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Tommaso

Tommaso

directed by Abel Ferrara

starring Willem Dafoe, Anna Ferrara, Christina Chiriac

In one of the more bizarre twists to occur to me as a critic, I am forced to reference two songs released by The Monkees in 1967 in back-to-back reviews. Just a few days ago, I stepped outside of my normal comfort zone of critiquing film for Ink 19 to share my thoughts on the latest offering from Sparks, A Steady Drip, Drip Drip, which includes the wonderfully poppy cut, “Lawnmower.” It was there where I referenced, “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” the Monkees-sung, Goffin-King hit, which like the aforementioned Sparks track, is a bouncy tongue-in-cheek ode to suburban splendor with a healthy dose of sarcasm. Astonishingly on that same Monkees-wavelength, director Abel Ferrara’s film Tommaso, his latest effort with frequent collaborator actor Willem Dafoe, made my thoughts turn to the Neil Diamond-penned, Monkees classic, “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.” For those who are familiar with Ferrara’s filmography, you might be wondering how this mental phenomenon could’ve happened in me, and I believe that my cognitions lie somewhere in the realistic design Ferrara implemented in Tommaso that culminates in a constant tension and moments of vitriol between the titular character (played by Dafoe) and his wife Nikki (played by Ferrara’s real-life spouse, Christina Chiriac). It is these ugly verbal moments that mirror Diamond’s iconic song the most, where more than one partner must share the blame for their collapsing relationship. The major difference between Tommaso and Diamond’s song is that you never entirely know whether the culprit sparking the conflict that transpires in the film is Tomasso, Nikki, or the remnants of Ferrara’s and Dafoe’s personal and artistic pasts being dredged up through the experimental process that formed their characters.

For Abel Ferrara, this new merging of memory, performance, and process with fiction comes on the heels of his last five years of filmmaking, which largely saw the director creating feature-length documentaries on subjects ranging from a portrait of the eclectic neighborhood in Rome that Ferrara currently shares with Dafoe (2017’s Piazza Vittorio), to a look at the vital and raw 1970s filmmaking that was spawned from Ferrara’s hometown of New York City (2019’s The Projectionist). Both filmmaking and Rome are at play in Tommaso, which has a Dafoe/Ferrara hybrid, an American director conceptualizing a film entitled Siberia (yes, that same fiction feature that Ferrara has been working on for the last few years) whilst at first living seemingly contently with his much younger wife Nikki and their toddler daughter Anna (Ferrara’s actual offspring) in the Eternal City. Tomasso goes about his days sharing his parental duties with Nikki, taking Italian language classes to allow him to assimilate into his new country, while running acting workshops for young thespians. But during multiple evenings, Tommaso confronts the grim moments that occurred during his years of substance abuse at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings where he appears to have cathartic releases while sharing his experiences and listening to others recall their issues with addiction.

As night turns back into day over and over again and Tommaso voices more of his demons, he continues going about his routine, but concerning images start to appear around him, and he rapidly magnifies them in his mind, causing him to lose control of his emotions. Perhaps his moments of anger are due to the witnessing of actual harbingers that threaten his family, but as we the viewer question whether these precarious moments are real or not, there is one thing that is certain: Tommaso’s actions reveal a man who is falling deeply into destructive behavioral patterns which could potentially cause irreparable harm to the family he loves.

It would be easy to assume that Dafoe is merely a stand in for Ferrara, given the casting of Ferrara’s own wife and child and that our protagonist is a film director, but the constant references throughout the film that harken back to Dafoe’s own career, most notably one scene involving Dafoe’s role as Jesus in Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, indicates that perhaps this character study is more than just the case of an actor portraying the verité of his director’s life: it is a psychological exploration of the actor and director relationship and the collaborative, but possibly personally destructive, process of storytelling. Furthermore, Tommaso directly references one of Ferrara’s previous efforts, a feature that also blurs the line between fact and fiction and deals with certain facets from his own career, 1993’s Dangerous Game, where Ferrara tabbed Harvey Keitel, who starred in Ferrara’s iconic Bad Lieutenant, to take on the role of maniacal director Eddie Israel, who destroys his own family when he obsesses over the underlying truth in a story he is filming about a couple’s disintegrating marriage.

Like in Dangerous Game, Ferrara also presents a film within a film in Tommaso by incorporating ruminations on Siberia, the film that is consuming Tommaso and likely Ferrara himself. The frustrations from this rumored overdue production from Ferrara are brought up in conversations between Tommaso and Nikki and through storyboards that he shows her, and us the viewers, on multiple occasions. Siberia‘s focus on a rugged main character, one who battles the savage elements of nature, suggests to us that Tommaso may be having doubts about his own masculinity due to his advanced age, which contributes to his mistrust towards Nikki. In addition, as we see Nikki’s face appear as inspiration in the production materials, we begin to suspect that his lack of trust in her as his wife may also be a projection of his lack of confidence in his own artistic abilities to finish his project, which adds an additional layer of tension to the narrative and to their imploding relationship.

As Ferrara expounded upon during interviews when Tommaso premiered at Cannes in 2019, the techniques used for this film were greatly informed by the director’s recent documentary work. Given the improvisational methods incorporated here, cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger, who has worked extensively with Werner Herzog since 1995, having lensed notable Herzog documentaries such as Grizzly Man, Into the Abyss, and Encounters at the End of the World, was brought in to film in a documentary style in order to maintain the feeling of realism and to capture honest reactions from the actors. One key scene that exemplifies the benefits of this production approach occurs when Dafoe’s Tommaso is sent downstairs from his apartment to engage with a homeless man who is howling outside of his window. According to Ferrara and Dafoe in interviews, that scene was virtually unscripted, with Dafoe meeting the offending character/actor for the first time during their filmed confrontation when they were both forced to improvise the moment.

Though distinctly different in terms of their respective production processes, Tommaso in many ways brings to mind Jafar Panahi’s superlative 2018 film, 3 Faces, a film that also incorporates fiction and non-fiction elements to focus in on both a filmmaker’s distinct personal dilemmas in conjunction with the shift in attitudes in that society while continuing the contemporary trend of examining the significance of traditional narrative storytelling. With Tommaso, Ferrara has clearly gained much from his recent forays into documentary film, and the final result is a vital and contrasting type of intense living portraiture of two creative people whose lives have become intertwined geographically, personally, and artistically.

Tommaso will be available beginning on June 5th through multiple local theaters’ virtual screening rooms, with half of the ticket proceedings going directly to the available theater of your choice.

www.kinolorber.com/film/tommaso

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Screen Reviews

The Passion of Darkly Noon

The Passion of Darkly Noon

directed by Philip Ridley

starring Brendan Fraser, Ashley Judd, Viggo Mortensen

Arrow Video

Early on The Passion of Darkly Noon appears to be a pretty standard love triangle thriller between a sweat-glistened, honey blonde, Callie (Ashley Judd), her mute coffin maker boyfriend, Clay (Viggo Mortenson), and a stuttering cultist with the unlikely name of Darkly Moon (Brendan Fraser}. Standard that is until the giant shoe arrives.

Darkly Noon is found dehydrated wandering in the forest and is taken to the remote home of Callie and Clay to recuperate. Callie nurses Darkly back to health while waiting on her boyfriend Clay to return. Darkly reveals that he is a child of religious extremists who “live by the bible”. His name was chosen by sticking a pin in a bible which landed on 1 Corinthians; Chapter 13 “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, darkly, but then face to face.” The passage explains much about his character with little exposition.

As Darkly stays on he clearly disapproves of Callie and her lifestyle but still becomes rapidly infatuated with her. The situation gets more complex and intense when Clay returns, escalating Darkly’s desire for Callie, his jealousy of Clay, and how this tests the tenets of his faith which also includes mortification of the flesh.

When Darkly Noon spies a giant silver shoe floating in the lake, things take a dark and increasingly surreal turn. He meets up with Clay’s mother Roxy, Grace Zabriskie (Twin Peaks), who lives in an Airstream trailer in the words and informs Darkly that Callie is a witch. This revelation makes perfect sense in Darkly’s broken world view, sending him into a dangerous downward spiral until he becomes god’s instrument for vengeance resulting in a bloody, fiery, and ultimately tragic, climax. The denouement featuring lost circus performers and a repeated proverb about getting lost in the woods offers explanations for the events that raise far more questions than it answers.

The video presentation of The Passion of Darkly Noon is tremendous. The film is gorgeous, but tricky as the entire film is incredibly high contrast with blown out highlights and a deep golden yellow palette to the daylight scenes that initially look in error but soon becomes evident it is an artful choice that adds to the physical and metaphorical heat of the film.

Arrow Video has assembled a solid batch of extras to augment the viewing of The Passion of Darkly Noon including a director’s commentary, interviews with the film’s composer, Nick Bicât, and editor, Les Healey, as well as a short documentary on Philip Ridley and more.

Eyes of Fire features cinematographer John de Borman discussing his work and collaboration with director Philip Ridley which included some non-traditional approaches including choosing shooting locations based on how the music composed for the movie sounded in various spots. He also discusses some of the renegade nature of the shoot including the danger of shooting on sets engulfed in barely contained fire for the climax of the film.

After decades in exile, Philip Ridley’s haunting and surreal film is getting a second chance at finding an audience. It is a film that feels much more at home with today’s art house horror than it did in the mid-’90s.

www.arrowvideo.com

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Screen Reviews

Dennis and Lois

Dennis and Lois

directed by Chris Cassidy

starring Dennis Anderson, Lois Kahlert

Siren’s Call

Hundreds of music documentaries are produced each year, giving Henry Rollins, Dave Grohl, and Questlove valuable opportunities to express their opinions. Most of these documentaries are devoted to performers, record labels or producers, with very few focusing on actual music fans. Maybe because music nerds don’t want to spend an hour and a half watching themselves on screen, maybe it’s because fans aren’t as interesting as musicians.

But occasionally the fans can be as interesting as the performers, as with Dennis and Lois, a new documentary focusing on a 60 plus couple who have seen over 100,000 concerts and still keep going.

Dennis and Lois’ second date was watching the Ramones at CBGBs. They quickly fell in love with each other and the band and became rabid fans, doing things like driving 9 hours to Pennsylvania to watch a 20 minute set. Soon they were hanging with the band and selling merch at concerts.

Their openness and hospitality led them to open their home to touring bands, and they befriended a ton of bands – the Damned, Nick Cave, New Order, the Undertones – just about everyone you might have put on a mix tape back in the ’80s or ’90s. Getting a song titled after them by Happy Mondays put them in the strange position of being more famous as fans than some of the bands they went to see.

Dennis and Lois are a charismatic, fascinating couple, and viewers are sucked into their obsessive world. Never married, the couples’ apartment is jammed with memorabilia, collections, and artifacts, giving a great compliment to the couples’ stories. You want to know these people and find out what makes them tick – why do they continue their rabid fandom when many dedicated music fans slow down in their 30s or 40s?

The answer lies in Dennis’ opening quote “That half hour that they’re on stage every night, there’s energy then..it’s just so uplifting…what kind of person made this music?”

This love of music shine through the documentary, and it serves as an inspiration to fans – keep your obsessions, nourish your interests. If Dennis and Lois can do it, so can you.

www.dennisandlois.com

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Screen Reviews

Vitalina Varela

Vitalina Varela

directed by Pedro Costa

starring Vitalina Varela, Ventura

OPTEC

Emerging from a plane that has landed on a desolate airstrip in Lisbon is a singular faceless figure walking barefoot. The plane has traveled from Cape Verde to bring a woman to attend the funeral of her husband, Joaquim, who had left their homeland to work as a bricklayer decades earlier and who had promised, in vain, to purchase the woman a plane ticket so that one day they could be together. The woman walks from the airstrip, like a disembodied soul herself, through the darkened, maze-like streets and alleys of the impoverished Lisbon suburb of Cova da Moura to reach the hovel that was as much a false promise from her husband as it was a disappointing reality. The woman is the eponymous Vitalina Varela, and if this scenario sounds familiar, Vitalina once recounted these events in the early moments of Pedro Costa’s previous feature, Horse Money, and after six years, Costa, with Vitalina’s and the townspeople’s assistance, has reconstructed this heartbreaking moment from her life with a filmmaking process and visual style that has defined his particular approach to non-fiction storytelling.

The daylight, which is a rare sight in most of Costa’s work, is almost completely absent in Vitalina Varela, with only small strands of light filtering in through the fissures of doorways in Joaquim’s shack, which amplify the darkness and couple with the nearby faint sounds of people, radios, and cars to suggest to Vitalina that the home and surrounding neighborhood that belonged to Joaquim, now exclude her in his absence. Left alone with no one to comfort her, Vitalina rifles through the photographs of Joaquim, and she begins an investigation into her own past with him, wondering whether those days were truly ones with any hope for a positive future. Seeing the despair in the faces of Joachim’s colleagues and neighbors and the abandoned construction efforts in the house, Vitalina looks to the improvised memorial she has built for Joaquim in his living room and yells out to his spirit in search of any reason why he left her and Cape Verde behind to surrender to this desperate, crestfallen place.

As Vitalina is now forever tied to Pedro Costa’s work, so is, since his 2006 film, Colossal Youth, the presence of the actor Ventura, who in recent years has been in ailing health, and his physical deterioration is as much emotionally woven into the mesh of the painful narrative of the film as Vitalina’s recollection of her memories and mourning. Here, the frail Ventura portrays the local priest who offers services in his empty, decrepit church and who is one of the few to extend to Vitalina any semblance of real communication. Ventura becomes not only a connection to Christ and a sign that the townspeople have abandoned their faith during hardship, but also a metaphorical guide to Vitalina as he helps her understand how her husband had become intertwined into the history of exploitation of the people who traveled to this part of Lisbon aspiring for a better life. “Men were born out of the shadows,” explains Ventura, and as the film progresses and the reality of Joaquim’s dilemma grows more tangible to Vitalina, the endless darkness that has engulfed each frame throughout the film becomes not only emblematic of Vitalina’s sorrow, but also of Joaquim’s struggles and the pain and futility inside of all the residents of Cova da Moura.

Throughout Vitalina Varela, Costa continuously reinforces the brilliance of his established methodology: his distinctive audiovisual compositions exemplify and revitalize the longstanding tradition of portraiture. A good portrait artist captures the essence of reality, adds a layer of fiction/bias on it through perception/perspective and preserves the combination across time. As a result of his years of entrenchment in the physical edifices and lives of the people of Cova da Moura with his small crew, Costa is able to assemble an intimate, deeply layered portrait of Vitalina Varela from the living pictures captured by cinematographer Leonardo Simões’ masterful eye and the keen sound development by João Gazua and Hugo Leitão. And, due to Costa’s intuitive, time intensive construction of docufiction, we, the viewers, feel a heightened level of empathy for Vitalina that few filmed portraits have ever been able to accomplish for their protagonists.

In Vitalina Varela, Costa’s first film to feature a female lead since 2000’s Vanda’s Room, we witness the reconciliation of decades of sadness through Vitalina’s immersion into the oppressed community that once devoured her husband’s hope, and by this widow’s placement there as a body of maternal strength and survival to the men who suffered with him, Vitalina can ascend past her own sorrow by imbibing these men with the spirit of all of the women whom they also left behind.

Vitalina Varela is available now through multiple local theaters’ virtual screening rooms, with half of the ticket proceedings going directly to the available theater of your choice.

grasshopperfilm.com/film/vitalina-varela

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Screen Reviews

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

directed by James Signorelli

starring Cassandra Peterson, Edie McClurg

Arrow Video

Elvira is easily the most famous TV horror host of all time. Her fame has grown so far beyond the humble origins of local TV that she has become more brand than person, to the point there was actually a TV reality show to find the new Elvira. Of course it was a fool’s errand as no one could possibly replace Cassandra Peterson, who took a bad black wig and comic timing and turned it into a 40 year career. In 1988 after years of making wise cracks about bad movies on TV it was time for Peterson to make one herself and so the movie Elvira, Mistress of the Dark was unleashed. No one wanted to see Elvira on the big screen and the movie cratered at the box office, but fittingly through home video and cable TV the film found its audience and throughout the 1990’s seemed to be on as much as Gilligan’s Island re-runs.

The film’s plot is standard boilerplate. Elvira loses her job and needs money to start her Vegas stage show when she conveniently gets a telegram informing her that her great-aunt Morgana (Casandra Peterson in a double role almost unrecognizable in her natural curly red hair) has died. So Elvira packs up the macabre-mobile and heads across the country to the sleepy hamlet of Falwell, Massachusetts. In just a few day Elvira gets an inheritance, falls in love, turns the kids in the town on to the joys of bad movies, and nearly gets herself burned at the stake for her troubles. Honestly if you are watching an Elvira movie for the plot, you’re doing it wrong. The whole affair is just an excuse for Cassandra Peterson to flex her, uh, talent. The movie is overstuffed with enough double entendres, boob jokes, puns, boob puns, and sight gags (usually involving boobs) to delight the inner 12 year old boy lurking inside all of u, not to mention the bored teenage boys of Falwell. Cassandra Peterson’s charm and timing is what raises this claptrap into something quite enjoyable, even if you can smell how bad it is a mile away.

Arrow delivers the goods with this Blu-Ray that tightly squeezes in a huge amount of extras to satisfy Movie Macabre fans. Too Macabre: The Making of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is a feature length documentary on the making of the film. The film is covered with three audio commentary tracks from the director, writer, actress Edie McClurg, and of course, Elvira herself, Cassandra Peterson. The first run of the disc also features a lush booklet featuring writing by Kat Ellinger and Patterson Lundquist.

www.arrowvideo.com

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Screen Reviews

Deadly Manor

Deadly Manor

directed by Jose Ramon Larraz

starring Jennifer Delora, Claudia Franjul, Clark Tufts

Arrow Video

In the late ’80s the money dried up in the European film market forcing Eurocult directors to work in America within the framework of American slashers, but their less obvious, plot driven impulses made their American films a bit off model. José Ramón Larraz’s Deadly Manor avoids the overly jokey approach that marred so many horror films of the last ’80s in the wake of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. This film had to be a jolt to slasher fans looking for a by the numbers teen slasher movie and instead getting a deliberate inversion of slasher tropes by mixing in gothic horror elements and a refusal by the director to stay with the formula.

A group of college students are lost in upstate New York trying to get to the lake for a weekend camping trip. The pick up a hitchhiker who says he can help get them to their destination. As daylight starts to wane they come across an big abandoned house in the woods and they decide it would be safer to stay there for the night rather than continuing on in the dark. The house has a huge altar with a wrecked car in the front of the house. The gang decide it is weird but not a deal breaker, nor are the coffins in the basement, or black and white nude photos of the same woman plastering the walls of the house, or the scrapbook of dead bodies, or the collection of scalps, so they settle down for the night. During the night things get weirder and eventually the body count begins and the whole thing just goes full on crazy town including a finale where the ghost woman turns out to be alive, disfigured from the car crash memorialized on the altar, with her husband helping her kill teens and bikers, until the walls of the house burst open spilling forth corpses in front of our suitably traumatized final girl.

The Blu-Ray for Deadly Manor boasts a striking 2K restoration from original film elements and a respectable slate of extras including a commentary, interviews, and a trailer from a VHS release when the film was re-titled Savage Lust.

In Making a Killing producer Brian Smedley-Aston recalls some anecdotes from making the film with his old friend and collaborator Jose Ramon Larraz. It doesn’t add a lot to the Deadly Manor experience, but he does discuss how the how the used for shoot was scheduled for demolition, so they were able to burn the house and that footage didn’t make it into the final film.

Daughters of Darkness podcast hosts and frequent writing and commentary cohorts Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan sound off on the audio commentary. In their usual meticulous yet fluid style they discuss Larraz’s defiance of genre norms by mixing tropes to keep viewers expectations off kilter, Larraz’s focus on the perverse aspects of female sexuality and his use of female antagonists in his late career slashers, and they compare the more mature approach to sexuality with European directors compared to the prudish and juvenile approach in so many American slashers. The pair are continually bemused by the characters being so nonchalant considering the levels of weirdness surrounding them in an abandoned house covered in nude photos of a woman, coffins in the basement, and a collection of human scalps. Kat reads an excerpt from the local paper during the production about the house used in the film. It was actually an old family home that had been sold to developers and was scheduled for demolition so the old women who lived in the house allowed Deadly Manor to make the film, while they still lived in the house and they became set moms for the cast and crew passing out sandwiches and sweaters. The upside to this track is it helps make some sense of the movie and may uncover some of the method behind the considerable madness. Deadly Manor is a film that has been mostly forgotten since its brief VHS shelf life decades ago. This release allows the film to be seen and reevaluated under pristine conditions which it was never afforded during its initial home video release.

www.arrowvideo.com

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Screen Reviews

16 Bars

16 Bars

directed by Sam Bathrick

starring Todd ‘Speech’ Thomas

MVD Entertainment, Lightyear Entertainment

This is my second Richmond, VA documentary in a year, and neither has been terribly cheery. Tonight we consider an innovative prison social help program in that city’s jails. Lead by Todd “Speech” Thomas (Arrested Development), this innovative project takes some of the most promising prisoners and allows them to record music, write their own songs, and produce them. The jail has a nice enough recording studio, and Speech shows up once a week to help with encouragement and technical advice. It’s not Duran Duran quality, but it’s good enough for this rough hewn set of offenders.

This doc begins with Speech retelling the story of how he approached them and got the program rolling. Then we cycle between life in the prison and, time in the studio and life on the street. Most of these men are drug addicts with few skills and a background of petty crimes, addiction and prostitution. We hear a tale of a young man offered a choice by his father: clean up and move in with his mother and get a regular job or remain with dad and prep for a life of drugs and jail and early death. His decision was easy, and destructive. As we peer into life in a medium security prison, we cheer for a hope of “rehabilitation” and counselors struggle to hold these men barley hanging on to some sort of rule system.

Some make it out and some don’t. The jail is bright and sterile, and the day room brims with blue jump suits and amazing tattoos. The music feel heartfelt even if technically weak. But Speech remains positive and hopeful, and he genuinely wants to improve things. The tone here is honest: most of these men will remain in and out of the clink all of their lives until they die of an overdose or a bullet. We tread carefully though these gritty tales, laid out piece by piece and leading to ambiguous endings. Some of these men may make it out of “the life”, most won’t. But if Speech save a single man, it’s worth it. Their stories sound raw and bloody, and here we observe them, laid out for our observation.

www.mvdentertainment.com

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Screen Reviews

The Douglas MacLean Collection

The Douglas MacLean Collection

directed by William A. Seiter, Jack Nelson

starring Douglas MacLean, Margaret Loomis

Undercrank Productions

Douglas MacLean is today a forgotten name from the mostly forgotten era of silent movies, but in his time he was a popular movie star with strong comedy chops. His films from the Ince Studios tended to a slightly more sophisticated palate than what we generally think of silent comedies. MacLean bypassed the high powered slapstick of Mack Sennett Studio stars like Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, or the Keystone Cops for a style that depended more on quick wit than thrown pies. MacLean also realized the power in not alway being the funniest person in the scene and allowing his supporting players to steal some of the biggest laughs. MacLean is a boyishly handsome and endlessly charismatic everyman. His characters are instantly likable and relatable, due in no small part to his much ballyhooed “million dollar smile”.

Bell Boy 13

Poor Harry (MacLean) all he wants to do is marry his actress girlfriend Kitty (Margaret Loomis) and live happily ever after on his rich uncle’s dime. His uncle has arranged a more sensible (if far less appealing) bride for young Harry. Harry does the only sensible thing and escapes to Philadelphia to elope with Kitty. His plans are shattered when Kitty decides that elopiing is a bad idea and will only marry Harry with his uncle’s blessing. Penniless and scorned Harry takes a job as a bell boy in the hotel where Kitty is staying in Philadelphia. Misdirections and misunderstandings ensue when Harry’s uncle also arrives at the hotel. Harry organizes a union of the hotel staff and threatens a revolt that is only called off when rich Uncle Ellrey sees the light and gives his blessing to Harry and Kitty.

The film is a jam-packed 45 minute rush that also contains a weird B story/runner about a mysterious man trying to steal bonds from Harry. The whole affair borders on anarchy at times and is aided by MacLean’s excellent timing and precision direction from prolific director William A. Seiter who directed films and television from 1915 until the late 1950s. Seiter and MacLean do a great job building the lunacy until the anarchy of the finale.

One a Minute

Drawing its title from the infamous non-quote from P.T. Barnum about a sucker born every minute, this whip smart comedy blends rom-com tropes with social satire. Although made in 1921 its target of satirizing patent medicines still works today as the marketing has gotten slicker, but people are still clamoring and being duped by promises of any number of magic remedies. Jimmy Knight (MacLean) is a young lawyer on his way back home to Centerville, Iowa to take over his late father’s failing pharmacy. On the way he has a meet cute with Miriam Rogers (Marian De Beck) who is naturally the daughter of Silas P. Rogers, the owner of the fancy new drug store trying to put the Knight family’s operation out of business. Jimmy decides not to sell out and sets out to create a cure all panacea drug. His placebo, which he hawks as Knights 99 and is seemingly curing all the towns ills while driving his rival mad as he keeps offering Jimmy more ridiculous sums of money for his discovery. Eventually the whole affair ends up in a hilarious court trial. Prolific character actor Carl Stockdale nearly steals the movie as a stone faced judge providing literal laugh out loud reaction shots to the absurdity afoot in his court.

The plot is simple and has been done in countless movies and TV shows in the past hundred years, but One a Minute remains an endearing comedy full of hearty belly laughs. It doesn’t lean too hard into corn pone humor or making fun of the hicks, or minorities for that matter. There is a touch of racial humor that doesn’t come off as racist or mean. There is a sight gag where a Chinese character’s words are displayed in a massive string of kanji title cards to eventually be translated and “Yes”. This gag would later be replicated in Chuck Jones’s 1943 Bugs Bunny cartoon Wackiki Wabbit.

In addition to the double feature of Douglass Maclean features, the DVD also contains A Trip Through the World’s Greatest Motion Picture Studios (1920), a contemporary short feature showing Thomas H. Ince Studios. Sadly today Ince is best remembered for his mysterious death, possibly murder, involving William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies, and Charlie Chaplin on board Hearst’s yacht in 1924.

Since 90% of all silent movies have been lost to time, be it through accident, neglect, or willful destruction, it should come as no surprise that Douglass MacLean’s filmography is scarce. Two of his features – Bell Boy 13 and One a Minute have complete prints that have been restored and preserved by the Library of Congress. Bell Boy 13 survives on a single 16mm version and One a Minute in 35mm and both films have been given 2k transfers and released with original organ scores by Ben Model on DVD from Undercrank Productions. These films look so good it is nearly inconceivable they are nearly a hundred years old.

www.undercrankproductions.com

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Screen Reviews

Edge of the Axe

Edge of the Axe

directed by Jose Ramon Larraz

starring Barton Faulks, Christina Marie Lane, Page Mosely

Arrow Video

Eurocult legend Jose Ramon Larraz made his name with a string of sex fueled shockers in the 1970s. Films like Vampyres, Whirlpool, and The House That Vanished became classics and solidified his place in the hearts of fans of the macabre. Larraz’s work continued throughout the 1980s with varying results. 1988’s Edge of the Axe came at the end, not only of Larraz;’s directorial career, but also the end of the slasher cycle. The film isn’t a grand example of Larraz’s directorial prowess or represents the best of slasher films, but is still a worthwhile curiosity for fans of the Spanish director and slasher film completists.

Edge of the Axe has been rescued by Arrow Video with a new Blu-ray that gives the movie its first legitimate home video release since a predictably dire VHS in 1988. In addition to a tremendous transfer upgrade the disc has several fan friendly extras and two audio commentary tracks.

Jose Ramon Larraz opens his slasher with a moody giallo murder set piece set in a drive thru car wash. The claustrophobic sequence is reminiscent of the ferry boat attack in New York Ripper minus Lucio Fulci’s joyous excesses. All of the murders in Edge of the Axe are fun and well-staged, the issue with the film comes in the connective tissue, The plot tends to get in the way of the story and is just missing the Larraz kink that drove his earlier work, but is pretty much on par with the bulk of late ’80s horror content. There is some nascent internet tech on display in what is essentially a giallo in a small California lake town. The film’s plot and characters are perfunctory and forgettable, but Larraz delivers on the kills with several visceral axe attacks sure to please even jaded gore hounds.

Arrow Video has produced two audio commentary tracks for Edge of the Axe. The first trace features actor Barton Faulks and is moderated by First Blood podcast host Matt Rosenblatt, who was also a student of Faulks, who pursued a career teaching high school drama following the end of his film acting career about a year after Edge of the Axe. The track may be short of polish, but Faulks is upbeat with plenty of fun stories about making the film.

The hysteria continues with a second audio commentary track. Justin Kerswell, Joseph Henson, Erik Threlfall, and Nathan Johnson are on hand to essentially do their podcast while you watch the movie. They provided a comparable track on Arrow Video’s release of the Australian killer kids classic, Bloody Birthday, so if you saw that you know what they’re about. If you are uninitiated, it may take a few minutes to get into their wavelength, but once they all settle in the track gets lively and is a nice mix of an expert and fan tracks.

Pain in Spain features special effects artist Colin Arthur pulling back the curtain on his work going into great detail on how he makes his screen weapon, specifically the axes for Edge of the Axe so they look real and are not dangerous for the actors so the on screen attacks can be less choreographed adding an extra layer of realism. He also describes how he did some of the gore effects for the film, while bemoaning the bits that got cut out of the finished film. He also goes in depth on how the killer’s mask was created and it is far more involved than you would think a guy in a mask would be. This short feature is a must for FX gear heads.

Although the film’s release may be aimed mainly at Larraz and slasher completists it is still a lavish production of a disc that could easily have made fans happy with inclusion on a cheap multi disc pack. It is a credit to everyone involved that this bit of horror curiosity still gets the A-level treatment.

www.arrowvideo.com

Categories
Screen Reviews

House by the Cemetery

House by the Cemetery

directed by Lucio Fulci

starring Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Ania Pieroni, Giovanni Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Dagmar Lassander

Blue Underground

To a certain breed of film fan, Lucio Fulci is as revered a name as Hitchcock or Welles. Sure, Welles and Hitchcock’s films might have featured more comprehensible plots, better acting, and bigger budgets, but these so-called masters never filmed a zombie fighting a shark, so it’s about even.

Fulci’s 1981’s House by the Cemetery might not have shark fighting zombies, it’s still a deliciously gory and over-the-top entry to the director’s canon. The story focuses on the Boyle family moving from New York City to a house in a small town in New England so the father can better conduct his research on a certain Dr. Freudenstein, a mad doctor rumored to have conducted gruesome human experiments, experiments so grisly that the previous researcher (and resident of the house the Boyles now live in) killed his wife and himself in the house. Luckily, son Bob has a protector in the form of a ghost girl who wants to intervene.

Fulci was on somewhat of a streak at the time, coming off a string of gore classics including City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, and Zombi. House by the Cemetery might be a bit more plot heavy than these films, but there are still stretches of dream-like logic that first-timers might not appreciate. Of course, there is gore. limbs are sliced, heads are decapitated, knives go thorough throats, and maggot-filled wounds are all lovingly shown. Part gothic horror story, part Lovecraftian tale, with bits of influence from The Shining, Poltergeist, and The Amityville Horror, House by the Cemetery is a glorious dream-like splatter film that has never looked better than in Blue Underground’s new three disc set. The picture is crisp and clear, leaps and bounds over previous editions, and miles away from the grimy VHS copies that many viewers first saw it on. The second disc is loaded with deleted scenes and interviews with just about everyone connected with the movie. If that weren’t enough, the third disc includes Fabio Frizzi’s complete piano-and synthesizer heavy score, which is sufficiently creepy enough to make it worth picking up on it’s own.

Sophisticated gorehounds will no doubt appreciate the care that has been put into this release, and while newcomers might have some plot and pacing questions, it would be a good example of Italian horror of just what the fuss was about ’80s Italian horror.