Operation Thunderbolt (1977, directed by Menahem Golan)


On June 27th, 1976, four terrorists hijacked an Air France flight and diverted it to Entebbe Airport in Uganda.  With the blessing of dictator Idi Amin and with the help of a deployment of Ugandan soldiers, the terrorists held all of the Israeli passengers hostage while allowing the non-Jewish passengers to leave.  The terrorists issued the usual set of demands.  The Israelis responded with Operation Thunderbolt, a daring July 4th raid on the airport that led to death of all the terrorists and the rescue of the hostages.  Three hostages were killed in the firefight and a fourth — Dora Bloch — was subsequently murdered in a Ugandan hospital by Idi Amin’s secret police.  Only one commando — Yonatan Netanyahu — was lost during the raid.  His younger brother, Benjamin, would later become Prime Minister of Israel.

A year after the the raid on Entebbe, Menahem Golan would direct a film the recreated that heroic moment.  Originally, Operation Thunderbolt was intended to be a Hollywood production, with none other than Steve McQueen playing the role Yonatan Netanyahu.  When McQueen withdraw for the project (as he did from a lot of productions in the 70s), Golan and the project returned to Israel, where it was produced with the help of the Israeli military and the Israeli government.  (Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres are among the notable Israeli leaders who appear as themselves.)  Singer and comedian Yehoram Gaon was cast as Netanyahu while veteran exploitation stars Klaus Kinski and Sybil Danning were cast as the German terrorists.

The end result is a rousing action film that takes a semi-documentary approach to telling its story.  Imagine a less flamboyant version of Golan’s The Delta Force, one that tells a similar story but without the oversized personas of Chuck Norris, Robert Forster, and Lee Marvin.  Though the film celebrates the bravery of Yonni Netanyahu, the emphasis is more on the IDF working as a team than on individual heroics.  (The film open with the IDF running a drill that mirrors the eventual raid on Entebbe, a reminder that Israel and the IDF were determined not to be caught off guard.)  The film is not only a celebration of the strength of the Israeli people but, with the Germanic Kinski and Danning cast the villains, it’s only a very loud cry of “NEVER AGAIN!”  It may be an exciting action film but it’s an action film with a message: Don’t mess with us.

(At the same time, the hijacker portrayed by Klaus Kinski is not presented as being cardboard villain, which may seem surprising given Kinski’s reputation as an actor and Golan’s reputation as a director.  Kinski’s terrorist does get a chance to explain his ideological motivations, with the film presenting him as being more misguided than evil.)

Though I will always consider The Delta Force to be the greatest film ever made (if just for it’s cry of “Beer!  America!” at the end), Operation Thunderbolt features Golan’s best work as a director.  Menahem Golan was a frequently crass director but, with Operation Thunderbolt, it’s obvious that he was motivated by more than just making a hit movie.  Golan’s aim with Operation Thunderbolt was to make a film that would celebrate both Israel and the strength of the Jewish people.  With Operation Thunderbolt, Menahem Golan succeeded.

His Name Was King (1971, directed by Giancarlo Romitelli)


During the dying days of the old west, John Marley (Richard Harrison) is the bounty hunter that they call King.  When King is hired to bring in the Benson brothers, who are thought to the head of a smuggling ring, he kills one of the brothers.  The gang takes revenge by tracking down and killing King’s brother and then raping his brother’s wife.  Now, King is the one who wants revenge.

Fortunately, the Sheriff, Brian Foster (Klaus Kinski), is an old friend of King’s and seems to be willing to give him the freedom necessary to get his vengeance.  What King doesn’t know is that Foster himself is the head of the smuggling ring and he has plans of his own.

His Name Was King is a short Spaghetti Western.  The version that I saw, which was poorly dubbed into English, only had a running time of 75 minutes.  Since most sources state that His Name Was King has a 90-minute running time, I can only assume that 15 minutes must have been edited out for the American release.  This was often done when Spaghetti Westerns were released in the U.S.  Unfortunately, it makes the plot to His Name Was King feel incoherent and I’m going to guess that the poor editing job is why Klaus Kinski was only in a few minutes of the version that I saw.  It’s unfortunate because, with Richard Harrison sleepwalking through his role, Kinski’s sinister turn was the best thing in the film.

His Name Was King does have a wonderful score from Luis Bacalov but it’s otherwise, in its edited form at least, for Spaghetti Western completists only.

The International Lens: Aguirre, The Wrath of God (dir by Werner Herzog)


Take a moment to picture this: Klaus Kinski, drifting by on a raft with a bunch of monkeys.

There’s a lot of memorable scenes in Werner Herzog’s 1972 film, Aguirre, The Wrath of God.  However, for me, this will always be the film where Klaus Kinski ends up on a raft with a bunch of monkeys.  It feels like an appropriate fate for Aguirre, the Spanish conquistador and proto-fascist who Kinski plays in this film.  After spending 90 minutes listening to Augirre rant and rave about how he’s destined to conquer South America and how he will always be known as “the wrath of God,” it’s easy to look forward to him being reduced to being a somewhat pathetic figure, commanding a raft full of monkeys.

And yet, what’s odd, is that Aguirre never quite become as ludicrous a figure as you’re expecting him too.  Even though he’s obviously been driven mad and the Amazon rain forest is closing in on him, there’s nothing desperate about Aguirre.  He still believes in himself.  He still believes in his destiny.  He still believes that every decision that he’s made has been the right one.  It’ll take more than a bunch of monkeys to defeat Aguirre!

Filmed on location in South America, Aguirre, The Wrath of God claims to be based on a true story.  We’re told that the film was adapted from a journal that was kept by a 16th century priest named Gaspar de Carvajal.  And while it is true that a Dominican missionary named Carvajal did publish several accounts of his journeys to the New World and while the film itself is full of people who share their names with actual historical figures (Pizarro, Pedro de Ursua, and Lope de Aguirre, being just three examples), the film’s story is itself fictional, though plausible.  This is one of those stories that may not have happened but the viewer can’t help but feel that maybe it should have.

The film deals with an expedition of Spanish conquistadors making their way through South America, searching for the fabled country of El Dorado.  The conquistadors, whio are first seen awkwardly climbing down a huge mountain in their full armor while dragging along cannons and treasure chests, are led by Pizarro (Alejandro Repullés).  Pizarro orders 40 members of the expedition to scout ahead by taking a raft down the Amazon River.  Pizarro places Ursua (Ruy Guerra) in charge of the scouting expedition while naming Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) as second-in-command.  The hope is that the scouting expedition will return in one week with news of what’s ahead.  Of course, it doesn’t work out that way.

Aguirre is Klaus Kinski’s signature role.  Herzog, who knew Kinski when the latter was a young actor renting a room in Herzog’s family’s apartment, specifically wrote the role with Kinski in mind.  Aguirre would be the first of several legendary collaborations between Herzog and Kinski.  In Kinski, Herzog found the perfect actor to embody his belief that chaos was the determining factor of the universe.  And, in Herzog, Kinski found one of the few directors who truly knew how to harness his manic acting style.  They were a perfect match and, of course, they often hated each other.  During the filming of Aguirre, Herzog and Kinski reportedly argued so frequently over how Aguirre should be portrayed that Kinski threatened to leave the jungle at one point.  Herzog responded by saying that, if Kinski tried to leave, Herzog would first shoot him and then himself.  It was not the last time that Herzog would threaten to kill Kinski.  In fact, after Kinski’s death, Herzog made My Best Fiend, an entire documentary about their difficult but often worthwhile collaboration.

Kinski reportedly wanted to play Aguirre as a ranting madman while Herzog wanted a subtler interpretation.  Judging from the end results, they agreed to meet somewhere in the middle.  From the first minute we see him, it’s obvious that Aguirre holds everyone and everything around him in contempt.  He hates the other members of the expedition.  He despises the jungle that surrounds them and the river that he’s soon be floating down.  Even when he’s dealing with his own teenage daughter (Cecilia Rivera), he never smiles or shows anything resembling affection.  He glares at the world with distrustful eyes.  And yet, everyone follows him because he seems to be the only member of the expedition who is not intimidated by the river or the jungle.  He promises his followers that they will be kings and that they will be rich and he says it with such authority that it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone to ask how he can be so sure.  Even when it starts to become apparent that Aguirre is losing his sanity, he’s too intimidating a figure for anyone to try to stop.  When one member of the group starts to complain about Aguirre’s leadership, Aguirre chops off his head.  (The head continues to talk for a few seconds before falling silent.)  As the film progresses, Aguirre grows progressively more and more unhinged.  By the end of the film, he’s come to stand-in for fanatics through history.  Every dictator, the film seems to be saying, started out as an Aguirre.

In fact, the only things that’s not intimidated by Aguirre is the jungle that is continually threaten to swallow up the expedition.  In typical Herzog fashion, the jungle is both lushly beautiful and also home to all sorts of unseen threats.  As more than a few people learn as they float along the river, stopping to admire the jungle is a good way to get hit by an arrow.  Amazingly, no matter how many times the expedition is attacked by the potent combination of nature and angry natives, Aguirre never seems to get a scratch.  It may be that, in the end, only the insane can survive in a world with no rules beyond random destruction.

Aguirre was Herzog’s first big hit and it remains perhaps his best-known film.  It’s certainly features some of Herzog’s best work as a director and Klaus Kinski’s best performance as an actor.  In the end, you’ll never forget Aguirre and the monkeys.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Doctor Zhivago (dir by David Lean)


Klaus Kinski is the main reason to watch the 1965 film, Doctor Zhivago.

The legendarily difficult and erratic Mr. Kinski shows up about halfway through this 3-and-a-half hour film.  He plays a cynical and unstable prisoner on a train.  The train is full of passengers who are escaping from Moscow and heading for what they hope will be a better and more stable life in the Ural Mountains.  (The film takes place during the Communist revolution and the subsequent purges.)  That Kinski taunts everyone on the train is not a surprise.  Both Werner Herzog and David Schmoeller (who directed Kinski in Crawlspace) have made documentaries in which they both talked about how difficult it was to work with Kinski and how several film crews apparently came close to murdering Klaus Kinski several times throughout his career.

Instead, what’s surprising about Kinski’s performance is that he’s even there to begin with.  Doctor Zhivago is an extremely long and extremely stately film.  It’s one of those films where almost every actor gives a somewhat restrained performance.  It’s a film where almost every shot is tastefully composed and where the action often slows down to a crawl so that we can better appreciate the scenery.  It’s a film that stops for an intermission and which opens with a lengthy musical overture.  In short, this is a film of old school craftsmanship and it’s the last place you would expect to find Klaus Kinski luring about.

When he does show up, you’re happy to see him.  Even though he’s only onscreen for about five minute, Kinski gives the film a jolt of much-needed energy.  After hours of watching indecisive characters talk and talk and talk, Kinski pops up and basically, “Screw this, I hate everything.”  And it’s exciting because it’s one of the few time that Doctor Zhivago feels unpredictable.  It’s one of the few times that it feels like a living work of art instead of just a very pretty but slightly stuffy composition.

Just from reading all that, you may think that I don’t like Doctor Zhivago but that’s actually not the case. It’s a heavily flawed film and you have to be willing to make a joke or two if you’re going to try to watch the whole thing in just one sitting but it’s still an interesting throwback to a very specific time in film history.  Doctor Zhivago was designed to not only be a spectacle but to also convince audiences that 1) TV was worthless and that 2) Hollywood craftsmanship was still preferable to the art films that were coming out of Europe.  At a time when television and independent European cinema was viewed as being a real threat to the future of the film industry, Doctor Zhivago was a film that was meant to say, “You can’t get this on your black-and-white TV!  You can only get this from Hollywood where, dammit, people still appreciate a good establishing shot and treat the production code with respect!”  Even today, some of the spectacle is still impressive.  The beautiful shots of the countryside are still often breath-taking.  The scenes of two lovers living in an ice filled house are still incredibly lovely to look at.  The musical score is still sweepingly romantic and impressive.

It’s the story where the film gets in trouble.  Omar Sharif plays Yuri Zhivago, a doctor and a poet who falls in love with Lara (Julie Christie) while Russia descends into chaos.  The Czar is overthown.  The communists come to power and prove themselves to be just as hypocritical as the Romanovs.  The revolutionary Pasha (Tom Courtenay, bearing a distracting resemblance to Roddy McDowall) is in love with Lara and helps to bring about the revolution but is then declared an enemy of the people during the subsequent purges.  The craven Komarovsky (Rod Steiger) also wants to possess Lara and he’s so corrupt that he manages to thrive under both the Czar and the communists.  Alec Guinness plays Yuri’s half-brother and is the most British Russian imaginable.  Doctor Zhivago is based on a Russian novel so there’s a lot of characters running around and they’re all played by a distinguished cast of international thespians.  However, none of them are as interesting as the scenery.

As for the two main actors, Omar Sharif and Julie Christie convince you that they’re in love but not much else.  Sharif is never convincing as a poet and he feels miscast as a man who spends most of his time thinking.  Reportedly, Lean’s first choice for the role was Peter O’Toole and it’s easy to imagine O’Toole in the part.  But O’Toole had already done Lawrence of Arabia with Lean and didn’t feel like subjecting himself to another year of Lean’s notoriously prickly direction.  So, the role went to O’Toole co-star, Sharif.   Julie Christie turned down Thunderball to do both this film and Darling, for which she would subsequently win an Oscar.

(Speaking of the Oscars, Doctor Zhivago was nominated for Best Picture and, though it won five other Oscars, it lost the big prize to The Sound of Music, of all things.  1965 really wasn’t a great year for the Oscars.  The only 1965 Best Picture nominee that still feels like it really deserved to be nominated is Darling.  Of the other nominees, Ship of Fools is ponderous and A Thousand Clowns is almost unbearably annoying.  And The Sound of Music …. well, I prefer the Carrie Underwood version.)

Doctor Zhivago is a big, long, epic film.  It’s lovely to look at and it has a few nice scenes mixed in with a bunch of scenes that seem to go on forever.  In the conflict between the state and the individual, it comes down firmly on the side of the individual and that’s a good thing.  (The communist government attempts to suppress Yuri’s love poems because they celebrate the individual instead of society.  And though the government might be able to destroy Yuri’s life, they can’t destroy his spirit.  Again, it’s a message that would have worked better with a more thoughtful lead actor but still, it’s a good message.)  It’s a flawed film but watch it for the spectacle.  Watch it for Klaus Kinski.

International Horror Film Review: Nosferatu in Venice (dir by Augusto Caminito, Klaus Kinski, Luigi Cozzi, Mario Ciaino, and possibly others)


Nosferatu the vampyre is back!  Well, maybe.  It’s complicated,

This Italian production from 1988 was originally envisioned as being a semi-official sequel to Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu, which was itself a remake of F.W. Murnau’s silent classic.  The idea was that Klaus Kinski would reprise his role and this time, his feral version of Dracula would haunt Venice.  Kinski agreed, initially, to reprise his role.  However, after arriving on the set, Kinski lived up to his infamous reputation for being difficult.  He announced that he would, under no circumstances, don the famous make-up that he wore in Nosferatu.  And while Kinski was undoubtedly a good actor who was capable of giving performances that kept him employed despite reportedly being insane, Nosferatu without the makeup is not really Nosferatu.  He’s just another vampire.

Still, Kinski was a big enough star that he got his way about the makeup.  He also attempted to get his way during the first day of filming, when he refused to take any direction from director Mario Ciaino.  When Ciaino attempted to figure out why Kinski was being so difficult, Kinski declared that he had been promised, by producer Augusto Caminito, that he would be allowed to direct the film.  This led to Mario Ciaino quitting during the first day of production.  Producer Caminito took over as a director, though apparently Kinski did end up directing several of his own scenes.  Reportedly, other scenes were directed by Luigi Cozzi.

However, Kinski didn’t stop with getting the director replaced.  He also demanded that nearly the entire cast be replaced as well.  Kinski, in fact, was such a terror on the set that it was common for members of the crew to refuse to work with him, which perhaps explains why Kinski seems to spend so much of this film wandering around Venice by himself.

As for the film itself — well, yes, it’s exactly as big of a mess as it sounds like it would be.  Kinski plays a vampire who may or may not be Dracula.  Actually, very few of the traditional vampire rules seem to apply to him.  He wanders around in the daylight.  He looks at his reflection in a mirror.  He does, however, drink a lot of blood so I guess some things never change.  Because he refused to wear the vampire makeup or shave his head, Kinski spends the entire film looking like the aging lead singer of a 70s prog rock band.  At the same time, it must be said that Kinski actually does give a fairly good performance.  He’s a vampire who is desperate to find someone pure of heart who can end his ennui-stricken life.  Kinski’s screen presence is undeniably powerful and he looks appropriately miserable.

Christopher Plummer has the Van Helsing role and Donald Pleasence plays a priest who always seems to be somewhat nervous.  (In other words, a typical role for Donald Pleasence.)  Plummer is in Venice because, back in the 18th century, it was the last place that Kinski’s vampire was seen.  This leads to several confusing flashbacks, all of which are somewhat randomly sprinkled throughout the film.

There’s not really any story beyond Kinski walking around with a stricken-look on his face but, oddly, the film kind of works. Despite all of the directors who worked on it, the film is often visually stunning.  I think it’s the power of Venice.  No other city has quite the same atmosphere as Venice and it turns out to be the perfect location for a film about an ennui-stricken vampire.

(I know that when I visited Venice the summer after I graduated high school, I often found myself thinking about vampires.  That’s just the type of city it is.)

Anyway, the film will be best appreciated by Italian horror enthusiasts and Kinski completists.  Others will probably be bored out of their mind.  If you just want to see a good horror film set in Venice, I recommend Don’t Look Now.

International Horror Film Review: Nosferatu, the Vampyre (dir by Klaus Kinski)


Agck!  The rats!

Nosferatu, Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake of the F.W. Murnau’s classic silent vampire film, may be best known for Klaus Kinski’s feral performance of Count Dracula but, for me, I’ll always remember the rats.

When Dracula first comes to the city of Wismar, he travels via a boat.  Spending the day in his coffin, he arises at night to kill the crew of the ship.  (Eventually, the captain’s dead body ends up tied to the wheel to ensure that the boat’s course is not altered.)  In order to keep the people of Wismar from realizing that they have a vampire in their midst, Dracula travels with thousands of rats and forges the ship’s log to make it seem as if the crew has fallen victim to the plague.  When the boat docks at Wismar, thousands of rats flood into the streets.  When Lucy (Isabelle Adjani) later walks through the streets of the Wismar, it becomes obvious that the rats have conquered the city.  The remaining people are too busy burying their dead and preparing for the end to do much about the rats.  One group cheerfully eats a lavish meal while thousands of rats wait behind them.  Later, the rodents have taken over the table.  The people are gone but the rats remain.

Werner Herzog has often cited the original Nosferatu as one of the films that most inspired him as a young filmmaker.  His remake is both a respectful homage to the original film and also a uniquely Herozgian work.  Much as the Spanish expedition at the center of Aguirre, The Wrath of God ended with the raft being conquered by monkeys, the city of Wismar is conquered by both rats and mythology.  Even towards the end of the film, when it becomes obvious that a vampire has come to town, the people refuse to believe it.  Some wait for God to save them.  Some just decide to celebrate the end.  But only Lucy, who we are told is pure of heart, is willing to sacrifice herself for the people of Wismar.  And yet, the film leaves us wondering if that sacrifice would really be worth it.  Are the people of Wismar worth saving?  This version of Nosferatu suggests that perhaps they’re not.

 

Lucy is the wife of estate agent Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz).  As with almost every version of Dracula, Nosferatu opens with Harker traveling to Dracula’s castle, dismissing the claims of local villagers are being mere superstition, and then eventually meeting the count himself.  Klaus Kinski may be made up to look like Max Schreck from the original film but he still turns Dracula into a uniquely Kinski-like creation.  Kinski’s Dracula has little of the old world charm of Bela Lugosi or even Christopher Lee.  Instead, he’s like a feral animal, hissing out his dialogue and almost always hiding in the shadows.  It’s been such a long time since this Dracula was human that he no longer knows how interact with them.  Instead, like an abused animal, he cringes when Harker attempts to speak to him.  There’s a loneliness to this Dracula and an unexpected sadness in his eyes.  Asking him to control his thirst for blood would be like asking a wild animal not to obey its natural instinct to kill.  The only time that this Dracula doesn’t seem to be full of self-loathing is when he’s actually hunting blood.  Then he moves like a calculating predator.

As one might expect from a Herzog film, Nosferatu moves at its somewhat odd but deliberate pace.  (Harker’s lengthy journey to reach Dracula’s remote castle will remind you of Klaus Kinski trying to conquer the Amazon in Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo.)  The imagery is surreal and dream-like.  I already mentioned the rats and the scene of Kinski stalking the captain of the boat feels like it was taken from a filmed nightmare.  It’s also impossible to forget the images of black-clad men, marching down the streets of Wismar and carrying coffins on their shoulders, all ignoring Lucy as she begs them to understand that there is something even deadlier than the plague at work in Wismar.

Both the original and the remake of Nosferatu are classic vampire films.  I suggest watching both.  Herzog shot two version of Nosferatu, one in German and one in English.  Though both versions are essentially the same, I recommend the German version just because, in the English version, it’s obvious the actors are occasionally having trouble performing in a foreign language.  The German version feels more authentic.  Since the film is basically a visual poem, it’s effective even if you’re watching it without subtitles.

 

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