Wednesday, January 31, 2007

January Update / Renato Polselli

As you can probably tell, the Photobucket account that I use for the screenshots has had its bandwidth exceeded. So the images will be down until sometime around February 7th when the bandwidth resets. Until I figure out a better method of hosting images, I'll be using both the Photobucket account and a Flickr account to try to keep the traffic spread out a bit. I don't really like Flickr that well (its interface is annoying to me...), but it'll have to do.

Also, I'd like to start adding some more content to this blog other than just reviews. The entire idea behind this blog, in the first place, was to have a place where I could post film reviews, articles, and the like, in an effort to generate content for a website that I hope to eventually create.

In past efforts of website creation I've often run into a problem where I had the design and layout of a page done without having very much content. It was my hope, in this way, to generate more than enough content before I even think about designing the site, let alone registering the domain, etc.

So in addition to the reviews and articles (of which I have a few already written that I've yet to post), I'd like to post relevant links, as well as information that others have written that may not be immediately accessible to interested individuals.

So to start out with something new, BCult has recently added two very nice in-depth articles about the late Renato Polselli, which are both well worth the read, and include images of rare poster art and images from Cineromanzos:

Renato Polselli: Philosophy of the Sin

Renato Polselli: Dramas & Vampires

In continuing with the theme of Polselli, here's an interview of Polselli conducted by Jay Slater1 that started popping up on message boards in early 2006. Since Polselli has rarely been interviewed, it contains some invaluable information.

by Jay Slater


SOLO DIO MI FERMERA (1956) [director]
IO SCARRO (1960)
LE SETTE VIPERE aka THE SEVEN VIPERS (1965) [director]
LO SCERIFFO CHE NON SPARA aka THE SHERIFF WHO DOESN’T SHOOT aka THE SHERIFF WON’T SHOOT aka POKER D’AS POUR DJANGO (1966) [co-director to Roberto Montero - Tom Weisser believes Montero directed the film]
MONDO PAZZA, GENTE MATTA (1966) [director]
DELIRIO CALDO aka DELIRIUM (1973) [director]
MANIA (1973) [director]
OSCENITA’ aka OBSCENITY aka QUANDO L’AMORE E’ OSCENITA aka WHEN LOVE IS OBSCENITY (1973) [director] note: released in 1979

Chances are if you asked most horror fans to name a handful of Renato Polselli films, they would be stumped before the count of their first finger. The minority may remember his delightful Delirio caldo, an erotic and bloodthirsty giallo with psychedelic razzmatazz, but what about Polselli’s other movies? Most of his films are just as warped and are highly entertaining works. However, Polselli himself is something of an enigma who has rarely been interviewed, hence the extreme rarity of his films. Practically unknown outside his native Italy, Polselli’s films focus on human sexual depravity, eroticism, politics, philosophy (the director has earned himself a degree in the subject), and of course, (s)exploitation. Lashings of it. It is hardly surprising to learn that the Italian censor frowned on Polselli’s pictures, and they were often subjected to brutal cutting and distribution restrictions. Polselli is a highly interesting writer, producer and director, whose individual visual flair, erratic editing and colourful camerawork, make his films energetic and sensual experiences. On the fall of December 1997, I was fortunate to interview Polselli in Rome, assisted by Italian horror writer Massimo F. Lavagnini. During our chat, the director revealed his thoughts on his film career and shared annecdotes from behind the camera lens.

Born in Arce, France on 26th February 1922, the young Polselli soon developed a taste for Italian cinema. Polselli’s first film as director was Ultimo perdono, a drama shot in black and white. I asked him about the circumstances behind the film. “At that time, I wanted to write for cinema. An actor who was a good friend of mine, Andrea Petricca, asked me to write a script for him to star in. I wrote the script in less than a day and had absolutely no regards towards the budget” Polselli chuckles. “Anyway, the producer called me and said, ‘Okay, it’s good. Let’s do it!’ Ultimo perdono was followed shortly by Delitto al Luna Park, my first giallo, also shot in black and white.”

In 1960, Polselli made his first true horror film. Inspired by Terence Fisher’s Dracula (1958), producer Umberto Borsato gave Polselli the opportunity to direct L’amante del vampiro. Deciding to warp his film somewhat, and make it as individual as possible, Polselli included sexy footage which was deemed risqué at the time. The cinematography is crisp with some truly atmospheric sequences that remind one of Mario Bava’s visual style. An obscurity, much sought after by movie collectors, L’amante del vampiro is similar to a Hammer horror with a lustful Italian flavour, as well as lengthy scenes of dancing babes. These sequences act as buffers in the film’s creepy narrative, and is a method of film-making that many Indian movies adopt - often with hilarious results.

In 1961, Polselli found critical success with Ultimatum alla vita and Avventura al motel. Ultimatum alla vita is a war drama in which women prisoners of the Germans begin to fight for the partisan cause. The film won a number of awards and was particularly well received in France. Polselli freely admits that World War 2 affected him during the German occupation of Italy. “Minor Italian films such as All the Girls Are Going to Stop Me and From Matter to Life made me stop and think. These films were not only important to me personally, but for all the people of Italy. They conveyed social concerns regarding the war and Italy’s situation after the Allies left. In the 50s, Italian cinema found it difficult to raise these questions and answer our doubts.” Polselli switches his mood to one of deep thought and utter seriousness. “I knew that in the 50s, Italian cinema was restrained in what it could say. So, I decided to make films that could ask questions and try to raise more dangerous topics. One such film I saw at the cinema, now lost, was critical of the American invasion of Italy. The politicians were afraid of movies like this, and tried to ban them.” While on the subject of Ultimatum alla vita, Polselli changes direction and starts talking about mistreating his actors! “I have never really had a problem with actors in my films. The only actor who gave me trouble was Fabrizio Capucci, who plays the role of ‘Hans’ in Ultimatum alla vita. Capucci was always so stupid and full of himself. Eventually, after putting up with his behaviour, I beat him up! After that, Capucci was fine on set and did what I asked of him.”

Avventura al motel was a sexual farce, very much like the teenage American comedies of the early 80s in which the characters were obsessed with losing their virginity. The film is a simple story in which couples attempt to screw in a motel, but are always disturbed before they can get down to the dirty deed. Avventura al motel was very successful at the Italian box-office. At this point, I asked Polselli who were his influences in cinema. “Many Italian directors guided me towards my own career as a film director. However, I never worked with these people as producers paid me to direct my own films. De Sica and Orson Welles were directors who I paid close attention to. They were the masters.” One question I like to throw at directors is if they’ve ever acted in their own films. Polselli immediately dismisses my question with a wave of his hand. “No, not in my films. But I did act in a small role for a little Italian film called An Angel in the Provinces which was made in 1951. And you know, I was happy with my acting!”

After Il mostro dell’opera, a film of considerable technical innovation hampered by terrible distribution, Polselli directed Le sette vipere, a comedy based on the marriage laws of Argentina and Italy. The film was inspired by the producer who suffered a similar fate to the lead character. The title is based on an old Indian legend which states that “every woman hides seven vipers. If you kill one of them, it will multiply giving birth to another 7 vipers.” The producer scarpered from his wife and lawyer, and lived life as an ordinary peasant in an isolated village on the Sardinian mountains…

A year later, Polselli tried his fast hand at the Spaghetti Western. Lo sceriffo che non spara tells of a muscular sheriff (played by Polselli regular Mickey Hargitay) who doesn’t need bullets to rid his town of villains - his brawn will suffice. Polselli is keen to point out that he directed the entire movie, and was not a co-director to Roberto Montero. Apparently, as the film was an Italian and Spanish co-production, the Spaniards asked if they could have one of their directors credited. The Spanish producers felt that it would make financial common sense if it was credited to an Italian and a Spaniard - therefore Montero’s name was plastered on the credits as co-director. Like most Italian directors who worked in the horror and western genres, Polselli discarded his own name and adopted a pseudonym. “I thought ‘Ralph Brown’ sounded better to an American than Renato Polselli. Besides, they dislike Italian names - too much tongue twisting for them! This is why us Italians used pseudonyms for all our Spaghetti Westerns. We did our best to fool them!” Lo sceriffo che non spara was the first film Polselli made with Mickey ‘Mr. Universe’ Hargitay. Polselli is eager to spill the beans on Hargitay. “When I came to direct Delirio caldo, the producer called me to say that an actor was wandering around Rome looking for work. I convinced the producer that Hargitay was my ideal choice and even fooled him into thinking he was an American. I remember one night I introduced Hargitay to the producer. As the producer thought Hargitay was American, he spoke in English and Hargitay had to apologise and say ‘I’m sorry, I don’t speak a word of English!’ He was very strong, but hardly a body builder like you see him in the films. He once boasted he could rip a Yellow Pages book in half - and he did!”

In ’68, Polselli began to take an interest in production and Distribution company Titanus asked Polselli if he could help produce Rita la zanzara/Rita the Mosquito, a vehicle for popular Italian singer Rita Pavone. Polselli believed that the soundtrack would be a variety of new material, but Titanus insisted that Pavone raid her back-catalogue of previous chart singles. Unimpressed, Polselli refused to direct the film, and Lina Wertmuller took over. Wertmuller had worked with Pavone before in the television industry and on a rare musical, Il giornalino di Gianburrasca/The Diary of Hurricane John. Polselli then worked on Antonio Margheriti’s Io ti amo/I Love You (1968), a film that was a box-office disaster.

In 1972, Polselli directed the saucy La verita’ secondo Satana which was produced by his own company, G.R.P. Cinematografica. Originally titled The Gospel by Satan, the film is a psychological giallo in which the beautiful Rita Calderoni (an actress who often starred in Polselli’s movies) believes she has driven her lover to suicide. Because of the word gospel in the title, La verita’ secondo Satana was instantly accused of blasphemy and its distribution was very limited. Once considered a lost title, Polselli’s film was broadcast on the smallest Italian television networks during the early 80s. To bypass censorship and distribution hassles, Polselli shot three different versions, and although the movie was released five times during the 70s, the director added new footage to each print, while deleted certain scenes. The hardest print of La Verita’ secondo Satana features a close-up of the female orgasm. To achieve this, Polselli filmed the actress’s face, body and pubic region in extreme detail as the female orgasm is less evident than the male. Polselli is proud to be one of the first hardcore directors to film such a steamy scene.

One of my all time favourite film titles has to be Rivelazioni di uno psichiatra sul mondo perverso del sesso (1973) which translates into English as Revelations of a Psychiatrist on the Perverse World of Sex. Yes, this raunchy title says it all! Re-released as Deep in our Soul, the film is shot Mondo-style, as a psychiatrist explains to his students about weird cases of sexual deviations. Each tale is presented as a short vignette and includes a graphic yarn of necrophilia and twenty minutes of hardcore shagging that has nothing to do with the actual film. The director claims he made Rivelazioni di uno psichiatra sul mondo perverso del sesso in spite of critics who had dismissed his films saying that they were too graphic and perverse. A box-office smash, especially in Asia, Polselli’s idea for the film came from reading an article stating that the poor are victims of sexual ignorance. Believing that psychiatry is useless, Polselli goes one further by making the good doctor a randy scallywag. A highlight is a scene in where a young, naked woman makes love to a rubber inflatable dog, before tossing-off an Alsatian puppy. Totally incomprehensible, the hardcore sex footage is amateurish, but it is somewhat erotic, graced with a spooky John Carpenter-type score.

In the same year, Polselli directed another psychological movie that features sex, passion, and bloody violence as its main themes. Delirio caldo is his best known film, and is widely available throughout Europe in a watered-down American version titled Delirum. The narrative is a simple one. Hargitay plays the role of Dr. Herbert Lyutak, a well-regarded psychiatrist whose sexual urges become so great that in a fit of frustration, he strangles a young teenage girl. His wife, Marcia (Calderoni) fears that the police will eventually suspect her husband as the murderer. Hoping to divert his guilt, Marcia begins to kill scantily-clad girls in a bid to save Herbert from the hangman’s noose. Unfortunately, the conclusion is an unhappy one for our horny couple as the police arrive for the gruesome finale. Aristide Massaccesi, Italy’s leading hardcore director, copied much of Polselli’s film for his Buio omega (1979) - well, it has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Knowing that several Asian markets preferred graphic material, Polselli shot two versions of Delirio caldo. The weaker print, destined for America was further heavily cut by 11 minutes of sex and torture. Also, Polselli re-wrote the narrative and ending so that the film was not as complex as his European edit. The uncut version (which can be found on video cassette in France) features a different conclusion, long scenes of narrative and of course, lots of naked female flesh and striking violence. The spicy ladies in this film are ravishing, no wonder the Italian title translates as Hot Delirium! The actresses (Tano Cimarosa, Krista Barrymore and Katia Cardinali) are stripped of their clothing by their murderer, beaten, masturbated, and finally killed. In one sequence, Hargitay beats his wife with an iron bar, bruising her back in the process, before buggering her with the blunt instrument, a spectacle cut from the American and Dutch videos. Perhaps the strongest scene is where a blonde woman is beaten and then drowned in a bath. Yet again, Polselli twists this sequence by making her beating more severe, followed by scenes of her sucking a truncheon and then having her twat spanked! Apart from the visual differences, the full version shows the woman enjoying her sexual frenzy, while in the American print, she is in fear of her life. “Yeah, that particular scene was one of the strongest in Delirio caldo” Polselli explains. “I made six films with that particular actress who starred in the very heavy sex scenes. She once asked me to direct her in a hardcore film, but I never got round to making it.”

Even after extensive edits and alterations, the American distributors were unhappy with Delirio caldo. “I found out that I could fool them with the sex scenes by using different camera angles, or editing different footage into the film. I thought my European cut was perfect for the Americans who bought the rights. However, they thought it was way too strong for their audience. Now, this is a funny story,” suddenly, Polselli is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, “I received a phone call from the American buyers who asked me if I could film a Vietnam sequence and edit it into their release. Yeah, like sure! So I bought 16mm war documentary footage and project it onto a wall in my cellar. I then dressed Hargitay as an American soldier and asked him to stand in front of the wall, except this time he was on location in a bogus Vietnam. Afterwards, I spliced in the new war film and the Americans were delighted.” In the uncut version of Delirio caldo, the eagle-eyed may witness a few shots of Italians trying to imitate English policemen. Apparently, Polselli intended to have the film set in England, but the Americans cut out all references to Blighty.

Although a number of gialli lack narrative cohesion, they usually complement their electric camerawork and graphic bloodshed with a heart-pounding score. Dario Argento preferred the fantastic work of The Goblins, while Lamberto Bava opted for Simon Boswell and Guido & Maurizio de Angelis. However, to classify gialli as bare plotted is an inaccurate observation. Delirio caldo benefits from a mesmerising score composed by Gianfranco Reverberi - a psychedelic melody that rips with energy. “I want the very best for my movies,” Polselli says as he sits back in his chair, sipping a generous glass of red wine. “I demand to be at the composer’s side at all times when he writes the music. They must be perfect, and Delirio caldo is no exception.” On the subject of scores, I explain that the main theme for Mondo cane (1961) was a huge success in England, where as a single, it blossomed in the pop charts. Surely, it’s about time that Reverberi’s score was released as a single. Smiling, Polselli rubs his chin, in deep thought…

While on the subject of gialli, Polselli rejects Argento as an effective film director. “Many years ago, Dario Argento was a film critic who wrote for popular Italian newspapers. His father, Salvatore, asked directors to invite Dario into the ‘beautiful world of cinema’. Argento doesn’t make real giallos. He takes five or six horrific elements and sticks them together with a very thin plot. I think his best film is Five Days in Milan (1973). In fact, his father asked me what I thought of the film, and I said that five minutes were o-k-a-y, the rest very average!” Isn’t it unfair to give Argento mass coverage, when it is clear that gifted directors such as Renato Polselli and Sergio Martino are deliberately overlooked by biased reporters? Delirio caldo is one of Italy’s best giallos of the 70s, a refreshing and exhilarating experience with a heady flash of female nudity. If fans of the genre avoid Delirio caldo and Martino’s I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale/Torso (1973) due to Argento favouritism, they are missing out on two of Italy’s greatest and bloodiest thrillers, shot with style and attitude.

Mania (1973) is one of Polselli’s rarest pictures. Released theatrically, it has never appeared on video cassette, making it impossible to find and review. Another giallo, the film concerns love, betrayal and murder (so what’s new?). A married woman is deeply in love with another man, and together, they kill her husband. Unfortunately for them, the husband faked his own death, and drives the new couple to madness.

Filmed in 1973, but released theatrically in ‘79 after censorship wrangling, Oscenita’ is Polselli’s fieriest picture. The director intended the film to be about obscenity and how it has asserted itself in the world, and through religious circles. He submitted the movie as Quando l’amore e’ oscenita’/When Love is Obscenity in 1973, but the Italian censors had finally had enough with the director’s films - the president of film classification remarked: “You have made a film way too tough”.

“Another way of interpreting the film is how it fights against the Italian system, and how obscenity was dealt with throughout history. I was very much against the contemporary ideas of Italian thinking, and how politicians were blinded by the church and its religious thinkers. The censors were shocked by my film, not because of its graphic imagery, but due to its political nature. Because of this, I had to re-edit and re-dub the entire film, and turned it into a feminist picture,” Polselli sighs. Six years later, he re-submitted Oscenita’ as a giallo, another illustration of ultra sexual violence against women. A three minute presentation trailer can be found circulating between collectors of the genre, and Polselli hopes to release the original cut of Oscenita’ on video and DVD in the near future.

In 1974, Polselli tried his hand at the vampire movie with Riti, magie, nere e segrete orge nel ‘300, although its English language title of Rites, Black Magic, and Secret Orgies in 1300 should give a clearer picture. Yep, plenty of violence and lashings of passion to be savoured. Taking his cue from Bram Stoker’s novel, Polselli’s idea was to speak out about vampirism and popular superstitions, which he is skeptical about. The first English language release of the film was The Reincarnation of Isabelle which ran for a complete 95 minutes. Cautious of video censorship, Polselli cut a new print that clocked in at 59 minutes for a hopeful re-release, but his plan failed to materialise. The director planned to produce new material to replace the cut footage, but once again, this never happened. The 59 minute print circulates as a bootleg video, and is an erotic vampire horror with gruesome splatter deaths. Should keep the porno and horror boys content. “Most of my films took three or four weeks to shoot. Riti, magie, nere e segrete orge nel ‘300 was my longest production at eight weeks. The film was a HUGE success all over the world. I remember that the German buyers were very interested, and they asked me if it was a big budget movie. I replied by saying that it was the most expensive film of the year and it was shot in various tropical locations. Of course, I lied! Also, I made a terrible mistake which was left in the finished film. I wanted to shoot a scene where the camera zooms out of a close-up of an actor’s face to a face in a painting. It didn’t work! I couldn’t get the images to fit and it looked awful”.

Based on a satanic sect, Casa dell’amore - la polizia interviene (1978) features the usual exploitation elements of blood and writhing naked women. An extremely rare movie, the film originated in an unreleased picture directed by Bruno Vani, who was Polselli’s secretary. Polselli added additional material and also created a confusing new story. It is unclear if the film was released theatrically, but it has been seen on Italian TV, missing most of its arousing sex scenes. In the same year, Polselli released Torino centrale del vizio, his last directorial effort. Although credited to Bruno Vani, this film was directed by Polselli, and is one of his only movies to be granted an official Italian video certificate.

Polselli has not made a new film for 20 years. At 76 years of age, he has written a screenplay for a kickboxing movie called Kicks of Fire which will be directed by Pasqualino Fanetti. The director does have plans to make a film of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata but is doubtful it will go ahead. “I feel tired of making movies. When you get to my age, it’s very difficult to be in charge of a whole film with its various departments. I would like to make another film, though it all depends how I feel when I wake up in the morning. Some days, I think to myself that it would be fun to make a film, and other days, I stay in bed and forget about it.” Which would be a pity as Italian horror cinema has never seen another Polselli. Gruesome, erotic, and plain offensive to Daily Mail readers - films such as Delirio caldo should be cherished and not forgotten. As we discuss the future of Italian horror (Polselli avoids Argento), the director believes that the 90s will be dark years for Cinecitta’. “I don’t like a lot of these new expensive films, as they rely on computer effects which don’t look realistic. These directors should use their imagination more than these terrible graphics.” And apart from Al Festa’s abysmal Fatal Frames, Sergio Stivaletti’s Wax Mask and Argento’s forthcoming The Phantom of the Opera, it certainly is a lean time for fans of Italian horror movies.

Polselli admits that he has taken the advice of horror film critics and avoided Stivaletti’s film at all costs. “I haven’t seen it as I get the feeling I won’t be too impressed. I think Argento and Stivaletti should have left the first film as it was, because it’s a good horror movie. Also, they cut Fulci’s screenplay which was much better than Stivaletti’s.” And now it is time for us to depart and return to a party, hosted by Antonella Fulci. As we walk back to the crowd, Polselli stops and says that he has something else to say on behalf of his English fans. “Can I ask you a favour?” Polselli pleads. “I just want to say to all the people who have taken an interest in my films, I LOVE all of you!”

Aside from more reviews coming soon, I will probably soon be publishing a sort of "manifesto" that lays down the themes and ideas that hold the films of ESOTIKA EROTICA PSYCHOTICA together.

As a final note, I'd like to point out that feedback on any of the posts is more than welcome and I very much appreciate any comments or critiques that anybody has to offer!

1I tried to find contact info for Jay Slater to ask for permission to post the interview here, but I could find none. If anybody retains rights to the interview and needs me to take it down, I will do so without question.

Monday, January 22, 2007


Shuji Terayama adapted his 1981 film, The Fruits of Passion, from the eponymous Pauline Reage's sequel to her well regarded book, The Story of O. However, 'adapted' is used very loosely in this instance, as Terayama uses the opportunity to completely reshape the structure of the novel, and use only it's themes and characters to create a story that is uniquely his. According to the credits, the text of the narration and O's dialogue itself was taken directly from the short novel, but everything else is pure Terayama.

At the end of The Story of O (in both the book and Just Jaeckin's film adaptation), O has surrendered herself completely to Sir Stephen. This film (and the book itself), picks up directly where that story ends: O is under complete control, and completely in love with, Sir Stephen (in this film, played by Klaus Kinski). Sir Stephen and O are now in China sometime during the first half of the 20th century. Sir Stephen takes O to a well regarded brothel run by Madame (played brilliantly by well regarded transvestite Actor/Actress Peter), where she is forced to surrender herself to any customers that desire her. With O being blindly in love with Sir Stephen, and willing to go to the extremes of submission, accepts this.

Once O has taken her place in the brothel, and Sir Stephen has left, Terayama briefly, through a series of vignettes, introduces us to some of the other women at the brothel. There is Aisen, who is convinced that she is a movie star, and that she keeps getting offers for work, and who will only screw her customers if there is a camera in the room. There is also Sakuya, a woman who constantly has a peculiar cough, but rarely does anything about it. Other inhabitants of the brothel include dreamers, midgets, overweight women, and the aforementioned, remarkably enthusiastic Madame.

While O is in the brothel, pining for her lover, Sir Stephen is living with Nathalie, a woman who has no comprehension of O and Sir Stephen's relationship, constantly wanting Sir Stephen to give up the relationship, all the while carping on the relationship itself. Eventually Sir Stephen forces O to watch him and Nathalie make love, but this just proves to O his dedication,as the entire time the two are having sex, Sir Stephen's eyes are fixated on her.

Meanwhile, a young Chinese boy who lives across from the Brothel has fallen in love with O. He joins a group of revolutionaries in order to make enough money to buy O's love. In a subplot that runs throughout the movie (and ties in significantly at the end), attacks are made and eventually the boy is injured. The revolutionary group has some deal made (the specifics are not quite clear, as the dialogue spoken in English is often very hard to understand) with Sir Stephen to finance their weapons for the attack. However, Sir Stephen decides to no longer support their cause, which angers the group, causing them to hold a gun to Sir Stephan's head while the group members steal valuable items from Sir Stephen's house.

Nathalie sees this incident, which causes her to leave Sir Stephen, not wanting anything to do with what she calls a "despicable" man. The same night of Nathalie's departure, the young boy who is in love with O finally gets his money. He buys a new suit and finally enters the brothel. Sir Stephen watches the encounter through slits in the wall.

At first O utterly rejects the boy, caught up with her love of Sir Stephen. She pushes him off the bed when he tries to kiss her, and he falls, landing on the arm he had injured during one of the attacks. Realizing that the boy has suffered much for his love of O, O turns tender towards him, and they kiss, eventually making love.

Sir Stephen, watching this, is devastated when he sees the tenderness that O shows towards the child. O had not been willing to kiss any of her clients before, and this proves a remarkable change. While Sir Stephen has been utterly caught up in himself, O's submissive spell has finally worn off, and she is capable of loving another man.

Angered beyond belief, Sir Stephen follows the boy through a sort of casino, where he eventually kills the boy, and then attempts to kill himself. Later, at a sort of social event for the brothel, the character of Death walks up to O, tells her the events that have transpired, and gives the contract that O has signed with Sir Stephen back to her. O is, for the first time in many years, completely free. She has the choice to go where she wants, or stay right where she is.

Viewers expecting the same sort of story as told in The Story of O, or even viewers expecting that sort of soft-focus eroticism will be sorely disappointed, as Terayama elevates the story to an even higher level than the former film or novel. He also improves greatly on the source material; while The Story of O itself is a masterpiece of literature, erotic or otherwise, Return to the Chateau: The Story of O II is hardly up to par, being a lackluster imitation of the book it's responding to.

Throughout the film, Terayama includes many of his trademarks: there is reference to an absent or unremarkable father several times (O's memories, the Chinese boy's father), delirious surrealism that simply extends the emotional state of the film (a grand piano sunk at the bottom of a river, a woman riding through a hallway on a fake plastic horse), and brilliantly achieved color filters over some of the scenes. Terayama's visuals are in full force here, his constant attention to visual detail notable in almost every single frame of the film.

J.A. Seazer's music, while taking a noticeable departure from the garage-psyche sound of his music for Terayama's former films (most notably Throw Away Your Books, Let's Go Out In the Street), is a haunting hybrid of deep bass, synthesizers, and regular soundtrack music, perfectly accenting Terayama's visuals. Also, Terayama builds up the emotional state of the characters in the film so subtly, that by the time the ending hits, it hits remarkably hard, surprisingly the viewer almost.

Something it might be important to point out, however, is how some plot details rely on a former knowledge (or at least familiarity) with the plot of The Story of O. The former film explains O's utter submission, and the contract, and knowing what has happened to O before adds to the emotional intensity. It's also worth pointing out that the sex seem look unsimulated and border on hardcore, odd for a Japanese production (but I suppose since it was shot mostly in China, that's how it got through the legal system).

While often considered as a minor work in Terayama's oeuvre, and generally derided by fans of the original Story of O, The Fruits of Passion stands on it's own as a brilliant film. Terayama had matured greatly since his last major film, Pastoral: To Die in the Country, and he manages to tell a brilliant story without getting overly obsessed with his own hangups (which is the one major problem with Pastoral...). The film is built primarily on the strength of it's images, and Terayama doesn't disappoint.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Cannibal is based on a real life incident involving Armin Meiwes and Bernd Jürgen Armando Brandes. In the actual incident, as well as the movie, Armin (never named in the film) places an ad on the internet looking for someone who wants to be cannibalized. Eventually, someone responded, and the real life Meiwes has been convicted of murder, despite some initial complications.

The film doesn't stray too far from what the public knows about the case. It starts off with a man (obviously the Meiwes character) repeatedly typing on his computer (the screen is obscured for the most part, except for a few vague words like "flesh" etc...) and then meeting up with various men, all who reject him. Eventually, through the internet, he encounters a man who honestly wants to be eaten. This thrills the man, and they arrange to eat. Eventually the man arrives; they spend the night naked, indulging in various pleasures and just messing around. Eventually the man who wants to be cannibalized cracks and demands that "it's time."

The theoretical cannibal goes over to the man and tries to bite his penis off, but cannot do it. The victim suggests that it would maybe be easier if he was asleep, so he takes a handful of painkillers and passes out. When he awakens, the victim is huddling in the corner of the room crying. Angered, the victim demands that the cannibal drive him back to the train station. After some hesitation, however, the victim decides to give the man another chance, and they drive back to the house.

Once back at the house, almost immediately the man cuts off the penis of the victim, and they both eat it. The man is constantly feeding the victim alcohol so he the pain is slightly eased, but it is visually clear the man is still very much affected. The man takes him to a bath tub where he lays and eventually dies.

The man then drags the body to a garage type location and proceeds to cut the body up. He then cooks the body and eats it, while the head of the man sits at the other side of the table, seeming to watch.

Cannibal, while a very noble effort from Marian Dora, does not succeed at all levels. It does succeed at being a very unflinching look at the incidents involved in Meiwes case, but aside from that fact, it fails. The first problem with the film is that it would have succeeded far greater had it been a short film. The first half hour or so are irrelevant depictions of the man walking around town and meeting with men (and one woman even) who end up rejecting him. Once the man finally gets an active response from the internet, the film starts to have substance. There is also a fairly useless prelude that has a grandmother reading her son the tale of Hansel and Gretel while a large slug crawls over the page. It adds nothing to the film, or the subtext, and is just seems like useless filler.

Secondly, while the dialogue in the film is minimal, the small amount of dialogue present is absolutely atrocious, not to mention ridiculous. I applaud the director trying depict an actual philosophical *importance* to the protagonists, but the manner in which this is attempted is laughable. The cannibal is soft spoken, while the victim is overly campy in his delivery, which detracts from what is obviously an attempt at a serious tone. It is actually distracting when the characters speak.

But at the same time, Dora's attempt to give the characters an unbiased pathos is nice- nobody is sensationally depicted as crazy, just individuals with a very, very deep need (fetish). Despite my repeated reference to the second man as the victim, this man is never in a compromised position. He seems to have more control over the situation than the cannibal himself. The act is depicted as utterly consensual. Also, the fact that Dora doesn't shy from showing the very sexual nature of the characters before the "finale" is an accomplishment, as the obvious (at least for the most part) audience for this film is the seasoned gore hound, who is generally a heterosexual male (despite an overwhelming history of subtle homosexuality and eroticism in horror movies, this, I think it's safe to say, remains a fact). More than the gore, the aspect of sexuality, seems to be what's so "gut wrenching" to the average audience (at least, that's what it seems like to me, reading several other reviews and comments on the web). So I applaud Dora's subversion of the "gore" genre, and appreciate the attempt and elevating it to an even higher, philosophical level, even though that more subtle level fails.

Also, the gore effects are wonderfully executed, especially for being such a low-budget film. As a short film with better dialogue I think the film could have had a chance at brilliance, but unfortunately at feature length with the aforementioned problems, it feels somewhat lacking. So I can't truly recommend or discount the film. Aspects of it are truly unique and interesting, so if it sounds like something you'd like to see, I guess I would say go for it.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


"This is the King of Death. He makes people not want to live anymore."

Der Todesking was Buttgereit's second film, made shortly after his well-known Nekromantik. Buttgereit, to date, only has four feature films to his name; this one, the already mentioned Nekromantik, a sequel to Nekromantik, and the serial killer film Schramm. Due to the reputation he fell into because of the sensational theme of Nekromantik and it's sequel, Buttgereit is unfortunately often associated with plotless gore film and early 90s German splatter flicks. If the viewer expects something hilariously irreverent with Der Todesking, they will undoubtedly be let down.

The film is organized into days of the week, with a different suicide occurring on each day. On Monday, a man quits his job, writes some letters, feeds his fish, and then overdoses on pills in his bathtub. On Tuesday a man hangs himself while watching a splatter video. On Wednesday a woman walks to a park bench in the rain, listens to a man talk about problems with his wife, and then points a gun at him. The man then takes the gun from her, cocks it, and shoots himself in the head. On Thursday, a bridge is shown while names and ages of many people are listed. On Friday a lonely woman gets a letter in the mail demanding her to take her life after she spies on one of her neighbors. She throws the letter away and eats chocolate, eventually falling asleep. She gazes longingly out her window one more time, and the audience is show the couple she was spying on from her window earlier, dead in their bed. On Saturday, a woman reads somewhat of a manifesto on random mass killings as a form of suicide, then video tapes herself going to a concert and randomly shooting individuals until she herself is shot, and killed. And on Sunday, a man screams and bangs his head against a wall until he slumps to the floor, dead.

In between each days a body in a dark room decomposes. A girl sketches the death king in her sketchbook. But what does it add up to? All in all it adds up to a harrowing image of the self-destructiveness of humanity. The film has no central characters, each day of the week is disconnected from the former, except for the act of self destruction. What makes the film work is the way that Buttgereit handles the materials, and the subtle touches that he throws in at the most unexpected moment.

On Monday, the day that launches the film, Buttgereit uses very fluid, creative camera movements to emphasize the small space and banality of the man who is about to take his life. On Tuesday Buttgereit repeatedly plays with the viewers perceptions, but having a movie, within a movie, within the movie, to further show the sense of disconnect apparent in these sad and lonely individuals. Within one of the films- within-a-film Buttgereit has a character frame the blood splatter that's on the wall, creating a sort of message on violence as art, and calling out the audience members who were expecting mindless gore. On Wednesday Buttgereit actually distorts the image itself, having it sort of loop and skip in the way old video tapes tend to do, to echo the collapsing mental state of the man in utter desperation.

The film isn't perfect, in itself, as many of the episodes are significantly powerful, with others not bring much to the table. There is also a hauntingly simple score that helps with the atmosphere and nihilistic mood of the entire film. An important central point to the film is encoded within a letter than the spinster of the Friday episode gets. Starting with a quote form Lautreamont - "We lose our life with joy," the letter is a sort of suicide manifesto, and is aptly nihilistic. But despite some of it's flaws - aside from the aforementioned weaker episodes, there are some noticeable low-budget limitations, like evidence of the camera (the tracks in the bridge episode, some shadows in the Monday episode)-- the film is more than worthy of attention and very successful testament to the thoughts and ideas behind suicide.


aka La Derniere voix

The City Without Windows is an allegorical short film that manages to get across a relevant point within its thirteen minute run time. In a dystopian future, the windows of every building have disappeared without explanation. Aside from that, a heavy rain has begun and never let up. Due to the nonstop rain, metal and wood have been rendered useless, and there is no longer an elemental divide between the indoor and outdoor. Also due to the rain, any and all electronic devices have become obsolete, and disease is spreading. The main downfall of the disease is that it destroys vocal chords, meaning that humans can no longer speak.

Since humans can no longer speak, and all electronic devices are essentially extinct, communication has become a major problem. Paper pulp dissolves almost immediately, so the only form of communication available is to carve a succinct message into anothers flesh. Since it is also almost eternally dark, lighter skinned bodies are ideal for this communication. This has rendered a shift in race relations, but the light skinned are dutiful to their job, as they are now the carriers of language, a very noble cause. The short film depicts an handsome man carving a message into a very pale woman, leading her to a woman, and revealing the message. The message he carves relates to love and intimacy, and the desperation and hopelessness that has resulted.

The film is very quietly successful in it's commentary on communication, and intimacy. As the voice over notes, man now has to be completely honest, as it takes the skin too long to heal if a mistake is made. Communication is thought out fully and there is no room in what's left of society for lies. It's seems that the lack of dishonesty is starting to make intimacy itself difficult, and that blow alone is a very loaded one, handled nicely (the film never approaches being preachy).

Decked out in the expressionistic lighting schemes that Hussain is fond of (which has obviously been acquired from the likes of Bava and Argento), the film plays out almost rhythmically, with the unending rain providing the pulse of the hopeless city's heart. The film also manages to pack some impressive gore effects, treated without a sense of sensationalism as to not detract from the film. The production design all around is great, and David Kristian (the man responsible for the sound design of Subconscious Cruelty, Hussain premiere feature film) provides beautifully melancholy sound design for the short.

Fans of the "philosophy through gore" elements of Hussain's Subconscious Cruelty will no doubt be slightly let down, but if you're in it for more than striking visuals, there's lots of interest to be found here.

Monday, January 08, 2007


Rafureshia is a very odd film viewed in the context of Sato's entire filmography. A director who normally deals with pessimistic world views and the disconnect between individuals in society, Rafureshia takes everything you think you know about the director and flips you on your head. In fact, the film is an optimistic black comedy, with very little of Sato's regular trademarks, other than the fact that despite it's lightness, a message shines through.

The plot is one of the most straightforward of all of Sato's films. The viewer is first introduced to Alisa, a young girl who is essentially imprisoned by her incestuous father on a small island. Alisa remarks that she feels dead inside, and just once she would like to see what's on the other side of the sea. Her father tells her that the only people on the other side of the sea are 'boring people doing boring things,' but his plight doesn't stop Alisa, who jumps over her fence and swims all the way to the mainland.

Meanwhile, Harumi is suffering through a family dinner with her mother and distant husband. Her mother is dissatisfied with her because after being married for five years, she still hasn't had a baby. In one of the most awkwardly hilarious scenes ever committed to a pink film, Harumi's mother jerks off Harumi's husband while Harumi plays with herself from across the table, describing to her mother what she does to her husband's "hard thing." As it appears the two woman are about to work them self into a climax, Harumi's husband stands up and says that he's going to bed.

Later, in the bedroom, Harumi strips her husband and attempts to have sex with him, but he slaps her and tells her to make it quick. She quickly works him to orgasm and he coldly turns away. Later, her mother tells her she is going to help out a woman at the woman's center, so she probably wouldn't be home until the next morning. With her husband in bed and her mother out of the picture, Harumi goes out to the red light district to "play."

While Harumi is suffering humiliation at her house, Alisa is joyfully (admittedly pensively at first) engaging in an orgy with three bums she saw on the beach. They call her "Mermaid Woman" and enjoy the sex they're gladly having. However, shortly afterward a man in a car drives by, and noticing the scene, tells the bums that Alisa is too hot for them, and knocks her out to take her with him.

Alisa's unconscious ride with the unknown man is paralleled with Harumi's joyride, where she's picked up by a truck driver, and after having sex with him, asks for money, which she promptly burns as a jest. She then walks down the street. Alisa ends up in a sort of weird sex club, where a woman wearing a bunny mask tells her that "everybody in the city works, and [she has] to work too." Next door there is a infantalist who the woman in the bunny mask tells Alisa to "punish for being bad." For Some bizarre reason, the instrument given to Alisa to punish the man is a chainsaw. In one of the most entertaining scenes in the film, Alisa is shown chasing the adult man wearing a diaper and little hat around a room while he cries "Mama," until after almost getting a chainsaw to the rear, he realizes that "she's not playing!" and runs into the room where the man that picked Alisa up and the bunny-mask woman are having sex. He yells at the woman (who, without the bunny mask on, we can see is Harumi's mother) and runs out of the room, terrified. Unsure what to do, Alisa grabs a bag with money from a table, and runs out of the apartment. It turns out that also in the bag is a tape of a politician in an uncompromising sexual position, and Harumi's mother and the man will stop at nothing to get it back.

Alisa ends up hooking up with Harumi, and after further series of misadventures, the two end up running from various forces, relying on each other for support. All the while Alisa's father has been wandering the mainland looking for her, and once he finally finds her and realizes that she doesn't obey his every wish anymore, he loses his mind and the situation ends up quite humorously (the exactitude I'll leave for the viewer). Harumi also gets her own revenge on her husband and mother, and, for what would seem to be the first time in a Sato film, the main characters end up with exactly what they want: an escape from the banality of their day to day life. The ending of the film is truly bizarre and hilarious, and fits perfectly with the insane tone the rest of the film maintains.

As obvious from the plot, Rafureshia is not half as "heavy" or "serious" as most of Sato films,and while that fact makes it an "easier" flick to watch, it's also not half as rewarding as the films you can tell Sato has poured everything into. Even in an interview about the film, Sato seems to halfheartedly be making up the answers to the questions as their asked. Also, it turns out the original screenplay came from a Manga, so that would explain some of it's bizarre, cartoon like qualities.

The film is shot in mostly medium shots, which Sato says was to keep the camera's view of all the characters objective. I'm not sure he succeeds in that respect, but in regards to the final product, it hardly matters. Rafureshia is definitely a minor film in the Sato oeuvre, but if you're in the mood for something bizarre and comedic instead of specifically relevant and heavy, Rafureshia might just suit your fancy.


It's really too bad that Radley Metzger got branded as a "dirty film" maker so early in his career-- many of his filmic efforts prove close to the same caliber of many important films of the period. A perfect example of Metzger proving his artistic and intellectual capabilities comes by way of his 1970 film, The Lickerish Quartet.

Set in a "700 year old castle," a husband and wife, and the wife's son, watch an 8mm stag film. The son becomes upset, the husband and wife simply find it amusing. They finish the film and head to a carnival. The end up attending an attraction, The Wheel of Death. Not only amazed by the spectacle, the family is even more amazed when one of the motorcycle riders takes of her helmet and reveals herself to be the girl they had just seen in the film. The entire group is shocked by the revelation, the husband and wife decide it would be a great idea to invite the stunningly beautiful girl to watch the film with them in their castle. The husband invites her over, and she accepts.

What follows, summarized quite succinctly, is the seduction of all three "family members" by the beautiful girl. The girl makes it with the castle owner in the library, where dictionary definitions of words relating to sex pattern the floor; in the woods with the young man; and back in the study where the film was first viewed with the castle owner's wife. However, much more is going on that what appears at surface level, and Metzger leaves us with a deliberate, ambiguous mystery to solve.

An interview with Metzger from 1976 reveals his inspiration from Alain Resnais' film, Last Year at Marienbad. While the film, to most, may seem in an entirely different league than Metzger's magnum opus, many similarities can be noticed. Both films deal heavily with memory, distortion of memory, and memory versus reality. Also, both feature long, sumptuous tracking shots, Metzger's film to a much lesser extent to that of Resnais'. Another big art house title the film is comparable to is Pasolini's Teorema; in which Terence Stamp plays a stranger who visits a dysfunctional family and changes everything. In fact, there are so many similarites between the films that many cinema goers assumed that Metzger had been heavily inspired by the Pasolini film; however, Metzger denies having seen Pasolini's film before he made his own, although after viewing it doesn't deny their similarities.

As I intended to bring up originally, it really is a shame that Metzger never received the critical praise he deserved, especially since this film is at the same level as the enigmatic films of Alain Robbe-Grillet and aforementioned Resnais and Pasolini. If critics of the time had been willing to watch Metzger's film in a context outside of it being a "blue movie," one can be sure that it would be as well remembered as the aforementioned "classics.

The film is one of Metzger's crowning achievement as far as technicalities go; it features the most beautiful setting in a Metzger film, incredible camera work by Hans Jura (who did the cinematography for many of Metzger's other beautiful films), a perfect score by Stelvio Cipriani (credited as "Stephen Cipriani"), and a beautiful cast that's as beautiful as the film itself; acting, albeit seeming a bit too theatrical, fits the script perfectly.

While probably not being the best introduction to Radley Metzger, The Lickerish Quartet still serves as an excellent movie on it's own, outside of Metzger's oeuvre. View it as an example of the excellent, ambiguous avant-garde art films of the sixties, or view as one of Metzger's most personal and experimental works; either way, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


It's really unfortunate that Visions of Suffering takes the turns that it does, because the film itself starts out with a fairly brilliant premise and features some of the best looking digital video effects and cinematography that I've yet to see in the medium.

The film starts out in a barren forest, a muted yellow filter laid over the scene to create a more desolate effect. We see a man in glasses (played by Aleksandr Shevchenko) wandering around the forest, viewing odd, organic white stuff dripping onto trees, while bizarre spiders pulsate in the branches above him. He continues running through the forest until he encounters a grotesque, cloaked man beating a sort of tribal drum. He approaches the man in the cloak who then turns around revealing a terribly disfigured face, and the man wakes up.

It turns out that every time it rains our protagonist has terrible nightmares about death and anxiety, and they're starting to get the best of him. Once he wakes up, he tries to phone his girlfriend, only to find that his phone will produce no results other than an odd hissing noise. Since he needs his phone, he walks over to a neighbors apartment to use the phone to call a repair man.

The repair man comes to fix the phone. The man in the glasses asks the repairman if he ever has nightmares, and the repairman responds that he "just has dreams. The world we live in is already a nightmare." He goes on to explain about a sort of esoteric vampire/demon that pops up in dreams had during rain that you can hear over the phone lines. The problem is that if you tell somebody about these vampires, they will kill you. Naturally, as soon as the repairman finishes fixing the phone and leaves the apartment, he is killed by one of these demon vampires, and his death happens to be one of the most impressive scenes in the film.

Unfortunately, shortly after this scene the film takes a turn for the worst. A completely unnecessary subplot has a priest (at least, he's a priest according to the films credits) obsessing over a woman with really bad goth makeup. He too suffers the nightmares when it rains, but doesn't appear to be too phased by them. He sits at his desk, moping over the woman while consuming some indiscriminate alcohol. He pulls out some photos of the woman and they fall onto a book of satanism and witchcraft, which he picks up and begins thumbing through. After a while he decides to don some ridiculous goth makeup himself and go to the ridiculous goth club that the woman (who also, apparently, happens to be the man with the glasses' girlfriend) works at.

So he goes to the club and we (the viewers) are treated to an endless barrage of (once again) ridiculous goth antics, such as a stage show of a woman being beaten (oh! how subversive! there are women in the audience cheering it on! what has society come to!), industrial rave music that sounds like it would have fit in perfectly circa 1994, a man who breathes fire, and a man who can control his very sharp knife very well (watch me cut this cucumber on somebody's neck!). If any objectivity has been lost in these last few sentences please forgive me, I was very frustrated by this point.

So after we're offered a half hour (with very brief cuts back to the man in the glasses keeping the demon/vampires out of his flat) of these industrial/goth festivities, we get to remain in the club and watch three protagonists (one that has been seemingly introduced for no reason other than to offer another victim to the vampire-demons) take drugs. For most of them the drug of choice is some pill-form of LSD. Naturally, being the visually oriented director he is, these drug scenes do little more than give Iskanov an opportunity to show twenty more unnecessary minutes of "trippy" and "psychedelic" drug visuals that, once again, have little to no value on the story that's at the core of the film.

Needless to say, after the characters finish the initial wave of their trips, the demons pop up in the club (via some bizarre spaceship bullet thing... I think) and it isn't long before more people start dying in varying degrees of creative ways. Eventually the man with glasses' girlfriend makes it back to his flat, where the man is in a paranoiac state, crouching under an end table with a knife in his hands. The girlfriend chides him a bit, and then opens the window to reveal that it's no longer raining. The man tells her he needs to take a short nap, and afterwords he'll explain what he's been too. As the girlfriend walks out onto the balcony to look at the city, she turns to the man and says, "you'll never believe this, but it's starting to rain again." And you can probably guess what happens after that.

Aside from the plot, the film is very accomplished in some regards. For one thing, the visual effects (not the computer effects) are very well done, and extremely grotesque. The shining, memorable moments in the film are mostly due to some brilliant prosthetic effects. Another accomplishment in the film is Iskanov's visual style, which involves multiple color filter overlays on many scenes, and bizarre framing. These visual effects add to the films nihilistic world view while creating a sort of poetic substance to it.

However, the computer generated effects, for the most part, are atrocious. The vampire-demons, when not in prosthetic form, are ridiculous generic looking "alien" sort of things, and the aforementioned "drug trip" scenes are unnecessarily naive (think of every stupid hippy poster you've ever seen... plus fractals). Another short-coming the film suffers from is the music. While decent and suitable for a large majority of the scenes, there are some awful industrial tracks that feature vocals. Now, I could buy the track that I had the main problem with in the nightclub scene (as I find it easier to accept tracks with vocals on a soundtrack in a diagetic method more so than non-diagetic), but it's placement takes the viewer out of the atmosphere the film has done a fairly decent job of doing up to that point.

So all in all, the film is a disappointment. After building up a very successful visual style and an interesting premise, Iskanov ignores everything he had going for him to create an intentionally subversive mind-trip that loses all of it's relevance by the already culturally dated iconography and abandonment of storyline.


aka Kimyo na sakasu

Strange Circus is an intentionally ambiguous film, concluding with dialogue along the lines of, "What's reality and what's not?" The sentiment is consistent throughout its entirety.

The film opens with scenes from the "strange circus" of the films title; the art direction immediately reminds one of the films of Shuji Terayama, specifically Pastoral: The Die in the Country-- bright colors abound, the carnies are grotesquely dressed, and there is constant movement. Young Mitsuko volunteers to be the star of the shows first act; a live show of the guillotine. As she walks towards the stage, she begins to narrate the story of her life. We, the viewer, are thrust into her tale of sexual abuse (by way of her principle/father) and physical abuse (by her mother, who's essentially been drivin insane by her daughters molestation).

We arrive at a point in Mitsuko's story where, through a bizarre and existentially sad turn of events, Mitsuko has assumed the persona of her mother, who she accidentally killed. She goes through her school day excited, getting good grades, finally feeling accepted and full, happy even. But as she walks through the hallway of the school, by herself, staring at the 100 percent she has just received as a grade on a test, she stops, and in an epiphanic moment, realizes that she actually received a 0 percent on the test, and that she's not her mother-- she's still Mitsuko.

A quick jump cut shows us erotic novelist Taeko, writing the scenes that we have just seen on screen. Her agent applaudes the work, and asks her to finish the work soon. She is soon assigned Yuji as a sort of "personal assistant" from her editor. Taeko mostly keeps to herself, and Yuji's editor soon reveals to him that he would like Yuji to uncover Taeko's history, any reality that's present in her novels, and any dirt he can get on her so the company can do an "expose" piece (why a company that is publishing an authors books would want to do an expose on her is beyond me, but it's not utterly relevant).

From this point on, Sono constantly shifts between realities, never revealing what the "truth" is in regards to what is actually happening in the story of Mitsuko and Taeko. He pulls out a huge twist at the end, but in the framework of the story, it works. What would normally be a simple gimmick by way of lesser directors such as Christopher Nolan or M. Night Shyamalan, turns into a pivotal plot point that asks more questions that it does provide answers.

And Sono's tale is uniquely his own. While often displaying influences from other directors (the aforementioned Terayama, a little bit of Hisayasu Sato even [all three directors seem to share an obsession with reality vs. unreality, at least in this film for Sono]), Sono still retains a personal sense of story telling which makes the film worthwhile. For being such an abstract story, it's surprisingly easy to follow, so viewers willing to actively watch the film should not fear.

Another interesting point that bears mention is the way Sono handles the sublime in the first half of the film. In the same way Uta Barth's photographs depict banal, largely empty spaces out of focus in order to achieve a higher sense of emotion, Sono's constant blurring (of focus) achieves the same effect, brilliantly echoing the way that Sono himself is "blurring reality" within the narrative structure of the story. The score also extends the abnormal beauty that the film depicts, accenting the emotional states of the characters and the viewer his or herself.

Strange Circus also is one example of a recent wave of films (other most notable examples include the ensemble piece Rampo Noir) that are finally taking the Japanese horror film in a new direction-- in the direction of the ero-guro (or, erotic grotesque). Abandoning the archetypal J-Horror themes (the creepy child with wide eyes or long flowing hair, the jump-scare every ten minutes) and looking back to something rich in Japanese history (as ero-guro essentially began in Edogawa Rampo's books from the early to mid-century), and using the themes to create something new and worthwhile. A step in the right direction indeed, as the film is an all around achievement.


MACUMBA SEXUAL was one of the first films that Franco made after he teamed up with Golden Productions; returning to Spain after working as a film maker for a good 15 years in other countries. Teaming up with Gold Productions allowed Franco to have complete freedom over his films; for once he didn't have to worry about any one's cinematic ideas except for his own.

Not much actually happens in Macumba Sexual (plot wise), so I'll sum it up quite succinctly: Alice (Lina Romay, here billed as Candy Coster) and her boyfriend are vacationing on the Canary Islands. They spend their days lounging around in the sun and making love, while occasionally Alice's boyfriend works on his novel, which he's having trouble with. All is pretty much a peaceful paradise.

However, Alice keeps having terrible nightmares that involve a tall, dark-skinned woman and her two pet "beasts" (a nude man and woman who crawl on all fours, kept on leashes). Every time she has the nightmare she tosses and turns, almost to the extent of a convulsion, almost always waking up with a scream.

After the viewer is exposed to a few days of the happy couple in their island bliss, Alice gets a call from her boss (she's apparently in real estate) who tells her that she needs to go see Princess Obongo, because she wants to buy one of their houses in Atlantic City. Alice takes the journey with some trepidation, traveling first on a old yacht, then further into sand filled terrain on a camel. Once arriving, almost Alice is subtly stricken by the fact that Princess Obongo is the exact woman haunting her dreams.

Almost immediately, Princess Obongo sets to seducing Alice, and accomplishes her goal with ease. The two make love extensively, occasionally the Princesses two 'beasts' joining in on the fun. However, the Princess has a darker goal in mind-- she intends to make Alice the new carrier of her mysteriously evil immortality.

At this point in the film reality and fantasy begin to blur... Franco takes us through a world-wind of scenarios, never revealing which are imagined and which are real. And it's for this reason that the film achieves a sort of ecstatic beauty-- reality and fantasy aren't too different in Princess Obongo's desert realm, so what's the point is signifying a difference?

The dialogue in the film is kept to a minimum, it was obvious that Franco's intention was to visually convey the story, and in this aspect he succeeds. As mentioned before, not much is actually accomplished in the film, but Franco's beautifully perverse romp is a very aesthetically engaging film. The Princess's living area is architecturally stunning, built up almost like tree houses devoid of trees, with long empty spaces on all sides.

It's also worth noting that Franco compares Ajita Wilson's presence in a film to a similar sort of "aura" that Christopher Lee could evoke, and Franco is dead on. While given a very mediocre role in an even more mediocre film in Sadomania, Macumba Sexual gives Wilson the perfect opportunity to let herself be ever present, and she does it well.

While the film isn't perfect, the minor poetry that Franco infuses throughout is enough to keep the film pertinent in the Franco canon. It's a very accomplished piece of personal cinema, and I'm highly anticipating more of Franco's Golden Production films.


aka The Forbidden Room, Lost Soul

Anima Persa is a quiet little movie; most genre fans are unaware of its existence, and the film world has paid it little mind outside of the fact that it features Catherine Deneuve in one of her most subtle roles. For some reason the film is often described as being a sort of giallo-drama hybrid, but the only similarity it has between the gialli of the time is that it's set in Venice, features beautiful women and has an enigmatic overtone.

The plot of the film is fairly straight forward-- Tino (Danilo Mattei, who would later go on to star in Cannibal Ferox) moves to Venice to live with his Aunt and Uncle while studying art locally. At first everything seems normal; Tino meets his Aunt at their beautiful castle villa and is briefly shown around the house. He goes to bed and awakens to find his Uncle Fabio (played by Vittorio Gassman) staring at him, immediately accosting him for sleeping so late. Once he wakes and washes his uncle walks him to the small academy where Tino will be taking his art lessons, meanwhile commenting on the inadequacies of Tino's soon to be classmates.

Class starts, and Tino is astounded when a beautiful young girl, Lucia (played by the gorgeous Anicee Alvina, most memorable as the aristocrats daughter in Robbe-Grillet's Playing with Fire), strips. He seems to fall in love on the spot, and spends much of his free time chasing the girl. A tiny romance develops, but the romance is mostly inconsequential to the main story.

At home Tino soon discovers that his Aunt and Uncle's relationship is quite tense, his uncle always deriding his aunt and essentially retaining utter control over her. Tino also begins to hear strange noises coming from the floor above him, but nobody will tell him what the sounds are.

Eventually the house maid Annetta reveals to Tino that his Uncles brother, apparently insane for the last few decades, is kept locked in the forbidden room that his Aunt had warned him never to go near, never coming out. The maid loudly makes fun of the man's craziness, remarking upon the resemblance that the man has to a snake when he sticks his tongue out. Tino, very
curious about why the man is actually locked up in a room, begins to investigate, learning more and more about his Aunt and Uncles relationship and their bizarre family history.

Anima Persa is a movie that relies entirely on the enigmatic mood it builds, and for once, that reliance works perfectly. There is not that much that actually occurs during the film; in fact a large majority of the film depicts either the demeaning relationship between Tino's Aunt and Uncle or Tino's own inconsequential affair with Lucia.

The best thing about the film is what is alluded too, rather than what is depicted. While Tino and his uncle walk the streets of Venice, Fabio tells him about his brothers belief that God could be found among insects. His uncle remarks about how his brother had torn down the crucifix that was above his bed, replacing it with a close up shot of a scorpion. Tino asks if these beliefs and obsessions were what led to his insanity, but his uncle replies that he doesn't think so; he believes that insanity is in the genes, prone to lashing out every other generation or so. The naive Tino seems to pay no mind.

The ending of the film comes as an utter surprise, with the rest of the film building an utter atmosphere and spiraling perfectly to the conclusion. The music from the film adds to the enigmatic mess on screen; perfectly building tension as Tino walks around the essentially abanoned mansion. The acting, for the most part, is wonderful. Catherine Deneuve plays Sofia, Tino's Aunt, with an utter sense of subtlety-- somewhat of a lush, she is always cowering under her husbands wrath; we can see her constantly on the edge of something. The powerful Uncle Fabio (Vittorio Gassman) is also consistently good throughout the film, portraying his decadent machismo attitude to a T. Even the naive Tino is depicted well, appropriately curious about yet terrified by almost everything that surrounds him. His characterization of a boy on the brink of adulthood is excellent.

The only main qualm I have with the film is the ending; after the revelatory moment (which thankfully doesn't tie up EVERY loose end, choosing instead to leave some elements of the story unclear and mysterious), Tino simply leaves Venice, completely unphased or affected by the events that transpired in the villa. But aside from the absolute ending, Anima Persa is a subtle, atmospheric joy to watch, and can definitely be recommended to a viewer looking for something out of the ordinary.


aka An Aria on Gaze, Unfaithful Wife: Shameful Torture
original title: Uwaki-zuma chijoku zeme

Hisayasu Sato's THE BEDROOM opens with a surveillance camera being sprayed with black spray paint. Shortly afterward, the camera shakily pans along next to the body of a woman, wrapped completely in plastic.

Cut to the apartment of Kyoko and her husband, Esaka, where Kyoko is videotaping her surroundings. "You're bringing out the DEVIO again, then?" Her husband asks. "Yes, It's the only video diary that documents just me and you. Just me and you."

After some semi-flirtatious comments (that are ignored coldly by her husband), Kyoko brings up the death of someone she knew, a woman who presumably overdosed on a drug known as HALCION. This comment is just the launching point that prepares the audience for an exploration into loneliness.

Kyoko is constantly ignored and rejected by her husband, who has no desire to entertain Kyoko's idealized "family life" that she is interested in starting. After being rejected coldly, Kyoko returns (or goes for the first time, it's not precisely clear) to an sex-club referred to as "The Sleeping Room." At The Sleeping Room men act out fetishistic fantasies on women who are essentially doped up on Halcion.

During this time, Kyoko is also engaged in an affair with her dead sister's boyfriend, Kei. Kei is seemingly depersonalized from his girlfriends death, yet he still sleeps with Kyoko because of the similarities.

Kyoko repeatedly goes to The Sleeping Room, but after a while she stops taking the Halcion pills that she is presumably required to take. Despite not being on the drug, she pretends she is actually passed out, preferring to experience something instead of being dead to the world. Possibly.

Kyoko's visits to The Sleeping Room are generally pre-empted by Kyoko opening her refrigerator and possibly entering reverie, but as the film progresses it seems that Kyoko is ACTUALLY going there.

Kyoko returns home to find her lover laying on their bed with a UV light on, he's tanning because "he never gets outside anymore." The two have sex, after Kei puts a blindfold on her (oddly echoing the events that occur in The Sleeping Room). Later, when he asks for his stomach medicine and Kyoko accidentally spills his medicine chest, Kyoko discovers that her lover occasionally takes Halcion to calm his nerves and enable him to sleep.

Eventually, after a session at the club, she and another girl discover another corpse--another overdose. She and the girl go to the top of a building, where they stare at the cityscape below them and Kyoko comments on the fact that when she was a school girl she could never even imagine something like The Sleeping Room. She video tapes the girl, telling her that she is the highlight of the day's Video Diary.

Soon afterward, Kyoko discovers one of her lovers video diaries. It is Maya, her sister, the first victim in The Sleeping Room. Was her lover, Kai, the murderer? Does Mr. Takano, the enigmatic man who watches over The Sleeping Room know what's happening?

Despite the fact that throughout the first fifty minutes of the film the viewer has virtually no idea what's real and what's Kyoko's fantasy, the last fifteen minutes of THE BEDROOM bring a sense of closure that is unique in this type of film. Everything that formerly seemed nonsensical now makes sense, yet there is still enough left unsolved to keep the viewer engaged in thought about the film. In another review of the film, the reviewer commented that the film is more like a piece of video art than a film. While Sato's film is defiantly a work of art, it's not something that can be experienced to its full effect by watching only part of the film, or watching it in segments. The film hits hardest if you just "take the full ride," so to speak. The moment of clarity at the end hits the viewer hard, and one has to applaud Sato for his techniques in getting the viewer from Point A to Point B.

THE BEDROOM works best as a study of depersonalization and loneliness. Throughout the entire film Kyoko is essentially trying to "connect" with someone. She virtually idolizes her lover, she follows the school girl in order to try to discover "what kind of girls go to The Sleeping Room," and she even avoids taking her pills while in The Sleeping Room in order to experience, connect, with what is going on. Sato further pushes the idea of separation by repeatedly using Video Cameras, whether as a disconnect between a character and the situation the character is in (which is further developed in the last fifteen minutes of the film--which I'm avoiding talking about as one of the major rewards in a Sato film is how it all falls together at the end), or to emphasize Kyoko's paranoia, which oddly is bipolaric to her needy, lonely normal self. Despite the fact that she seems to be reaching for a connection with anybody, she views the camera's that are watching her as a threat.

Jack Hunter comments in an article that Hisayasu Sato's body of work is "dedicated to exposing the dark void at the heart of contemporary existence," and it couldn't have been stated better. THE BEDROOM, as aforementioned, is also a perfect example of this. Another interesting note about the film is it's inclusion of Issei Sagawa as the enigmatic Mr. Takano. Issei Sagawa is a Japanese man who, while studying in France, killed and cannibalized a woman in 1981. He was declared legally insane and deported back to Japan, where he spent 15 months in a mental institution and then checked himself out. This is a bold move by Sato, as the incorporation of an actual murderer into a film about murder itself creates an unnerving mood if the viewer is aware-- the film works just as well if the viewer is not away of Sagawa's history, but as far as creating and emphasizing a sort of "unique world," Sato knows exactly what he's doing.

Hisayasu Sato's THE BEDROOM is a bold, yet flawed film which manages to create an utter sense of depersonalization and loneliness, while still telling a great story. The visuals are great; blue and red light coat the bodies of the comatose girls of The Sleeping Room while giant TVs with constant static decorate the background. Sato's spare use of music also helps to create tension in the film; the soundtrack features immense buildup that never actually climax, keeping the viewer aurally on edge. Despite the fact that the film may seem confusing at first, if the viewer is willing to actively watch the film and engage with the way Sato is telling his story, the viewer will be rewarded at the end.


Through the Looking Glass opens with a close of Catherine Burgess' face, a cosmetic mud mask slowly being peeled off. She stares absently into the mirror, her hairdresser complementing her. We begin to hear the voices of three women, gossiping. Slowly we being to realize that they're talking about Catherine, within plain hearing distance. Catherine remains stoic. The women continue to gossip about how cold and unfriendly, prim and proper Catherine is. Still, no response from Catherine.

As Catherine climbs into her car out on the street, her driver announces that she's late for dinner. We view Catherine, her husband, and her dinner guests sitting a long table, taking up an entire room. None of them are particularly close to one another, and most of the conversation occurs between the two men. Catherine remains distant, her husband not seeming to notice. She continues drinking her brandy, and scolds her daughter Jennifer when she comes down to talk, saying she should be in bed.

After Jennifer goes to bed, Catherine finally smiles--an empty smile--as she comments about how glad she is to be vacationing soon. But she becomes upset with her husband demeanor, and in an uncomfortable moment spills her drink. She excuses herself and goes to bed.

Later that night, while her husband is in bed, Catherine quietly walks into her attic, locking the door behind her. She sits in front of a large looking glass and reclines into a chair. She slowly begins to run her hands over her body. Suddenly, someone appears in the mirror. An invisible force takes over Catherine as she furiously works herself up to sexual excitement. Catherine repeatedly returns to the mirror, being visited by what appears to be the ghost of her father every time. Sometimes she simply gets off, other times she 'visits' a bizarre sexual dreamworld, a cold, disconnected world where sex is constant, but concern for others is absent.

As Catherine slowly comes to the conclusions that she's trapped in a loveless marriage with no friends, her mental state falters. She repeatedly goes to the mirror, and her reveries into the surreal sex world become longer and longer. One night, after a particularly affecting "flashback" between Catherine and her father, her 'father' visits her in the mirror and tells her that she will crossover for good that night. Catherine becomes frightened and refuses. The man in the mirror laughs and disappears.

Catherine runs down to her husband and begs him to take her away that night, instead of the next morning. The husband, showing no concern at all, simply gives Catherine some sleeping pills and leaves the room. But Catherine knows that her journey is inevitable now.

Through the Looking Glass is one of those great arthouse, horror, and porn hybrids that seemed to exist only in the 70s. Featuring a stellar cast including Jamie Gillis at his finest (and not to mention top physical shape)as the father, and Catherine Burgess as the catatonic Catherine, THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS is truly a great film. The cinematography and direction are great; there's a tense mood throughout the entire film, held up by the subtly surreal dialogue and great musical score.

The film manages to achieve something, in the realm of pornography, that many mainstream films set out to do, yet fail. The atmosphere of the film is truly unsettling, a constant undertone of incest running throughout. Many viewers have commented that the film "makes you need a cold shower afterwards," and while the film is fairly nihilistic (in the same way that the ending of The Devil in Miss Jones is), the high production values eliminate any unneccessary "sleazy" elements that would otherwise be present.

The film manages to exist as a great character study of a woman possibly going mad, possibly on the verge of actually entering a nightmarish dreamscape. The film doesn't provide definite answers for any of the absurd or fantastical elements, rather they're just presented and never ignored. The ending of the film is truly stunning, an absolute fitting conclusion to such a masterpiece of sex and emotional torment.