Film Review: Cobra Verde (dir by Werner Herzog)


Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog were a legendary team.

Klaus Kinski was the infamously intense German actor who was always in demand because of his talent but who was also reportedly impossible to work with.  So legendary was Kinski for his bad behavior that it’s actually been the subject of two documentaries — My Best Fiend and Please Kill, Mr. Kinksi.  

Werner Herzog is the famously obsessive and experimental West German director, the brilliant filmmaker who specializes in features and documentaries about men battling nature.  Inevitably nature always seems to win.

Along with directing the previously mentioned documentary, My Best Fiend, Herzog made five films with Klaus Kinski.  Herzog often described Kinski as being one of his first muses.  Herzog’s obsessiveness found the perfect reflection in Kinski’s intensity.  Together, they made films about four madmen and one vampire.  As much as Herzog sometimes hated him, he also considered Kinski to be a key part of his early success.

Klaus Kinski, for his part, often threatened to murder Herzog.  There’s a famous photo that was taken during the making of 1987’s Cobra Verde.  In the picture, an enraged Kinski appears to be attempting to drive a machete into Herzog’s neck.  In My Best Fiend, Herzog stated that he believed Kinski was just acting for the cameras.  The photographer, on the other hand, states that Kinski was definitely trying to kill his director.

 

(Herzog, it should be pointed out, often threatened to kill Kinski as well.  In My Best Fiend, Herzog tells a story of nearly burning down Kinski’s house, just to be scared off by Kinski’s dog.)

Cobra Verde was the fifth and final film that Herzog made with Kinski.  Reportedly, it was during this film that Herzog decided that he could no longer deal with Kinski’s erratic behavior.  (Interestingly enough, Cobra Verde was made around the same time that Kinski made Crawlspace, the film that inspired Please Kill, Mr. Kinski.)

In Cobra Verde, Kinski is cast as Francisco Manuel da Silva, a 19th century Brazilian rancher who is forced to take a demeaning job with a mining company.  When Silva decides that his abilities are being exploited to make his boss rich, he reacts by murdering his boss and going on the run.  (Interestingly enough, Kinski often complained that Herzog used him to get rich.)  Silva becomes a bandit known as Cobra Verde and eventually finds himself working as a slave overseer on a sugar plantation.  When Silva ends up impregnating all three of his employer’s daughters, he’s sent to West Africa on a mission to re-open the slave trade.  Silva’s employer figures that Silva will either be killed in Africa or he’ll end up sending him so many slaves that the sugar plantation will become the most successful in Brail.

Silva ends up becoming not only a very successful slave trader but also something of a powerbroker in Africa.  He arranges for one king to be overthrown and another one to elevated to the throne.  But, even as Silva finds success, he starts to grow increasingly obsessive and megalomaniacal.  He’s built himself a kingdom in Africa but he knows that, as soon as soon as the slave trade ends, so will his power.

It’s a bit disappointing that this was Herzog and Kinski’s final collaborations because it’s not only one of Herzog’s weaker films but it’s also one of Kinski’s least interesting performances.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  It’s evident what Herzog was going for, showing how a man went from being exploited to becoming the exploiter.  And, even if it’s not Kinski’s performance, he’s still always watchable.  But, when watching the movie, you get the feeling that, on his way to making an important statement, Herzog got lost and the story got bogged down.  Oddly, Herzog doesn’t seem to be quite sure how to get Silva from one point of his story to another and, as such, the film has an uneven quality.  We never get the feeling that we understand what’s motivating Silva.  In some scenes, he’s a cynical but committed rebel.  In others, he’s a comical libertine.  And then, in others, he’s a fanatical slave trader.  None of the different sides that we see of Silva ever seem to come together to form a whole.  Of course, Herzog and Kinski were apparently at each other’s throats during the making of the film so perhaps that explains why the end result seems so disjointed.

And yet, it’s a Herzog film so, of course, there are isolated moments of brilliance.  An early scene where Silva meets a young man in a room illuminated with candles is dream-like and shows that Kinski could be a subtle actor when he wanted to be.  Another scene, where Silva exhausts himself trying to push a boat to the ocean, takes on an obsessively self-destructive grandeur.  Littered about, there are moments of beauty and unforgettable mania.  It may be a disappointing film but it’s still a Herzog/Kinski film, after all.

Film Review: Crawlspace (dir by David Schmoeller)


Before moving into a new place, always do a little research.

That would seem to be the main lesson that one can take from the 1986 horror film, Crawlspace.  As the film begins, Lori Bancroft (Talia Balsam) thinks that she’s found the perfect little apartment.  It’s clean.  It’s roomy but cozy.  It’s got space for all of her stuff.  It’s perfect for hosting friends.  You can bring a date back to the place without feeling embarrassed.  The apartment even comes with a charmingly eccentric landlord, an older German gentleman named Karl Gunther.  Gunther is played by Klaus Kinksi and….

Wait …. he’s played by who?

Klaus Kinski?  You mean the infamously difficult actor who appeared in not only a countless number of horror films and spaghetti westerns but also Doctor Zhivago?  Would this be the same Klaus Kinski who was briefly Werner Herzog’s muse?  That Klaus Kinski?

Uh-oh.  That’s not good.

It soon turns out that Gunther is not quite the friendly man that he pretends to be.  Gunther’s got some issues.  For instance, he spends a lot of time intentionally burning his hand and then smiling afterwards.  And there’s his habit of playing Russian Roulette.  Throughout the film, we see him sitting at a table and putting one bullet in a gun, just so he can then point it at his head and take his chances.

Gunther also has a thing for ventilation shafts.  He loves to crawl around in them, specifically so he can spy on his tenants.  When we first meet him, he’s obsessed with Sophie (Tane McClure) but he soon turns his attention to Lori.  Often, he’ll release rats into a tenant’s apartment.  When Lori merely laughs at the rat as opposed to screaming in fear, Gunther is impressed.

Of course, Karl Gunther wasn’t always a landlord.  He used to be quite a respectable doctor.  Of course, then all of his patients started dying and Gunther’s career went downhill.  Gunther, of course, claims that he only murdered his patients because they were in pain and suffering.  However, it could be more likely that his actions had something more to do with the fact that Gunther’s father was a Nazi war criminal, a doctor who justified his crimes with the same excuses as Gunther.

If all that’s not enough to convince you that Gunther’s got some issues, you should just take a look in the attic.  That’s where Gunther spends most of his time, writing in his journals.  It’s also where he keeps jars that are full of body parts.  One jar has a tongue in it.  A pair of eyes float in the other.  There’s a finger in another.  The attic is also where Gunther keeps one of his previous tenants in a cage.  Gunther says that he likes to talk to her, despite the fact that he long ago removed her tongue….

Plot-wise, Crawlspace is pretty much your standard low-budget 80s horror film.  There’s not much here that could really be called surprising but director David Schmoeller does find some creative ways to film all of the expected mayhem and the frequent shots of Kinski crawling through the ventilation shafts are genuinely creepy.  Kinski, giving a performance that’s even more unhinged than usual, is the best thing about the film and the main reason to see it.  By making Karl Gunther the self-loathing son of a war criminal, Schmoeller and Kinski bring an interesting subtext to the film.  Gunther is more than just a slasher movie villain.  Instead, he’s the embodiment of Hitler’s hateful legacy.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, Klaus Kinski was a legendary for being difficult.  Years after both the release of Crawlspace and Kinski’s own death, director David Schmoeller released a 9-minute documentary about the experience of making a film with Kinski.  The title of that film: “Please kill, Mr. Kinski.”  Apparently, this was a request that several members of the crew made to Schmoeller over the course of filming.  (Interestingly enough, Werner Herzog would make his own Klaus Kinski documentary — My Best Fiend — in which he mentioned that, during the shooting of Fitzcarraldo in Brazil, a native chief offered to have Kinski killed.)  Please Kill, Mr. Kinski is a fascinating look at not only low-budget exploitation filmmaking but also what it’s like to have to work with a talented monster.  As of this writing, it can be viewed on YouTube.

 

A Movie A Day #331: The Soldier (1982, directed by James Glickenhaus)


The Soldier is really only remembered for one scene.  The Soldier (Ken Wahl) is being chased, on skis, across the Austrian Alps by two KGB agents, who are also on skis.  The Soldier is in Austria to track down a KGB agent named Dracha (Klaus Kinski, who only has a few minutes of screen time and who is rumored to have turned down a role in Raiders of the Lost Ark so he could appear in this movie).  The Russians want the Soldier dead because they’re evil commies.  While being chased, the Soldier goes over a ski slope and, while in the air, executes a perfect 360° turn while firing a machine gun at the men behind him.  It’s pretty fucking cool.

The Soldier, who name is never revealed, works for the CIA.  He leads a team of special agents.  None of them get a name either, though one of them is played by the great Steve James.  When a shipment of Plutonium is hijacked so that it can be used it to contaminate half of the world’s supply of oil, The Soldier is assigned to figure out who is behind it.  Because terrorists are demanding that Israel withdraw from the West Bank, Mossad assigns an agent (Alberta Watson) to help out The Soldier.  She gets a name, Susan Goodman.  She sleeps with The Soldier because, she puts it, the world is about to end anyway.

The Soldier was obviously meant to be an American James Bond but Ken Wahl did not really have the screen charisma necessary to launch a franchise.  He is convincing in the action scenes but when he has to deliver his lines, he is as stiff as a board.  Fortunately, the majority of the movie is made up of action scenes.  From the minute this briskly paced movie starts, people are either getting shot or blown up.  Imagine a James Bond film where, instead of tricking the bad guys into explaining their plan, Bond just shot anyone who looked at him funny.  That’s The Soldier, a film that is mindless but entertaining.

Ken Wahl may have been stiff and Klaus Kinski may have been wasted but there are still some interesting faces in the cast.  Keep an eye out for William Prince as the President, Ron Harper as the director of the CIA, Zeljko Ivanek as a bombmaker, Jeffrey Jones as the assistant U.S. Secretary of Defense, and George Straight performing in a redneck bar.  Best of all, one of the Soldier’s men is played by Steve James, who will be recognized by any Cannon Films aficionado.

Surprisingly, The Solider is not a Cannon film.  It certainly feels like one.

20 Horror Icons Who Were Never Nominated For An Oscar


Though they’ve given some of the best, iconic, and award-worthy performances in horror history, the actors and actresses below have never been nominated for an Oscar.

Scarlet Diva

  1. Asia Argento

Perhaps because of charges of nepotism, people are quick to overlook just how good Asia Argento was in those films she made with Dario Argento.  Her work in Trauma especially deserves to be reevaluated.  Outside of her work with Dario, Asia gave great, self-directed performances in Scarlet Diva and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things.

2. Jamie Lee Curtis

“Prom Night!  Everything is all right!”  Did you know that Jamie Lee Curtis received a Genie Nomination for her performance in Prom Night?  That could be because, in 1980, there weren’t that many movies being produced in Canada but still, Jamie was pretty good in that film.  And, of course, there’s a little film called Halloween

3. Peter Cushing

The beloved Hammer horror veteran did wonderful work as both Frankenstein and Van Helsing.  Personally, I love his odd cameo in Shock Waves.

4. Robert Englund

One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…

5. Lance Henriksen

One of the great character actors, Lance Henriksen gave one of the best vampire performances of all time in Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark.

David Hess, R.I.P.

6. David Hess

In just two films — Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left and Ruggero Deodato’s The House On The Edge of the Park — Hess defined screen evil.  If nothing else, he deserved an Oscar for composing The Road Leads To Nowhere.

boris-karloff-1939-the-man-they-could-not-hang

7. Boris Karloff

As our own Gary Loggins will tell you, it’s a crime that Boris Karloff never received an Oscar nomination.  He may be best remembered for Frankenstein but, for me, Karloff’s best performance was in Targets.

8. Camille Keaton

Yes, Camille Keaton did deserve a Best Actress nomination for I Spit On Your Grave.

Kinski and Butterfly

9. Klaus Kinski

The notorious and talented Klaus Kinski was never nominated for an Oscar.  Perhaps the Academy was scared of what he would do if he won.  But, that said, Kinski gave some of the best performances of all time, in films for everyone from Jess Franco to Werner Herzog.

Christopher Lee Is Dracula

10. Christopher Lee

That the amazing Christopher Lee was never nominated is a shock.  Though he will always be Dracula, Lee gave wonderful performances in films of all genres.  Lee always cited the little-seen Jinnah as being his best performance.

 

11. Bela Lugosi

The original Dracula, Lugosi never escaped typecasting.  Believe it or not, one of his finest performances was in one of the worst (if most enjoyable) films of all time, Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster.

12. Catriona MacColl

This English actress gave three excellent performances in each chapter of Lucio Fulci’s Beyond Trilogy, with her performance in The House By The Cemetery elevating the entire film.

13. Daria Nicolodi

This Italian actress served as a muse to two of the best directors around, Dario Argento and Mario Bava.  Her award-worthy performances include Deep Red and, especially, Shock.

Near-Dark-Bill-Paxton

14. Bill Paxton

This great Texas actor gave award-worthy performances in everything from Near Dark to Aliens to Frailty.  RIP.

15. Donald Pleasence 

Dr. Loomis!  As good as he was in Halloween, Pleasence also gave excellent performances in Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-Sac and a nightmarish Australian film called Wake in Fright.

Roger Corman and Vincent Price

16. Vincent Price

The great Vincent Price never seems to get the respect that he deserves.  He may have overacted at times but nobody went overboard with as much style as Vincent Price.  His most award-worthy performance?  The Witchfinder General.

17. Giovanni Lombardo Radice

The greatest of all the Italian horror stars, Radice is still active, gracious, and beloved by his many fans.  Quentin Tarantino is a self-described fan so it’s time for Tarantino to write him a great role.

HenryPortrait

18. Michael Rooker

To many people, this great character actor will always be Henry.

19. Joe Spinell

This character actor will always be remembered for playing the lead role in the original Maniac but he also appeared in some of the most acclaimed films of all time.  Over the course of a relatively short career, Spinell appeared in everything from The Godfather to Taxi Driver to Rocky to Starcrash.  He was the American Klaus Kinski,

20. Barbara Steele

Barbara Steele has worked with everyone from Mario Bava to Jonathan Demme to David Cronenberg to Federico Fellini.  Among her many excellent performances, her work in Black Sunday and Caged Heat stands out as particularly memorable.

black-sunday

The Dollars Trilogy Pt 2: FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (United Artists 1965)


cracked rear viewer

faf1

After the huge international success of his A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS , Sergio Leone was red hot. Another Spaghetti Western was hastily written by Leone and Luciano Vincenzoni (and an uncredited assist from Sergio Donati), but FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE is pure Leone, from the visual style to the bits of humor interspersed between the violence. Clint Eastwood returned as The Man With No Name, paired this time with veteran Western heavy Lee Van Cleef as the beady-eyed Colonel Mortimer.

faf2

Eastwood’s character (briefly referred to as ‘Manco”) is a fast-drawing bounty hunter. He’s interested in the $10,000 reward for escaped killer/outlaw Indio. Mortimer is also interested in Indio, but has another motive: a young Indio raped his sister, resulting in her suicide during the act. The two meet up in El Paso, where Indio plans to rob the bank’s estimated one million dollars, kept in a secret cabinet. Manco and Mortimer engage in pissing contest…

View original post 389 more words

Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #14: Decision Before Dawn (dir by Anatole Litvak)


MPW-55716

So, I’m currently in the process of cleaning out my DVR by watching the 40 films that I recorded from March to June of this year.  Yesterday, I watched the 14th film on my DVR, the 1951 film Decision Before Dawn.  

Decision Before Dawn aired on April 9th on FXM and I specifically recorded it because it was nominated for best picture.  It only received one other nomination (for editing) and it’s one of those nominees that often seems to be dismissed by Oscar historians.  Whenever Decision Before Dawn is mentioned, it’s usually because it’s being unfavorably compared to the other nominees: A Place In The Sun, A Streetcar Named Desire, and An American In Paris.  I went into Decision Before Dawn with very low expectations but you know what?

Decision Before Dawn is not a bad film.  In fact, I would even go as far as to say that it’s actually a damn good film.  If you’re into war films — and, admittedly, I am not — you will love Decision Before Dawn.  If, like me, you’re a history nerd, you’ll be fascinated by the fact that, since this film was shot on location, Decision Before Dawn offers a chance to see what Europe looked like in the years immediately following the destruction of World War II.

As I mentioned, I’m not really into war movies but fortunately, Decision Before Dawn takes place during World War II.  World War II is one of the few wars where there’s no real ambiguity about whether or not the war needed to be fought.  When it comes to picking a villain that everyone can hate, Adolf Hitler and his followers are petty much the perfect villains to go with.

In Decision Before Dawn, Oskar Werner plays Karl Maurer, a German soldier who deserts after his best friend is executed for insubordination.  Though Karl loves his home country, he hates the Nazis who have taken it over.  Karl surrenders to the Americans and volunteers to return to Germany to act as a spy.  Karl finds himself in a strange situation.  Though he’s fighting against the Nazis, he is also mistrusted by the Allies.  He is literally a man without a country.

When word comes down that a German general is willing to surrender, Karl and another German soldier-turned-spy, the greedy and cowardly Sgt. Barth (Hans Christian Bleth), are sent into Germany to both find out if the information is true and to find out where another division of German soldiers is located.  Accompanying the two Germans is a bitter American, Lt. Dick Rennick (Richard Basehart).  Rennick doesn’t trust either of the Germans.

While Rennick and Barth track down the surrendering General, Karl is sent to track down the other division.  Along the way, Karl visits many bombed out German towns and meets Germans of every political persuasion.  Some of them still vainly cling to hope for victory over the Allies but the majority of them are like Hilde (Hildegard Knef), a young war widow who just desperately wants the fighting to end.  Thanks to the deeply empathetic performances of Werner and Knef, the scenes between Hilde and Karl elevate the entire film.  In those scenes, Decision Before Dawn becomes more than just a war film.  It becomes a portrait of men and women trapped by circumstances that they cannot control.

Decision Before Dawn is an exciting and well-acted thriller, one that starts slow but then builds up to a truly thrilling conclusion.  Anatole Litvak directs the film almost as if it were a film noir, filling the entire screen with menacing shadows and moody set pieces.  Decision Before Dawn is a war film that does not celebrate war but instead mourns the evil that men do and argues that sometimes the most patriotic thing that one can do is defy his or her government.  It may be one of the more obscure best picture nominees but it’s still one that deserves to be rediscovered.

By the way, if you do watch Decision Before Dawn, be sure to keep an eye out for Klaus Kinski.  He only appears for a minute or two and he’s not even credited but you’ll recognize him as soon as you see him.  The eyes give him away as soon as he shows up.

DBD_Kinski

6 Trailers For A Sunday


Hi!  I apologize for being a day late with this week’s edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film trailers.  In the future, I may just start regularly posting these on Sunday morning as opposed to Saturday.  But that’s something that can be decided in the future.  For the present, the trailers are the only thing that matters…

1) Witchboard (1986)

This trailer is short but effective.  The guy with the beard scares me every time.

2) Jennifer (1978)

Guess which earlier movie inspired this one?

3) Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

When you’ve got a named like Dr. Terror, you might as well get a house of horrors.

4) The Hand (1981)

Continuing on a theme that was introduced in the previous trailer, this film is apparently about a disembodied hand creating mayhem.  It was directed by Oliver Stone who later gave the world Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps.

5) Death Smiles At Murder (1973)

This film is from the infamous Joe D’Amato and apparently, it features a cameo from Klaus Kinski.  That’s how you know it’s good.  Plus, I love the title.

6) Evil Toons (1990)

Wow, this looks terrible, doesn’t it?  Still, I have to include it because it’s just such a purely grindhouse trailer, featuring everything from a gimmick to a somewhat reputable actor who obviously was having trouble paying his rent back in 1990.