TV Spot: The Avengers “Head Count”

We’re just a month away from the release of Marvel Studios’ long-awaited superhero team action film The Avengers. It’s a film that’s been many years in the making with five other Marvel Studio films released prior to it introducing the many characters who will form the ensemble for this project.

It’s not going to be much of a surprise to see many tv spots and on-line releases of 30-second clips to help hype a film that needs no more hyping. While it seems all these incoming tv spots just rehash the same scenes from the several trailers already released once in awhile we see a quick new scene that should help excite the fan-base even more. This time around that new scene is one of the Hulk himself taking on a couple of Loki’s alien army. All that is missing is the Hulk saying “Hulk Smash!” as he simply smashes one of these alien bastards.

The Avengers (retitled Avengers Assemble to differentiate itself from the awful The Avengers film adaptation of the British spy tv series of the same name) will have it’s world premiere on April 11, 2012 in Hollywood with a general wide release on May 4, 2012 starting in the US.

Grindhouse Classics : “Blood Feast”

Tell me, friends, have you ever had — AN EGYPTIAN FEAST?

It doesn’t matter how you answer that question, the important thing is in how you ask it. You’ve gotta get all bug-eyed, swerve your neck outwards like a crane, and pause dramatically between  “hand” and “an” before raising your voice for the final three words. Then you, too, can look and sound just like Mal Arnold, the decidedly non-Egyptian “actor” (and I use that term loosely) who plays Egyptian serial-killer/caterer in director Herschell Gordon Lewis’ 1963 classic Blood Feast, and know that you’ll be faithfully imitating a slice of movie history.

And no, I don’t take the phrase “movie history” lightly — but in this case it most certainly applies. Which is not to say that Blood Feast is in any way a good film — heck, in many respects it isn’t even really a competent one (wait, didn’t I just refer to it as a “classic?” — bear with me, all will be explained), but for what it did, and when it did it, well — like it or not, it really does represent a couple of important firsts.

And speaking of firsts — first, a bit of a plot rundown, not that such a thing is really all that necessary. A nubile young female strips down to take a bath while listening to a radio report about a series of brutal, unsolved killings in her area. She gets naked, opens up a book called “Weird Ancient Religious Rituals,” lays back in the tub —and is hacked to pieces by a freaky-looking intruder of vaguely foreign appearance, who leaves what’s left of her to  slowly bleed to death while he makes of with her amputated leg.

Cut to the catering shop of one Fuad Ramses, the killer from the previous scene (no mystery here folks, sorry!), who is conversing with a customer, one Mrs. Dorothy Fremont (Lyn Bolton), who is planning a birthday dinner for her daughter, Suzette (eventual 1963 Playboy Playmate of the Year Connie Mason). Ramses suggests an Egyptian feast (hence our opening quote), and Mrs. Fremont agrees that would be a lovely idea given that her daughter is taking a night class on Egyptian history and culture.

The cops, led by one Detective Pete Thornton ( Lewis regular William Kerwin, operating here under the pseudonym of “Thomas Wood”) are hot on the trail of the killer, of course. We’re informed that the “entire force” is working around the clock on tracking the psychopath down, and even though said “entire force” apparently consists of only two guys, they follow the leads they’ve got pretty well, and those leads —- uhhmmmm — lead them to the aforementioned Egyptian studies night class, where our good detective takes an instant liking to our Ms. Fremont The Younger. Of course, in between trying to make time with the wealthy young socialite, he’s still got a case to work, and a couple more bodies (of the female variety, naturally) pile up, one with its tongue removed, the other sans its brain (both shown in lovingly agonizing detail by Lewis, with the tongue scene especially being a standout for hardened gore-hounds to this day — and yes, the rumors are true, they used a sheep tongue procured from a local butcher shop), and of course both unfortunate ladies are connected with that apparently-cursed night-school class (which makes you wonder why everybody doesn’t just drop the course, but I digress).

Anyway, as events play out, clues finally lead the cops right to Ramses’ doorstep — or, more specifically, to the back room of his shop, where he’s got an impromptu shrine set up to the supposedly Egyptian goddess of death, Ishtar. The ever-enterprising Fuad is apparently attempting to serve up a bunch of body parts from different victims to people at the Fremont party as a cannibalistic sacrifice to his savage goddess  in order to facilitate her reincarnation upon the Earth into human form. Or something. And he’s got Suzette in mind as his final victim. Or to be Ishtar’s new human hostess. Or something.

I suppose none of it really matters because Fuad walks with a comically over-pronounced limp and isn’t gonna get too far once the cops show up (he makes it into the back of a garbage truck in his feeble escape attempt and is compacted therein, with Thornton intoning that he ended up exactly where he belonged because he’s nothing but human garbage anyway — whoops, sorry to give away the ending), and it’s not for its gripping and dramatic story that anyone cared — or, for that matter, still cares — about this movie anyway.

Nor, frankly, is it due its performances, most of which fall below even community theater standards,  that Blood Feast is still talked about to this day . Oh, sure, Arnold’s all kinds of fun if you can get past the blatant offensiveness inherent in the idea of a guy of course being a bloodthirsty maniac because he’s disabled, vaguely effeminate, and even — gasp! shudder! — an immigrant. He’s clearly playing the whole things for laughs (as is Lewis himself, for that matter), but the same charitable view really can’t be extended to the truly awful non-acting of Connie Mason, whose “talents” were best summarized by HGL when he famously said “I’ve often thought that if one took the key out of Connie’s back, that she’d simply stand still” — nor to Bolton, who, if anything, is even worse in her turns as Mason’s cinematic mother. Neither actress emotes in the slightest, nor are they aware enough of their own shortcomings to intentionally over-do things — they’re just basically reciting dialogue, and not even doing that very well.

So what does at leave us with? Why, surely the answer’s right in the title — blood, and lots of it (and specially-concocted blood at that — Lewis didn’t care for how any of the standard-at-the-time stage blood looked on camera, so he had a local Miami (like most of HGL’s flicks, this was lensed in the South Florida area) cosmetic company come up with a new blend just for this film that he would end up using on all his subsequent efforts — on the plus side it was entirely edible, on the minus side the base ingredient was Kaopectate) . And brains. And tongues. And entrails. And limbs. But mostly, just lots and lots — and lots! — of blood.

All of which is pretty much standard stuff these days, of course, but it certainly wasn’t back in 1963. This is well and truly the first “gore film,” and while that fact has been justly acknowledged by the horror community at large, what’s less talked about, but no less true, is the fact that Blood Feast is also the first modern slasher film. Oh, sure, Lewis and producer David F. Friedman make a big deal of pointing this out on numerous occasions on the occasionally-self-congratulatory-but-on-the-whole-pretty-lively-and-enthralling commentary track that accompanies this film’s DVD and Blu-Ray releases from Something Weird Video (it’s presented full frame with mono sound and also includes the standard “Gallery Of Herschell Gordon Lewis exploitation artwork” that all these come with), but for some reason the largely-self-appointed gatekeepers of horror-dom don’t seem to want to go there. It’s almost as if they’re willing to give Blood Feast some “props,” but not too many. You want us to admit you were the first gore flick? Fine. We can do that. But the first slasher? No way. We’ve gotta save that for a more “respectable” picture, thank you very much. It’s gotta be Halloween. Or Black Christmas. Or —

Well, folks, I’m here to call bullshit on that. Horror on the whole is already marginalized and ghetto-ized by the (again, largely self-appointed) arbiters of all that is right and good in “mainstream” cinema — to see the same thing done on a “micro” level within horror fandom itself as is done to the genre on a more “macro” level reeks of hypocrisy of the highest order. Let’s give Blood Feast its due. I’m not here to tell you it’s a great example of the slasher subgenre, or frankly even of the gore subgenre, but it did ’em both first, and everyone who came along later owes a debt of gratitude to what Lewis and Friedman did here, even if they didn’t necessarily do it all particularly well. Besides, numerous and readily-apparent flaws aside, this is good, solid, brainless fun. If more horror flicks were to put their various pretenses aside and just embrace the sense of good-time movie-making that Blood Feast positively revels in, maybe — just maybe — the genre as a whole wouldn’t find itself in the mess it’s in today. Just a thought.

Poll: Which Films Are You Most Looking Forward To Seeing In May?

For last month’s poll results, click here.

Below, you’ll find the poll for May.  As always, you can vote for up to four films and write-in votes are accepted and welcomed.  Vote once, vote often!

6 Trailers To End March With

Hi!  It’s Saturday and that means that it’s time for yet another edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation trailers.  Enjoy!

1) The Omega Man (1970)

“Charlton Heston IS the Omega Man!”  This movie is the second of three film adaptations of Richard Matheson’s classic novel I am Legend.

2) Last House On Dead End Street (1977)

This film is reportedly one of the most purely grindhouse films ever made.  It’s also next to impossible to see.  The Trash Film Guru has seen it and I’m insanely jealous.  As for this trailer, it’s short but rather effective.  It’s also perhaps the hundredth trailer to feature the “It’s only a movie” tagline.

3) Deranged (1974)

“A man so obsessed with death that he became…DERANGED!”

4) Equinox (1970)

I own the Criterion edition of this film.  It’s actually kind of fun in its own silly way.

5) Vengeance of She (1971)

This is a Hammer film.  I love how increasingly excited the narrator gets as he talks about vengeance.

6) Endgame (1983)

Finally, let’s end this entry with yet another look at a post-apocalypse future.  From the iconic Italian director Joe D’Amato, it’s Endgame.

Film Review: Grey (dir. by Darshan Patel)

I want to take a few paragraphs to recommend a 20-minute film that I recently saw.  The name of the film is Grey and it can be viewed here.

Grey is a harrowingly honest but ultimately hopeful film about depression.  Opening with Raphael sleeping on his couch while his wife Lea lies alone in their bed, Grey is a near-documentary look at a couple whose lives are currently ruled by depression.  While Lea spends her days in bed (getting up only to close the curtains), Raphael struggles to carry on with his life.  He goes to work, he exercises in the park, and every day he comes home and tries (unsuccessfully) to get his wife to eat.  Though Raphael obviously loves his wife, it’s obvious that he’s nearly at the end of his rope. 

Speaking as someone who has to deal with depression her entire life, I can say that Grey gets it right and for that, I’m thankful.  Far too often, cinematic depression is just portrayed as just a plot device, a condition that has a very specific cause and, therefore, a very specific solution.  Though Grey gives us some hints as to what exactly has triggered Lea’s depression, it very wisely leaves the reason for her condition ambiguous and instead, it focuses on the day-to-day experience of both Lea and Raphael.  It acknowledges and illustrates the fact that depression affects more than just the person who is depressed while never playing down just how difficult it is to find oneself trapped in that condition.  Grey perfectly captures the strange stillness that comes with depression and the numbness that results from it. 

In the pivotal roles of Raphael and Lea, both James Parsons and Chiara Grioni give strong and sympathetic performances but the real star of the film is director Darshan Patel.  It’s a difficult thing, making a film about depression that is both honest and watchable but Patel has managed to largely succeed.  Wisely, he takes a hand-held, almost documentary-like approach here that allows us the viewer to make up our own minds regarding what we’re watching.  Instead of manipulating us to make us feel sorry for Raphael and/or Lea, he instead casts us in the role of detached observers who can do little more than simply watch life unfold.  As a director, Patel captures the feeling of isolation that comes with being depressed and, even in the scenes where Raphael interacts with others, you’re left with no doubt that he’s a man who feels that, without Lea, he is totally alone in the world.  I think the scene that most vindicates Patel’s technique is in the disturbing scene where Lea matter-of-factly considers slitting her wrists.  A lesser director would have played the scene with a lot of ominous music and flashy editing and the end result would have been a lot less effective than Patel’s straight forward approach.

In the end, Grey is the perfect title for this film.  Too often, films about depression either give into melodrama or they provide a bunch of easy answers.  Anyone who has ever had to deal with depression knows that the truth is never quite as simple.  Depression truly is a state of being grey, a state of being where the only feelings are ones of numbness, apathy, and hopelessness.  With an unflinching eye, Patel captures that feeling in this film and, it is to his credit, that Grey ends on a note of hope that feels totally earned. 

If you’ve ever suffered from depression or if you’ve had to deal with and/or take care of someone who suffers from depression, you’ll find Grey to be a powerful film and one that deserves to be seen.  You can watch the film for yourself here.

A Roughie With Lisa Marie: Scum of the Earth (dir. by Herschell Gordon Lewis)

If there’s any exploitation director that deserves a critical re-evaluation, it’s Herschell Gordon Lewis.  Over the course of two decades, Lewis dabbled in every genre of low-budget filmmaking and even invented one with his 1963 “gore” film Blood Feast.  Many film critics tends to dismiss Lewis as being one of the worst directors of all time.  I would argue that, far from being the worst, Lewis was a unique filmmaker who, working with low budgets and mainstream support, always managed to create movies that had their own unique cinematic aesthetic.  Much like the great French director Jean Rollin, Lewis made dream-like films that — though initially dismissed for their lack of slick production values — have managed to survive the test of time and remain as interesting and oddly watchable now as the day they were first released.  That certainly not the accomplishment of “the worst director of all time.”

(Add to that, the worst director of all time is Garry Marshall.  Seriously, New Year’s Eve will be forever tainted, thanks to Mr. Marshall.)

Though Lewis is best known for his “gore” films like Blood Feast and the Gruesome Twosome, he dabbled in just about every genre of film.  Last night, I watched one of his non-gore films,  Scum of the Earth.  Filmed in 6 days in 1963, Scum of the Earth was released at the same time as Lewis’s better-known Blood Feast.

“Only an alert society can protect itself from those who prey on the weak — the scum of the earth.” — Closing Narration of Scum of the Earth.

Like many of the classic grindhouse film, Scum of the Earth presents itself as a warning to mainstream society about the evil lurking just underneath the facade of normalcy.  In this case, that evil is the “dirty picture” underground and the film starts with a montage of various “teenagers” selling pictures of a topless woman.  I like to think that, with this little pre-credits sequence, Herschell Gordon Lewis establishes that Scum of the Earth is nothing less than a black-and-white, low-budget version of The Wire.

Much like The Wire and Traffic, Scum of the Earth goes from showing us how the product is distributed to showing us how and why the product comes into being in the first place.  Mr. Lang (Lawrence Wood) is a cheerful man who spends his time sitting in a small office and sending out his henchmen, evil Larry (Mal Arnold) and the moronic Ajax (Craig Maudsplay), to distribute explicit photos of the innocent victims that he lures into his sordid web. (Indeed, they are truly the scum of the earth…)  The pictures are taken by disillusioned artist Harmon (Thomas Kerwin) and most of them feature Sandy (played by Sandy Sinclair).  It’s quickly revealed that both Sandy and Harmon hate what they’ve become but they’re both being blackmailed by the jovial Mr. Lang.

However, Sandy’s pictures are no longer selling as well so Lang offers her a proposition.  Sandy can retire from the business if she recruits a replacement.  For the rest of the 72-minute film, we watch as Sandy and Harmon recruit innocent Kim (played all wide-eyed and breathless by Vicki Miles) who desperately needs 500 dollars to be able to pay her college tuition.  Oddly enough, that’s the same way I paid my college tuition which, incidentally, was a lot more than 500 dollars.

Anyway, Kim soon finds herself in over head because 1) she’s incredibly stupid and 2) she’s dealing with the scum of the earth.  If Kim stop posing for topless pictures, she knows that copies will be sent to her kindly but slow-witted father.  (“You’re the best father I ever had!” Kim tells her dad at one point.)  Even worse, Ajax and Larry want to take some pictures of their own with her.  Whatever is a girl to do!?

 As a director Herschell Gordon Lewis has always struck me as being a bit of American Jess Franco.  Much like Franco, he made film that can charitably be called terrible.  Between performances that ranged from histrionic to living dead and a filming technique that seemed to mostly consist of little more than turning on the camera, it’s easy to dismiss Lewis and his films.  It’s only on repeat viewings — after you’ve gotten a previous taste of the Lewis aesthetic — that you start to notice that quirky details and the occasionally inspired visuals that give evidence to the fact that Lewis does not deserve his reputation for being one of the worst directors of all time.  Even in an admittedly lesser work like Scum of the Earth, there’s enough intentional strangeness to hold your interest.  To cite one example, the villainous Mr. Lang appears to love toys and he gives quite a few of his evil speeches while looking down at two nodding bobble heads.  As static as the majority of the film is, the final chase (in which two police officers pursue the portly Mr. Lang through a rather slummy strip mall) is a lot of fun to watch.  The best visual in the film comes when Kim is posing topless for the first time and Lewis gives us a shot, from her point of view, of the oppressively bright lamps shining down on her and casting the rest of the studio into total darkness.  It’s a scene that is full of genuine menace.

The cast is full of actors who will be recognizable to anyone who has seen any of Lewis’s other films.  Out of the cast, William Kerwin comes the closest to giving an actual performance, bringing a real sense of sadness and regret to the role of Harmon the Photographer.   Kerwin also appeared in Blood Feast, playing the dedicated cop who pursues the evil Faud Ramses who was played by yet another Scum of the Earth alum, Mal Arnold. 

In Scum, Arnold plays Lang’s henchman, Larry.  In 1963, Arnold was 30 years old and he looked like he was 40.  However, he was cast here as a character who tells everyone that he meets that he’s under 17 and therefore, he doesn’t have to worry about going to prison for distributing dirty pictures.  Or, as Arnold puts it, “Not me, Daddy-O!  I’m a minor!”  What makes this especially amusing is that in Blood Feast (which was, again, released that same year), Arnold is playing a character who is 5,000 years old.  What also makes Arnold’s performance as Larry enjoyable to those of us who are familiar with Lewis’s cinematic career is that Arnold essentially gives the same over-the-top performance here that he would later give in Blood FeastI kept expecting him to ask Kim if she wanted an Egyptian feast.

However, the film truly belongs to Lawrence Wood, who plays Mr. Lang with such an insane joy that it’s impossible not to root for the sleazy old pornographer.  Whether he’s giggling as a toy monkey somersaults across his desk or he’s politely explaining why nothing is actually his fault, Wood appears to be having such a good time that it’s just infectious.  Wood’s best moment comes when Kim expresses some reluctance about modeling for more pictures and suddenly, Mr. Lang starts to shout at her about how she (and all the other kids) are hypocrites.  “You’re damaged merchandise and this is a fire sale!” he shouts as sweat streams down his face and Lewis zooms in for a close up of his mouth, “You’ll do what I tell ya!” Wood screams, “Do you hear!?”  It’s a scene of lunatic genius that, in the best tradition of both Herschell Gordon Lewis and the grindhouse in general, comes out of nowhere and is all the more effective because of it. 

For this scene alone, Scum of the Earth deserves to be seen.

Song of the Day: One Day More (by Claude-Michel Schönberg & Alain Boublil)

This coming December 2012 will see another stage musical make it onto the big screen. It was in 2004 that Joel Schumacher first brought The Phantom of the Opera to the big-screen as a musical. For 2012, it will be Academy Award-winner Tom Hooper who will be bringing the musical Les Misérables to the big-screen with a star-studded cast that includes Hugh Jackman in the role of Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe as his arch-nemesis Inspector Javert. It’s also from this musical that I chose the latest “Song of the Day” with the ensemble piece that ends Act 1: “One Day More”.

It was Les Misérables the musical that first introduced me to the world of musicals. Prior to having seen the touring production which stopped over in San Francisco during the late 80’s and early 90’s I always thought of musicals as just not my thing even though I never truly witnessed one. All that changed when I saw Les Misérables and I have been hooked since.

One of my favorite songs from the musical was the ensemble piece that ends Act 1 and brings together all the players introduced in the first act. It wasn’t just the whole cast singing but how they sang as each character were given voice and as the song reaches an epic crescendo to curtains closing everyone joins in a rousing chorus with overlapping lyrics from different main players that at first sounded confusing to follow, but was still understandable.

Most musical nowadays rarely go for such grand closing before intermissions. Listening to “One Day More” shows me that its a lost art but when done well it comes off as amazing.

One Day More

One day more!
Another day, another destiny.
This never-ending road to Calvary;
These men who seem to know my crime
Will surely come a second time.
One day more!

I did not live until today.
How can I live when we are parted?

One day more.

Tomorrow you’ll be worlds away
And yet with you, my world has started!

One more day all on my own.

Will we ever meet again?

One more day with him not caring.

I was born to be with you.

What a life I might have known.

And I swear I will be true!

But he never saw me there!

One more day before the storm!

Do I follow where she goes?

At the barricades of freedom.

Shall I join my brothers there?

When our ranks begin to form

Do I stay; and do I dare?

Will you take your place with me?

The time is now, the day is here!

One day more!

One more day to revolution,
We will nip it in the bud!
We’ll be ready for these schoolboys
They will wet themselves with blood!

One day more!

Watch ’em run amuck,
Catch ’em as they fall,
Never know your luck
When there’s a free for all,
Here a little `dip’
There a little `touch’
Most of them are goners
So they won’t miss much!

Students (2 Groups)
1: One day to a new beginning

2: Raise the flag of freedom high!

1: Every man will be a king

2: Every man will be a king

1: There’s a new world for the winning

2: There’s a new world to be won

Do you hear the people sing?

My place is here, I fight with you!

One day more!

I did not live until today.

One more day all on my own!

How can I live when we are parted?

I will join these people’s heros
I will follow where they go
I will learn their little Secrets,
I will know the things they know.

One day more!

Tomorrow you’ll be worlds away

What a life I might have known!

And yet with you my world has started

JAVERT (overlapping)
One more day to revolution
We will nip it in the bud
We’ll be ready for these


THENARDIERS (overlapping)
Watch ’em run amok
Catch ’em as they fall
Never know your luck
When there’s a free-for-all!

Tomorrow we’ll be far away,
Tomorrow is the judgement day

Tomorrow we’ll discover
What our God in Heaven has in store!
One more dawn
One more day
One day more!

Criterion Collection Viewing: Week 2

For those that might not have heard of the Criterion Collection, it is a DVD/Blu-Ray distribution company that acquires, restores and beautifully packages “classic”, “important”, foreign and American films with a focus on art-house and hard to find releases. I’ve been a fan for quite some time and recently had an urge to explore their collection more deeply. You can find my post for my first week of viewing here. 


“Le Feu follet” (‘The Fire Within’) is an introspective depiction of a man nearing the end of his rope. It is directed by Louis Malle (Zazie dans le metro) and stars Maurice Ronet as Alain Leroy, a depressed recovering alcoholic who spends his time in a clinic, even though his detox has long been over. He stays because he can’t bring himself to face the real world in fear of what he might become. On a large mirror within his room are the worlds July 23. Surrounding it are pictures of a beautiful woman. She is his wife, Dorothy, who couldn’t stand his drinking and lives in New York, where he had lived before his alcoholism. But life, love and his demons became too much so he returned to France to get treatment.

The film opens with him in bed with an old friend. He attempts to star into her eyes, to find a connection, a fleeting moment, that first gaze. But alas he finds nothing. She begs him to return to New York, but he can’t for he has other plans. Later in the day his therapist pleads with him to reach out to his wife, to re-enter the world. This too is a task that he finds hard to do. Bored, he hums to himself and walks around his room. He finally sits down at his desk, opens his briefcase and removes a gun. “Life…” he says as he holds it to his mouth “…flows too slowly in me. So I speed it up. I set it right…”…but not quite yet.  Moments later as he gets into bed he declares “I kill myself tomorrow.” Suddenly the date on the mirror gains new meaning. He plans to end his misery, and had been planning to for some time.

But before he does the next morning he takes one last trip to Paris. Whether it is to say one last good bye to those he knew or find reasons to go on he doesn’t seem too sure. Sadly he finds no answers among friends, they have changed or their actions seem more pointless, unremarkable or dull as ever. One has settled down, rooted himself with a wife and children and finds interest and solace in the mythology of civilizations long lost. Another lives carefree with poets and thinkers, but seems bored and has her regrets. The last bunch he visits, though wealthy and important, are also leading lives that contain little happiness and have relationships that are falling apart.

His misery continues to grow as the memories of the man he once was, a life he now sees as wasted, all flood back. Instead of reconnecting, the hole in his soul just grows larger as he feels less and less able to connect with or “touch” the world around him. It is truly a sad and thoughtful experience. The sort that makes you think and make your own self evaluations. All of this is supported by fantastic dialogue and a wonderful lead performance and I really loved every minute of it. Highly recommended.

“Vampyr” is a surreal and chilling film by Carl Theodor Dreyer, a director who also made one of my all-time favorite films “The Passion of Joan of Arc”. “Vampyr” is a turn in a very different direction stylistically compared to that film. Here is not only his first use of sound but also whereas ‘Passion’ is a serious and easy to follow depiction of the trail and execution of Joan of Arc, “Vampyr” is a haunting tale of vampires and ghosts that blends dream and reality.

Dreyer does a fantastic job in establishing a very eerie atmosphere right from the start and it only continues to grow stronger through his brilliant use of lighting and shadows. One scene in particular was as admirable as it was creepy where human shadows are seen walking along the walls, with no actual actors to be found on screen, to represent ghosts. These ghosts are the prisoners of a vampire, who is terrorizing a local family.

When watching one must remember that the perspective of the film is through that of a young man who visits the village, and winds up trying to help the family. The often hazy and dreamlike look of scenes bring into question the ‘sanity’ of this character, especially towards the end during a premature burial sequence that makes us question what is happening. Dreyer purposely shot the film very grainy and foggy to create this distortion.

The whole experience is absolutely hypnotic though challenging. Some might find the film to be a bore, or too art-house for their tastes. These complaints would be justified because it is a strange and enigmatic film. With that said, even those who can’t get over the lack of heavy dialogue, slow pacing and editing would be stupid not to admire the technical feats and just utter bizarreness of it all. Recommended.

“The Exterminating Angel” by Luis Bunuel is a unique and often surreal assault on the bourgeois that is truly hard to explain. Its plot involves a group of upper class socialites who attend a dinner party, but when it starts to get late and time for everyone to depart none of them can seem to exit the room. It is through this simple action, their imprisonment, that Bunuel begins to dissect human behavior in a society that places etiquette and status over humanity. Their inability to leave, as if on a subconscious level none wish to be the first to go, represents the importance they place on other opinions and not wanting to be rude over all else. This sets the stage for Bunuel’s grand experiment. Locked up together we watch how they slowly lose their sanity and we see their true savage nature emerge. They are helpless without their servants, who left without explanation before the party. The whole film is a truly interesting experience, at times slow but still entertaining. It is hard to know what to take away from the whole thing. Bunuel himself said there was no true explanation for the events in the film, but his social commentary is pretty clear at times.  Recommended to those interested, but not a must watch.

“Zazie dans le metro” was Louis Malle’s new wave “comedy”, and I use the term lightly, about a young girl’s journey through Paris while visiting her uncle.

Malle employs every possible comedic gag in the book which quickly grew tiring. It is all very sporadic and loony. If looked at as if the hijinks are nothing more than the overzealous perspective of Zazie, who views the adult world as a carnival, then maybe it makes sense and is even a brave and cynical farce. Sadly it is hard to see things that way and even harder to sit through because the shtick gets old so fast. It is just way too hectic and fractured to keep ones attention and never really funny or insightful enough to even recommend.

Malle directed one of my top ten favorite films, ‘Au revioir les enfants’, which is completely different in tone and style, so I was really let down. This is perhaps the first in the series that I strongly cannot recommend.

“The Phantom Carriage”, starred and directed by Victor Sjostrom, was a film that heavily influenced Ingmar Bergman. So much so that he would end up casting Victor as the lead in my all-time favorite film ‘Wild Strawberries’, something I did not know until after I saw this and totally blew my mind in the best possible way.

As for the film, well it is somewhat simple. At the end of every year, the soul of the last person to die must take the reins of the Phantom Carriage, becoming Death. For the next full year that soul must walk the Earth collecting the bodies of sinners. The film opens on New Year’s Eve as the main character gets into a fight which leads to his untimely death. He is unfortunately the last person to die. Before he has to take Death’s place he is forced to visit those he wronged and we view his past mistakes and sins, most of which were perpetrated under the influence of alcohol. It all leads to a somewhat predictable but uplifting finish that sort of turned my off.

Based on its story and acting alone I wouldn’t have been impressed with the end result but on a technical level the film is a marvel. Double exposure was used with multiple layers to allow ghosts and Death to walk in three dimensions, behind objects in the foreground yet seen as transparent in front of objects in the background.  For a film that came out in 1921 it truly is remarkable. For this alone I’d recommend it, but its eerie, though unremarkable, story and tone and influences on directors like Bergman make it a must watch.

“Elevator to the Gallows” was a competently directed crime thriller, and also Louis Malle’s first feature film. It stars Maurice Ronet (“The Fire Within”) as Julien Tavernier who is having an affair with his boss’s wife Florence, played by Jeanne Moreau. Together they plan to kill her husband and run away together. Julien manages to achieve this goal and make it look like a suicide. He seems to be in the clear and ready to leave but notices he left a piece of evidence that could be used to realize it was a murder. He runs back into the building and takes the elevator, but halfway up it shuts down. That is because the building is closed down, with no knowledge of him still being inside, and the power shut off. While he is stuck and trying to figure out a way to escape, a flower girl with knows Julien and her criminal boyfriend steal his car and under his name check into a hotel. The two end up getting into trouble that leads back to Julien, and as the police search for him he is still stuck inside the elevator. The result of it all is an at time suspenseful and well-acted thriller that just has some really stupid moments and takes more than a few missteps at the end which really hurt it. One of those missteps is by far one of the stupidest decisions and changes in attitude I’ve seen in two characters in a long time. Sadly it isn’t clever enough to be entertaining and make up for this. What is worse is that it could have been a lot better. Don’t recommend.

“Solaris” is a haunting and poetic exploration of our consciousness and human nature. An enigmatic, visually hypnotic and beautiful science fiction film that has been called Tarkovsky’s response to “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

In the film an oceanic planet was discover and named Solaris. A space station was sent into its orbit to study its unusual surface. When they can’t seem to find anything remarkable on the planet, and after a pilot dies flying over the surface, the agency running the research begins plans to pull the plug. But lately the transmissions they have been receiving from the three remaining cosmonauts stationed above Solaris have been mysterious and nonsensical. It is decided that Kris Kelvin, a scientist and psychologist, be sent to the station to evaluate the mental and emotional crises the men aboard the station seem to be experiencing; and report back on whether the progress being made over Solaris and the state of the crew is in a condition that warrants a continuation of the whole program. Before he goes he spends his last days at his fathers, which holds many memories of his childhood and wife, who committed suicide years before. While there Kris has trouble connecting with his father, even though by the time Kris returns his father will likely be dead, so he leaves with no real goodbye.

When he arrives on Solaris the crew is in worst shape than he expected. One of them, an old acquaintance of Kris, had killed himself sometime before Kris’s  arrival. The other two, Dr. Snaut and Dr. Sartorious, can’t seem to provide any logical answers. They speak of hallucinations that are all too real, and warn him to remember he is no longer on Earth. Kris does not know what to make of it all; that is until he experiences it firsthand. That night he awakes to find Hari, his ex-wife who killed herself years before, sitting in the chair in front of his bed. Shocked, but not willing to lose himself, Kris speaks with her. He is unsure if he is dreaming, if it is simply a hallucination or some sort of alien entity. His first instinct is to get it off the ship, so he tricks her into a spacecraft and blasts her off the station.

Snaut explains to him that his actions were of little use and on the next night Hari reappears. To his best knowledge Solaris seems to be a living entity with the ability to rematerialize memories. The results are not human, but possess some memory of who they were. Perhaps the most shocking fact about them is that they cannot be killed. Burn their blood and it regenerates itself, when Hari cuts her hand the wound vanishes minutes later. Sartorius believes the only way to rid themselves of these “guests” is by blasting Solaris with heavy radiation, though they agree that this option be a last resort.

Kris tries to keep control around Hari but the memories of her and the regrets he has that resurface, not being there for her or expressing his love when he had the chance, cause his mind to slip, putting more of himself into the recreation of Hari. This only makes it harder to decide whether they should continue to try communicating with Solaris or destroy it.

“Solaris” is one of those films that leaves the viewer with so many questions and it isn’t all easy to digest and yet remains unbelievable mesmerizing. In its exploration of love, conscious, reconciliation, science and regret it becomes a deliberately slow moving and meditative experience. For nearly three hours I could barely move, I was transfixed by the story and the questions it asked. Can we escape our irretrievable past? Are we trapped by our guilt and sins? It is fascinating how Tarkovsky explores this idea of how easily we lose our grip on who we are when faced with the presence of an unknown and superior force and begin to focus our attention inwards causing the unremarkableness and inconsequentiality of being human to become so apparent compared to the rest of the universe. It really is an interesting counter argument to Kubirck’s “2001:  A Space Odyssey” and its evolution of man even against a force superior to our own.

It could easily become a new favorite upon another viewing. With that said I can’t recommend it to everyone. It is exactly the sort of foreign art-house film that can easily polarize and be labeled pretentious. If you have any interest in it, or more specifically if you want to explore Tarkovsky’s filmography, I’d recommend starting here.


As always thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the reviews. Please leave any comments (good or bad) below.

Scenes I Love: The Eyptian Feast Conversation From Blood Feast

So, last week, our newest contributor here at the Shattered Lens, The Trash Film Guru, posted his wonderful review of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s The Gruesome Twosome.  Reading that review got me thinking about the unique cinematic vision of Mr. Lewis.  Though I’ll be reviewing Scum of the Earth and Something Weird later on this week, I would like to first share with you one of my favorite scenes from the work of Herschell Gordon Lewis.

Below, in all it’s glory, is the famous Egyptian feast conversation from Lewis’s 1963 epic, Blood Feast.  The caterer here is played by Mal Arnold, who appeared in several of Lewis’s films.

Review: The Hunger Games (dir. Gary Ross)

Quick heads up. Please also read Leonard Wilson’s thoughts over at his review, if you haven’t already. Also I apologize for the length of this review. It doesn’t really contain many spoilers but is a bit more in depth than I usually do.  But hopefully you have, and giving its box office performance I’m betting on it, seen it already.

“The Hunger Games”, the adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s young adult novel, is a thrilling, smart, visually unique and most importantly emotional dystopian drama/thriller directed by Gary Ross.

The film stars Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. She lives in the distance future in which after the destruction of the North American continent due to some unknown event a new nation called Panem was created, consisting of several districts ruled by a Capital city. The districts ended up rebelling against the rule of the Capital, resulting is a war that saw the total destruction of the 13th District with the Capital ending up being victorious. In order to help keep the Districts in line and avoid another rebellion, outside of the barriers and “peacekeepers” placed within each, an annual “gladiatorial” game is held. During this time, which has become essentially a reality show, two teenagers from each district (one male, one female) are chosen by random to be sent to an arena, the design of which changes each year, to fight to the death. They act as sacrifices for punishment, but also create a level of hope for those wanting to see their District succeed because the last one standing is labeled the “Victor” and their District is rewarded.

The film begins on the “reaping”, the day in which the tributes are picked. Katniss lives in District 12, which specializes in coal mining. It is surrounded by a lush forest that she illegally hunts in with her friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Today her name has been entered multiple times as it has in previous years, but her main worry this year is that her young sister Prim is of age to be eligible. Katniss has a very strong relationship with her. Both live alone with their mother, who has been emotionally inept since Katniss’s father died years before in a mine accident. When it comes time to select the tributes Katniss tries to reassure Prim that she will not be chosen but of course she is. Katniss, not willing to let her young sister enter the games, volunteers to take her place.  I must mention that the buildup to this, and many other scenes throughout the film, is done exceptionally well. Most people, even those that didn’t read the novel, know what happens during the reaping and yet with a dreary tone and at times haunting score my heart was still pounding and sunk when the names were called.

The male chosen is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s son, who Katniss has only ever interacted with once before, though it was a moment that has an important meaning to her. After a brief goodbye with their families both are shipped off to the capital, under the guidance of Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), an eccentric and dolled up woman from the Capital, and their mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), a drunkard and past winner of the games from District 12.

The Capital is a shock to them because it is nothing like the rural world of District 12. Here there are huge builds and statues. The citizens wear colorful clothing and elaborate makeup. There is an abundance of food and usage of technology that helps them thrive over the Districts. It is ruled by President Snow, who is played by Donald Sutherland. He doesn’t get much screen time, though he appears more than he did in the first book, but he handles the character very well, ruthless but subtle.

Katniss’s time in the Capital before entering the arena is really for one thing only, that is to try making an impression to gain sponsorship from interested members of the capital who wish to support specific tributes. These impressions are made in two ways. The first are training courses in which all 24 tributes work out together in various stations (camouflage, archery, swords, plant identification, etc.). Due to her experience hunting Katniss is proficient with a bow, though she tries to down play it at first. This training area is the first time all of them really get to see what the others are made of, which is important so they know who the real threats are. In this case those threats are “career tributes”, which are tributes from more “well off” Districts where children are chosen to train specifically for the arena and then volunteer at age 18.

The other opportunity to make impressions involves a parade in front of a large crowd and later on interviews broadcasted throughout the Capital and Districts. During both it is important that Katniss look and act in a manner that will make people like her. The “looks” part isn’t much of a problem. She is a beautiful young woman and has the help of a stylist named Cinna, who Katniss quickly bonds with. This is because he is the only citizen of the Capital who seems to respect her and understand the situation she is in. He is played by Lenny Kravitz and I must say he does a great job. Cinna doesn’t get much screen time but when he does it truly feels like he empathizes with her, which is important. He truly wants to see her succeed and luckily he is damn good at his job. The outfit he designs for her and Peeta, black leather and flames, when they are displayed to the sponsors wows them all giving her the nickname “the girl on fire” which becomes very important later on in the series.

The real challenge comes when she is interviewed by Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), a TV personality. Cinna tells her to be truthful, and so she does, expressing the love for her young sister. When it comes time for Peeta’s interview he easily wins the crowd over with his charm, but it is a lie that shocks them the most. He expresses his love for Katniss, who doesn’t take it lightly but Haymitch explains that he can easily sell “love birds” to the sponsors, so she reluctantly goes along with it.

It is this aspect of their relationship that really leads to any sort of love story. Many people who had not read the books went in thinking there would be some sort of cliché love triangle but that just isn’t the case. Katniss does have Gale back home, who seems to like her, but she views him only as a friend. The only reason she shows any feelings for Peeta is to sell the love angle, and although during the games she does begin to like him, you couldn’t call it love.

When the games start is when the action begins. All 24 tributes are placed inside a dome that’s designed to be a forest. Located in the middle of them all is a stack of weapons and bags full of supplies. When the timer goes off the blood begins to spill. Katniss doesn’t take many chances in getting a weapon; she instead grabs a bag close to her and runs off into the woods. Much of the rest of the film takes place within the arena in which Katniss struggles to survive against nature and her fellow tributes, especially the “careers” that have teamed up and are picking off everyone else.

This portion of the film is the focus of one complaint that keeps coming up. Many seem to dislike the fact that the violence is toned down a bit. This is something that I think works for the better. There is still a sense of death and blood but Ross didn’t want to glorify the brutality, which made sense. The viewer should be looking upon the film in the mindset of someone in the Districts, horrified by what they see but not wanting to be entertained by gore and there is just no need for it. When people say they needed to really see the deaths to make it have an impact in a way sort of worries me. If the death of a child, even if barely shown, doesn’t affect you; if instead you need to actually see a child’s neck slit open for it to rattle you then the problem is yours and not the films. How Ross handles the death, which is horrifying in itself, fit the tone of the film which should be enough.

Now I will avoid going any further into detail about the events that take place in the arena. I will say that there are some shocking and highly emotional moments. One in particular nearly brought me to tears, those who have seen it will know which one I’m speaking of. I was worried, since it is probably my favorite moment of the whole series, that it wouldn’t be handled well but it is handled damn near perfectly. The only thing I think they could have handled better within the arena is the interactions between Katniss and Peeta. You really need to be paying attention and make a few assumptions to understand that Katniss’s change of heart is for show, and it does get cheesy at times.

I want to do something, right here, right now, to shame them, to make them accountable, to show the Capitol that whatever they do or force us to do there is a par of every tribute they can’t own. That Rue was more than a piece in their Games. And so am I. A few steps into the woods grows a bank of wildflowers. Perhaps they are really weeds of some sort, but they have blossoms in beautiful shades of violet and yellow and white. I gather up an armful and come back to Rue’s side. Slowly, one stem at a time, I decorate her body in the flowers. Covering the ugly wound. Wreathing her face. Weaving her hair in bright colors. They’ll have to show it. Or, even if they choose to turn the cameras elsewhere at this moment, they’ll have to bring them back when they collect the bodies and everyone will see her then and know I did it. I step back and take one last look at Rue. She could really be asleep in that meadow after all. “Bye, Rue,” I whisper. I press the three middle fingers of my left hand against my lips and hold them out in her direction. Then I walk away without looking back.

But I couldn’t really hold it against the film. The biggest challenge Ross had to manage was the perspective. In the book it is first person, so much of the exposition and explanations of the world, games, and most importantly Katniss’s feelings are done within her head. The film could have gone with narration for much of this but I don’t think it would of fit. Instead it relies on the audience to put some of the pieces together. It also utilizes the “reality show” aspect of the games by having Caesar and another commentator appear as if they are telling viewers at home what they are seeing. For example there is a scene in which Katniss uses a beehive to her advantage and it cuts away briefly to have Caesar explain that these bees are deadly and cause hallucinations. These cutaways did seem a bit out of place but as I said if you consider that this is viewed as a reality show by most in the Capital then this sort of commentating makes sense.

I enjoyed the direction overall to be honest. I’ve read multiple complaints over the lack of establishing shots and shaky cam. I’ve personally never had a problem with the “shaky cam” technique; I think it adds to the intensity and chaos of many scenes. And I personally have no complaints about the editing. The performances were also very good. The stand out here is Jennifer Lawrence. She fully embodies Katniss and does such an amazing job at expressing her vulnerability while also making her a strong female character. Hutcherson was much better as Peeta than I thought he would be. Harrelson as Haymitch was damn near perfect and the same goes for Elizabeth Banks as Effie. The other tributes held their own. I didn’t expect much from them and so wasn’t disappointed when some had a few terrible moments. Oh, and the girl chosen to play Rue was amazing casting.

For those that haven’t read the book, the biggest differences that stood out to me was the lack of explanation for the Avoxs. Those are the servants in red you see in the background. They are individuals who have been punished; their tongues cut out and forced to be servants. In the book Katniss recognizes one of them from a while back in which she and Gale ran into people trying to escape another District.  Also the explanation on how she got the pin is different. In the book it is giving to here by a friend, the daughter of the District’s Mayor. It made sense to leave this out because the characters weren’t needed.

The most important changes I think was all the stuff happening outside of the District. All the interactions with Snow and the Gamemaker, or Haymitch working to help them both behind the scenes are new. We don’t get this in the book and it was nice to get an idea of what was happening outside of the arena and how those characters watching reacted to what takes place.

As for the comparisons to ‘Battle Royale’, I’m seriously getting sick of the two being mentioned together. Although I really liked ‘Battle Royale’ it wasn’t the first film to contain people battling to the death for show and doesn’t have a monopoly over the concept. Just because both contain young adults doesn’t mean one stole from the other or is any better or worse. It bothers me that people like to pick and choose when they can accept certain aspect of a film over others; like accepting films with concepts very close to another for different genres yet here it is all they can talk about. The same goes for the technology in the film. I’ve heard more than one complaint over the lack of deep explanation on stuff like the medicines used or the “mutated dogs” at the end that seem to pop up out of nowhere. Must I remind people that the events in the film take place many years in the future? And that although the surrounding districts are poor with little to no technology, the Capital is still thriving and have made many advances in certain areas that would make medicines that can heal burns efficiently possible. I mean audiences can easily accept the futuristic world of other sci-fi films, even when there is little to no explanation on how things work, yet here for some reason they can’t.

It really just boils down to the fact that it would have never truly satisfied some people no matter what it did. Many wanted more exposition, yet would have complained if it was longer. If it was shorter, then they would have complained even more about the lack of exposition and length. Then there are those who have read the book and are disappointed that things are left out. And finally there are those who went in wanting to hate it because they have this misconception that it is like the ‘Twilight’ books and pandering to teenage girls. Honestly, to truly enjoy it you have to take it for what it is which some just cannot seem to do.

Overall I really, really enjoyed the film. Upon another viewing my love for it might possibly grow. It has its flaws and many aspects of the story are handled better in the book but I felt Gary Ross and his cast did a wonderful and admirable job adapting Collin’s novel. They faced a lot of challenges, and a lot of hate, but the end result was still an entertaining, smart and emotional story with a fantastic lead performance. I eagerly await the sequels and hope it is Gary Ross behind the camera once again. Highly recommended.