many odd weapons here as one sees in SECOND BEST, but it's quite evident that the script regards such things through the lens of irony. At the beginning, Vine is summoned by his bosses by the "experiment" of having a female agent shoot him with a curare dart. Later, when Vine is being taken prisoner by the Chinese, the leader-- who claims that "all's well that ends well" is taken from Confucius-- shoots Vine with a similar dart, albeit from a blowgun concealed in a smoking-pipe. The action is just OK but the emphasis on Eurobabes is exemplary, particularly regarding Diana Lorys, who projects both hostility and allure in equal measures-- though she only gets to perform one measly karate chop during the escape section of the flick.


OPERATION ATLANTIS (1965)


 





PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*

I suppose that if one compares OPERATION ATLANTIS to all the humdrum, by-the-numbers Eurospy flicks, there's something to be said for its attempt to crossbreed the genre with the "lost city" type of film. However, both script and direction seem determined to confuse the viewer about what the hell's going on.

Secret agent George Steele (John Ericson, best known in the U.S. for his co-starring role in the teleseries HONEY WEST) is sent to North Africa to check on some insidious plot involving uranium shipments. With the help of a beautiful female agent, eventually Steele finds himself in a lost city somewhere in the desert. The two of them must done protective suits in order to pass a radioactivity zone, after which they're told that the city is a colony of ancient Atlantis. Certainly the scattered people of the colony-- who are never seen as comprising a big crowd-- dress in antique robes and displays super-scientific weapons, like a device that can encase its target in ice. Steele doesn't ask too many questions, for he's busy trying to decide whether he'll hook up with his current girlfriend or with the hot queen of Atlantis. 

To the extent that I could follow the story, I think it's eventually revealed that the city is a hoax perpetrated by the Red Chinese, though there are no Chinese characters anywhere near pseudo-Atlantis. What was the purpose of the hoax? Who knows? Eventually Steele escapes with both of the hot girls while the city is destroyed in cut-rate fashion, and he returns to some modern city to mop up some spies.

Steele is a cipher as a character, displaying none of the charm one expects from the Bond template, and thus it's hard to say why the two women fall for him hard enough that they catfight over him twice. While I don't subscribe to the ideology that male superspies are some sort of "toxic males" because they sleep with many willing women, ATLANTIS does come up with a pretty patriarchal take on things. Toward the end of the film, since Steele can't decide between the two ladies, and because they fight all the time, he anesthetizes them and puts both in separate crates to be shipped back to England by plane. There's a slight pushback against this male chauvinism when one of them escapes en route, but still-- the James Bond of Fleming would have been appalled by such chicanery. This seems to have been director Domenico Paollela's only Eurospy, but he did a fair number of period-peplum films that aren't nearly this brain-fried, particularly these two back-to-back-filmed "Hercules" films.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978), I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE-- DEJA VU (2019)


 




PHENOMENALITY: *naturalistic*
MYTHICITY: (1) *good, * (2) *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *irony*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*


(SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS)


The tragic emotion, in fact, is a face looking two ways, towards terror and towards pity, both of which are phases of it. You see I use the word ARREST. I mean that the tragic emotion is static. Or rather the dramatic emotion is. The feelings excited by improper art are kinetic, desire or loathing. Desire urges us to possess, to go to something; loathing urges us to abandon, to go from something. The arts which excite them, pornographical or didactic, are therefore improper arts. The esthetic emotion (I used the general term) is therefore static. The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing.-- James Joyce, PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN.


Of the many questions engendered from Meir Zarchi's seminal "rape-and-revenge" saga, the one that first concerns me here is, "is it horror?" My short answer is that GRAVE belongs to the subcategory of naturalistic horror. However, the regular tropes of even naturalistic horror-films are subjected to an intense re-evaluation that gives Zarchi's work the distanced detachment one often finds in serious art-movies-- or in Joyce's above claim that what he calls "the esthetic emotion."

The plot of the original 1978 film is so simple as to resemble a schematic. City woman Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) rents a cottage in the wilds of Connecticut, planning to write her first novel. Four locals take note of her good looks. One, Matthew, suffers from mental retardation, but the other three-- Stanley, Andy and Johnny-- bully him into joining their plan to rape Jennifer. The retarded man withholds himself from the assaults on Jennifer for a time, but after seeing her repeatedly turned into a sex object, he joins in. After leaving Jennifer in her rented cottage beaten and abused, the three principal rapists tell Matthew to kill Jennifer off. He fails to do so, and some time later, she retaliates by killing all four of them, often by explicitly gory methods. 

(Side-note: before writing this essay, I changed my trope "bizarre crimes" to "bizarre crimes and crimefighting." Like a handful of other films reviewed here, at times the person responding to a mundane crime is the one who comes up with a remarkable counter-measure.)

Zarchi, as I said, assumes an Olympian perspective at all times, whether his camera's surveying the apparent peacefulness of a forest glade or the sight of Jennifer being repeated beaten and ravished. To say the least, this is not the way most films approach the subject of rape, which is often used simply to drive the narrative to levels of new excitement. Zarchi's camera is never excited, even when the viewer sees the culmination of his expectations-- partly because Zarchi delays the reaction so greatly. After Jennifer executes Matthew and hides his body, she suckers Johnny into thinking she really liked the rough stuff, and seduces him until he's totally lowered his guard and leaves himself open to her most "colorful" revenge. After all four men are dead, Zarchi ends the film with Jennifer driving the men's speedboat across a lake, her face strangely bereft of all affect, even satisfaction.

While much criticism of the film has centered on the debate about the way women are represented in cinema, my reason for giving the film a "good" rating has more to do with Zarchi's opposition between the moneyed denizens of the big city and the subsistence-level inhabitants of the bucolic towns. Zarchi's take on the affect-less mental attitude of the rape-survivor also plays a role in my rating.



Due in part to the continued re-examinations of the 1978 film, both a remake and two sequels were made, sometimes with or without Zarchi's participation. DEJA VU is a direct sequel to the first film, portraying events over forty years later, with Zarchi once more assuming sole writer-director duties.

Jennifer Hills (Keaton) has fulfilled her desire to become a famous writer thanks to her ordeal. After being exonerated of the crimes of slaying her rapists, she writes a book about it and becomes a rape counselor (though she's never seen plying her profession). She has an adult daughter, Christy (Jamie Bernadette), who may possibly be the offspring of Johnny's seed. 

It's not clear what business brings Jennifer and Christy to a restaurant-rendezvous close to the Connecticut wilderness where Jennifer had her ordeal. Whatever the reason, it's a mistake, for some family-members of Jennifer's victims manage to set a trap for Jennifer and succeed in catching Christy as well. The principal assailants-- discounting a few non-active allies-- are Becky, wife of Johnny (who bitterly resents Jennifer having enjoyed her husband before killing him), Herman father of Matthew, and a brother of Stanley and cousin of Andy. All of them are half-insane and willing to slaughter both women for revenge, but only after inflicting on Jennifer a "Tom and Jerry" chase.

One can see Zarchi trying to capture the Olympian view of his original work, but he's only intermittently successful, and more often he seems to be channeling the comic grand opera of Tobe Hooper instead. Zarchi does make a valiant attempt to keep the viewer guessing-- I for one (remember SPOILERS?) did not guess that Becky would actually succeed in killing off Jennifer. After the death of the original mistress of vengeance, Christy too is subjected to many of the same violence and humiliations suffered by her mother, to say nothing of the shock of finding her mother's murdered corpse. 

There are some interesting psychological permutations here. Christy has been a fashion model since an early age, meaning that on some level she's been "selling" her sexuality in a way analogous to what the rubes of the first film think of big-city women. Becky's evil clan is also full of culture-envy about city-folk, with Kevin in particular projecting his own psyche as he claims Jennifer was turned on by her killings. But Zarchi tries to stretch the material out far beyond its meager capacity. Herman, playing an analogue to Matthew in that he's egged on into the others' perfidy, has a quasi-religious reaction to all of the violence-- though of course it's too little too late. Becky is among the last to die, but I must admit Zarchi found an interesting way to off her as well.

The film's 148 minutes long, nearly an hour longer than the original GRAVE. Maybe Zarchi felt this was likely to be his only chance to top himself. He didn't succeed, but I can think of far worse attempts to one-up a famous flick (like, say, all the Disney STAR WARS sequels).