The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Blood for Dracula (dir by Paul Morrissey)

Count Dracula (played by Udo Kier) has a problem.  In order to stay strong and healthy, he needs a constant supply of virgin blood.  (Or, as Kier puts in, “weergen blood.”)  Unfortunately, he lives in 1920s Romania and apparently, there just aren’t many virgins left in Eastern Europe.

However, Dracula’s assistant, Anton (Arno Juerging) has a solution.  Dracula just needs to move to Italy!  After all, Italy is the home of the Vatican and it’s just been taken over by Mussolini and the fascists.  Surely, no one in Italy is having sex!  Dracula should be able to find all the virgins that he needs in Italy!

So, Dracula climbs into his coffin and Anton drives him to Italy.  Once they arrive, they meet an Italian land owner,  Il Marchese di Fiore (played by Italian neorealist director Vittorio De Sica).  The Marchese is convinced that Dracula is a wealthy nobleman and he says that Dracula can marry any of his four daughters.  He assures Dracula that they’re all virgins but Dracula soon discovers that two of them are not.  It turns out that, thanks to the estate’s Marxist handyman, Mario (Joe Dallesandro), it’s getting as difficult to find a virgin in Italy as it was in Romania!

After completing work on Flesh For Frankenstein, director Paul Morrissey and actors Udo Kier, Joe Dallesandro, and Arno Juerging immediately started work on Blood for Dracula.  Though Blood for Dracula never quite matches the excesses of Flesh for Frankenstein, it still taps into the same satiric vein that provided the lifeblood that gave life to Flesh for Frankenstein.  Once again, the sets and costumes are ornate.  Once again, the frequently ludicrous dialogue is delivered with the straightest of faces.  Once again, Udo Kier goes over-the-top as a famous monster.  And, once again, Joe Dallesandro plays his role with a thick and anachronistic New York accent and he looks damn good doing it.

Ironically, one of the differences between Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula is that there’s quite a bit less blood in the Dracula film.  Then again, that’s also kind of the point.  Dracula literally can’t find any blood to drink and, as a result, he’s become weak and anemic.  Udo Kier is perhaps the sickliest-looking Dracula in the history of Dracula movies.  By the time that he meets the Marchese’s four daughters, he’s so sick that he literally seems like he might fade away at any second.  As ludicrous as the film sometimes is, you can’t help but sympathize with Dracula.  All he wants is some virgin blood and the communists aren’t even willing to let him have that.  Blood for Dracula is, in its own twisted way, a much more melancholy film than Flesh For Frankenstein.  Or, at least it is until the finale, at which point one character gets violently dismembered but still continues to rant and rave even after losing the majority of their limbs.

When Blood for Dracula was released in 1974, it was originally called Andy Warhol’s Dracula, though Warhol had little to do with the movie beyond allowing his name to be used.  As with Flesh for Frankenstein, Antonio Margheriti was credited in some prints as a co-director, largely so the film could receive financial support from the Italian government.

Sadly, there would be no Andy Warhol’s The Mummy or Andy Warhol’s Wolfman.  One can only imagine what wonders Kier, Dallesandro, and Morrissey could have worked with those.



The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Flesh For Frankenstein (dir by Paul Morrissey)

Here are just a few things to be experienced in 1973’s Flesh For Frankenstein:

A fanatical Baron von Frankenstein (Udo Kier) needs a brain for his latest creation so his assistant, Otto (Arno Jurging) goes out with a giant pair of hedge clippers, snips off a divinity student’s head, and then runs off with it.

An incredibly sexy farmhand named Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro) speaks with a thick and very modern New York accent, despite living in Germany in the 19th century.  Meanwhile, everyone around him speaks with an extra-thick German accent.

The Baron announces to Otto, “To know life, you must fuck death in the gall bladder!”

Nicholas has an affair the Baroness von Frankenstein (Monique van Voreen), who in one scene loudly sucks on Nicolas’s armpit.

The Baron gets rather obviously turned on while removing organs from a body.

The Baron’s children decapitate their dolls and take a perverse pleasure in being cruel.  Some of this could possibly be because the Baron and the Baroness are also brother and sister.

The Baron rants and raves about how, by bringing the dead back to life, he will be able to create the perfect Serbian race, one that will only take orders from him and which will …. well, do something.  The Baron has a lot of plans but he’s not always clear on just what exactly the point of it all is.

Speaking of points, one character eventually gets a spear driven through his back an out of his chest.  Despite the fact that his heart is literally hanging off the tip of the spear, he still manages to get out a very long and very emotional monologue before dying.

Now, of course, you have to remember about that scene with the heart is that Flesh for Frankenstein was originally shot in 3D, which means that audiences in 1973 would have literally had that heart dangling over their heads while waiting for that endless monologue to stop.  How the audience would react to that would have a lot to do with whether or not they were in on the joke.

And make no mistake, Flesh For Frankenstein is not a film that’s meant to be taken too seriously.  It’s a satire of …. well, just about everything.  Baron Frankenstein, with his sexual hang-ups and his obsession with creating a perfect male and a perfect female so that they can have perfect Serbian children, is the ultimate parody of the mad scientists who usually populate these films and Udo Keir gives a truly mad performance in the role.  One need only compare Keir’s Frankenstein to the coldly cruel version that Peter Cushing played in Hammer’s “serious” Frankenstein films to see just how much Keir embraced the concept of pure batshit insanity.  Whereas Keir joyfully overacts every moment that he’s on-screen, Joe Dallesandro pokes fun at the traditional image of the strong, silent hero by barely reacting to anything at all.  The film’s nonstop flow of blood parodies the excesses of the horror genre while Nicholas’s affair with the Baroness satirizes not only Marxism but also an infinite number of European art films.  Flesh for Frankenstein is a film that is so deliberately excessive that it often feels as if it’s daring you to stop watching.  Of course, you don’t stop watching because you know the movie will probably start making fun of you as soon as you turn your back on it.

Flesh For Frankenstein is also known as Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein.  Warhol actually had little do with the movie, beyond lending his name.  The film was directed by Paul Morrissey, who served as Warhol’s “house director” during the Factory years.  The best Factory films were defined by the combination of Warhol’s detachment with Morrissey’s political and religious conservatism.  With Flesh For Frankenstein, Morrissey not only satirizes what he viewed as being the excesses of European and horor cinema but he also satirizes the fact that there’s an audience for his satire.  Flesh For Frankenstein is definitely not a film for everyone but, in this case, that can be considered a compliment.  It’s an audacious and wonderfully over-the-top movie, one that would be followed by Blood for Dracula.

One final note: Because the film was made in Italy, Antonio Margheriti was credited as being a co-director on the film with Morrissey.  While Margheriti did do some second unit work, it is generally agreed that he was not, in any way, a co-director.  Apparently, Margheriti was credited as being a co-director so that the film could receive financial aid from the Italian government.  This scheme later led to both Margheriti and producer Carlo Ponti being charged with criminal fraud.

A Movie A Day #264: The Cotton Club (1984, directed by Francis Ford Coppola)

The time is the 1930s and the place is New York City.  Everyone wants to get into the Cotton Club.  Owned by British gangster Owney Madden (Bob Hoskins), the Cotton Club is a place where the stage is exclusively reserved for black performers and the audience is exclusively rich and white.  Everyone from gangsters to film stars comes to the Cotton Club.

It is at the Cotton Club that Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere) meets everyone from Dutch Shultz (James Remar) to Gloria Swanson (Diane Venora).  Shultz hires Dixie to look after his girlfriend, Vera (Diane Lane).  Swanson arranges for Dixie to become a movie star.  Meanwhile, Dixie’s crazy brother, Vincent (Nicolas Cage), rises up through the New York underworld.  Meanwhile, dancing brothers Sandman and Clay Williams (played by real-life brothers Gregory and Maurice Hines) are stars on stage but face discrimination off, at least until Harlem gangster Bumpy Rhodes (Laurence Fishburne) comes to their aid.

The Cotton Club was a dream project of the legendary producer, Robert Evans, who was looking to make a comeback after being famously charged with cocaine trafficking in 1980.  Having commissioned a screenplay by his former Godfather collaborators, Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, Evans originally planned to direct the film himself.  At the last minute, Evans changes his mind and asked Coppola to direct the film.  After working with him on The Godfather, Coppola had sworn that he would never work with Evans again. (When he won an Oscar for The Godfather‘s screenplay, Coppola pointedly thanked everyone but Robert Evans.)  However, by 1984, a series of box office flops had damaged Coppola’s standing in Hollywood.  Needing the money, Coppola agreed to direct The Cotton Club.

Evans raised the film’s $58 million budget from a number of investors, including Roy Radin.  Roy Radin was best known for putting together Vaudeville reunions in the 70s and being accused of raping an actress in 1980.  Radin and Evans were introduced to each other by a drug dealer named Lanie Jacobs, who was hoping to remake herself as a film producer.  During the production of The Cotton Club, Radin was murdered by a contract killer who was hired by Jacobs, who apparently felt that Radin was trying to muscle her out of the film production.

While all of this was going on, Coppola fell into his familiar pattern of going overbudget and falling behind schedule.  This led to another investor filing a lawsuit against Orion Pictures and two other investors, claiming fraud and breach of contract.  When the film was finally released, it received mixed reviews, struggled at the box office, and only received two Oscar nominations.

With all of the murder and drama that was occurring offscreen, it is not surprising that the film itself was overshadowed.  The Cotton Club is a disjointed mix of gangster drama and big production numbers.  As always with post-Apocalypse Now Coppola, there are flashes of brilliance in The Cotton Club.  Some of the production numbers are impressive and visually, this movie has got style to burn.   However, among the leads, neither Richard Gere nor Diane Lane seem to be invested in their characters while the talented Hines brothers are underused.  The supporting cast is full of good character actors who are all in a search of a better script.  A few do manage to make an impression: James Remar, Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne as veteran gangsters, Nicolas Cage as the film’s stand-in for Mad Dog Coll, and Joe Dallesandro as Lucky Luciano.  The Cotton Club is sometimes boring and sometimes exciting but the onscreen story is never as interesting as what happened behind the scenes.


6 Trailers That Make Lisa Marie Go Yay!

Hi everyone! 

I will be the first to admit that I can occasionally be a little moody but tonight, as I sit here typing, I am in such a good, extremely hyper mood.  Maybe it’s because I’m wearing my beloved black Pirates shirt.  Or it could be because, for once, this house is neither too cold nor too warm.  Then again, it could just be because it’s time for me to bring you another edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Trailers!

1) I Dismember Mama/The Blood-Splattered Bride (1974)

This is a trailer for a “double feature of horror,” featuring I Dismember Mama and The Blood-Splattered Bride.  When I’ve spoken with other grindhouse movie fans on the web, this trailer is often cited as being a favorite.  Personally, I think it goes along for about a minute too long but I can understand why it’s so popular.  For one thing, it’s nothing like the trailers that are currently playing in theaters across America in that it’s a short film in itself.  By the way, the trailer for Blood-Splattered bride sans I Dismember Mamma can be viewed here.

2) Killer Nun (1978)

From the wonderful nation of Italy comes this example of the odd little grindhouse genre known as nunsploitation.  I can probably count the number of good nunsploitation films on one hand.  And yet when confronted with a film like this, I cannot look away.  Maybe it’s because I was raised in the Catholic church.  Or it could just be because the totally hot and lickable Joe Dallesandro is in so many of them.  Along with Dallesandro, Killer Nun features Anita Ekberg of La Dolce Vita fame and Alida Valli of Third Man, Suspiria, and Inferno fame.

(Sidenote: Once when I was going to Catholic school, this really mean, fat girl was jealous of me because I was prettier than her so she whacked me in the face with a ruler so hard that it actually broke the skin right over my right eye and I had to get 3 stitches to close the cut and I’ve still got this little scar and sometimes, when I wink or seductively arch my right eyebrow, it still hurts a little.  I hope somebody eventually went all Killer Nun on that girl…)

3) Lady Kung Fu (1972)

When I showed my sister Erin this trailer, she said, “You’re not going to jump up and start trying to do any of that stuff yourself, are you?”  “Uhmmm…no,” I replied but, to be honest, I was totally about to do it.  I don’t know much about Angela Mao but just, on the basis of this trailer, she’s my hero.  This trailer is just infectious and, as I watched, I wondered, “How difficult can it be?”  Well, apparently, it’s very difficult but that’s a story for a different time.

4) The Bullet Machine (1969)

“He can hack it!”  Uhmmm….well, yes, okay then.  At first, I thought I had actually found a trailer that was more violent than the trailer for Massacre Mafia Style but, upon careful reflection, I have to say that Massacre Mafia Style is still the king.  The two hitmen in Massacre Mafia Style may not fire as many bullets but they still manage to kill everyone else in the trailer.  Whereas The Bullet Machine is constantly shooting his gun but doesn’t really seem to accomplish much as a result.  Plus, the mafia hitmen had style whereas the Bullet Machine just seems to be kind of a prick.  If ever I have to prove the thesis that most men use guns as a substitute for their own limp penis, this trailer will be exhibit one.

5) Alien 2 (1980)

I don’t know much about this film other than it’s obviously an Italian attempt to capitalize on the success of the original Alien and it is not — as I originally assumed — the same film as Luigi Cozzi’s Alien Contamination.  One of the things that I love about Italian exploitation cinema is just the pure shamelessness of it all.  I imagine there had to have been about a thousand remakes of Alien in the early 80s but only the Italians would have the balls to actually name a film Alien 2.

As for this trailer, it has its slow spots but seriously, stick with it for the final shot.  And remember — you could be next!

(On the plus side, a young Michele Soavi is in this film.  YAY!)

6) Fascination (1978)

I’m in such a good mood right now that I’m just going to have to end this latest entry with a little Jean Rollin.  Now, just in case anyone out there is unfamiliar with the unique cinematic vision of Jean Rollin, you should understand that this trailer is far more explicit than any of the other trailers featured in this post.  In fact, I’m surprised that Youtube hasn’t taken it down yet.  So, if you’re easily offended, I don’t know why you would be visiting this site in the first place.  But anyways, if you’re easily offended, consider yourself warned.

As for Fascination, it’s actually one of the more accessible of Jean Rollin’s vampire films.  The image — seen towards the end of this trailer — of Brigittie LaHaie with a scythe has become iconic.

Your Love Consists Of 6 Trailers In A Blood-Stained Bamboo Cage

Hi there!  Welcome to the first edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Trailers for 2011.  All 6 of our trailers in this edition are Italian.  And, as always, most of them should be watched with caution and definitely not watched at work.   (Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if Youtube yanked one or two of them offline within a week or so.  So, watch while you can.)

1) Eaten Alive

This is actually one of Umberto Lenzi’s not that terrible movies.  Which doesn’t mean it’s good.  Just means that it’s not that terrible.  This is the movie in which Lenzi manages to turn the Jonestown Massacre into a cannibal film.  Ivan Rassimov, who looks like a Russian Charlton Heston, plays Jim Jones.  Also, you might recognize the music because it ended up being used in about a 100 different Italian exploitation trailers.

2) Andy Warhol’s Frankenstien

One of the most misleading titles of all time as Warhol had very little to do with this film beyond lending Paul Morrissey and Joe Dallesandro.  This is better known as Flesh For Frankenstien.  The trailer really doesn’t do justice to the movie but I had to include it because, even if it’s not my favorite trailer, it’s a classic exploitation trailer in just the shameless way that Andy Warhol’s name is used to sell the film.

3) Zombi 4

Believe it or not, this movie is actually a lot of fun.  One of the stars is apparently a gay porn star but I’ve never been able to figure out who he’s playing in the film.

4) Planet of the Vampires

Believe it or not, this is one of Mario Bava’s best.

5) Emanuelle Around The World

There’s no way I could do a series like this and not include at least one trailer from Joe D’Amato’s Emanuelle films.

6) Murderock

I had to finish out this all-Italian edition with a little Lucio Fulci.  And I had to go with Murderock because it features a lot of dancing.  The trailer is also memorable for revealing the identity of the killer. 

Film Review: Hereafter (dir. by Clint Eastwood)

Hereafter is a very serious film about a very serious topic, death.  Following three separate but ultimately connected stories, the film attempts to explore death and the question of what happens after death from three different angles — intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.   I really wanted Hereafter to be a great film.  So did the film’s makers, which is precisely why Hereafter fails.

The intellectual consideration of death is represented by the character of Marie (Cecile De France), a French journalist who, at the start of the film, drowns in a tsunami and is, for a few minutes, clinically dead.  Before she is eventually revived, she has a classic near-death experience: the bright light, the people waiting to greet her, the whole deal.  After this experience, Marie is compelled to investigate whether or not there truly is such a thing as an afterlife.  As she does so, Marie finds herself shunned by her resolutely secular friends and grows increasingly distant from her skeptical (and rather condescending) boyfriend.

The emotional response to death is represented in the story of twin brothers, Marcus and Jason (played by Frankie and George McLaren).  The two boys live in London with their drug-addicted mother and share a strong (and, to be honest, kinda creepy) bond.  Jason, while simply trying to return home with some drugs for his detoxing mother, is roughed up by some bullies and ends up running out into the middle of the street.  Naturally, since this is a movie, Jason is hit by a truck as soon as he steps off the curb.  Jason is killed and Marcus is taken away by social services and put into a foster home.  Marcus continues to carry Jason’s cap with him and soon starts tracking down local English psychics in an attempt to talk to his brother again.

Finally, the spiritual aspect is detailed in the film’s most interesting story.  This story features Matt Damon as George Lonegan, a psychic who can speak with the dead.  After years of being a minor celebrity, George burned out and went into a self-imposed exile.  He now works at a factory while his brother (Jay Mohr, who looks incredibly puffy in this movie) keeps trying to find ways to convince George to get back into the business of talking to dead for fun and profit.  After George reluctantly gives a reading to Richard Kind, he finds himself being dragged back into his old life.

 A lot of viewers and critics have compared Hereafter to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2006 masterpiece, Babel.  Both films follow three separate but connecting stories and both films are concerned with the theme of death and how it connects us all.  As well, Babel featured Brad Pitt in a serious role and Hereafter features Matt Damon.  The main difference, however, is that Babel was a great film but Hereafter is basically an uneven mess.

Whereas Babel featured three strong stories, Hereafter features 1 compelling story (that would be Damon’s) which is compelling solely because Matt Damon is a talented enough actor that he can apparently perform miracles.  He’s probably about as likable as he’s ever been in the role of George but he also wisely plays the role as being just a little bit off.  Even though the film makes the mistake of never really going into the details of just what exactly caused George to give up being a psychic, Damon is so good in the role that you’re willing to take him at his word that he had a good reason.  Probably the highlight of the film (and one of the few sections to really inspire any sort of real emotional response) is an extended sequence where Damon befriends and the manages to alienate an insecure, single woman played by Bryce Dallas Howard.  Damon and Howard have a scene that involves eating while blind-folded that manages to be both powerfully erotic and wonderfully romantic at the same time.  If the entire film had been about them, Hereafter would have been a much better movie.

Unfortunately, we’ve got to slog through two other stories. 

Cecile La France gives an excellent performance as Marie and the opening tsunami scene is truly terrifying.  For someone like me, who cannot swim and risks having a panic attack if she even stands near the deep end of a swimming pool, the tsunami scene was almost impossible to watch.  I had to put my hands in front of my eyes and watch the scene through my fingers.  However, once she drowns, Marie sees a vision of the afterlife that — as a harbinger of things to come — is rather dull.  I mean, with everything that can supposedly be done in movies today, the best that Hereafter can give us is a bland white light.  Once Marie returns to Paris and starts her investigation, La France remains a sympathetic presence and the film actually does a pretty good job of showing just how condescending most supposedly “liberal” men are whenever a woman starts to stray from the established orthodoxy.  But, unfortunately, her story is just never that interesting.  Marie decides to write a book about the afterlife.  As a writer myself, I have to say that there is nothing more boring than watching someone else write.

As for Marcus, I was shocked just how little I cared about him or his attempts to contact his brother.  I come from a very close family and I have a very strong bond with all three of my sisters and, among them, I am notorious for crying at any movie that deals with that sort of sibling bonding.  Yet I sat through the saga of Marcus and Jason without shedding a tear and I felt terrible about it.  I really wanted to cry.  I really wanted to have some sort of emotional response to the story but I just never believed it.  I hate to say this but honestly, a lot of this was due to the fact that the McLaren twins are such bad actors.  Director Clint Eastwood has said that he specifically cast them because they weren’t professional actors and therefore, they wouldn’t introduce any false “sentimentality” into the mix.  But dammit, it was a sentimental story.  Sentiment is not necessarily a bad thing and just because something is sentimental, that doesn’t make it false.

So, what exactly went wrong with Hereafter?  The film opens strongly with a terrifying tsunami and the final 30 minutes are also undeniably touching (if also a bit contrived).  It’s everything that happens in between those two points that ruins Hereafter.  Director Eastwood, obviously looking to avoid that dreaded curse of being sentimental, keeps the whole film very low-key and realistic.  Other than the opening tsunami, there are no big wow moments but to be honest, isn’t that what movies are for?  If you’re going to make a movie that specifically shuns the wow moment, you better have something compelling (a perfect script or an entire cast giving a compelling performance as opposed to just a handful of them) to take its place.  Hereafter doesn’t and, as a result, the movie drags.  This, honestly, has got to be one of the slowest, most boring movies I’ve ever seen.  If director Eastwood’s westerns and actions films can all be seen as homages to Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, I think Hereafter must be an homage to some of Andy Warhol’s intentionally dull films.  Whereas Warhol, at the very least, gave us Joe Dallesandro to look at, Eastwood gives us Jay Mohr.  It’s not a fair trade.

I don’t know how much of Hereafter should be blamed on Eastwood and how much should be blamed on the script written by Peter Morgan.  Here’s a quote from Morgan that appeared in The Hollywood Reporter:

“It’s quite spiritual material, and quite romantic, too. It’s the sort of piece that’s not easy to describe and in the hands of different filmmakers could end up as wildly different films. Quite unlike some of my other material, which I think there were only certain ways that you could shoot it. It’s really not just another boring Hollywood movie with the same old boring Hollywood actors, although I see the point that the public and sick of paying $10.00 to see a movie with same old faces and the same gramma of story telling.”

And to that, all I can say is “Shut up, Peter Morgan!”

This is not spiritual material as much as it’s just a bunch of vaguely New Age platitudes being delivered by a mainstream screenwriter who apparently doesn’t have the guts to come down either firmly for or against an afterlife.  This is the type of feel-good BS that leads to thousands of people every year giving up their life savings to some fraud who claims he can deliver messages from beyond.  Morgan’s script goes out of its way not to actually define the afterlife.  Is it heaven or is it Hell?  Is there a God?  Do the worthy go to Heaven?  Are souls saved?  Or are they just ghosts who are waiting for us to be willing to let them go?  These are all questions that would have been considered by a good film but Hereafter doesn’t consider them.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  It pretends to bring them up but only so the movie can shrug and go, “I guess nobody knows.”  And to that I say, either take a position or don’t expect everyone else to pay money just to listen to you duck the question because you’re too scared of alienating mainstream critics or audiences.

(Myself, I do believe that those who love us are always with us in some way even if I don’t believe in a literal afterlife.  And while I know that answer might seem vague, you should also consider that I’m not the one spending millions of dollars to make a movie celebrating that vagueness.)

Morgan’s script also make its a point to incorporate real-life events into his contrived narrative.  As a result, the London Subway bombings and the Thailand Tsunami are both used as convenient plot points in much the same way that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button used Hurricane Katrina.  I felt it was ghoulish when Button did it and, the more I think about it, it’s equally ghoulish in Hereafter.  It’s hard not to feel that the film’s saying, “Too bad all those real people died but what’s important is how these events impacted the lives of a bunch of fictional characters.”

Hereafter’s main problem is that it simply tries too hard to be great.  You get the feeling that every scene and line has been calculated to make you go, “Wow, what genius!”  As a result, even the scenes that work still somehow feel very dishonest.  The end result is a very insincere film about some very sincere concerns.