Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Let the Right One In

2008
Dir. Tomas Alfredson

Lonely 12 year old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is bullied by his classmates and all but neglected by his mother. One night, while sitting on the climbing frame outside his housing complex, he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson) who has just moved into the flat next door to his with her strange guardian Håken (Per Ragnar). And so a gentle friendship begins. Eli gives Oskar the strength to hit back when he is bullied, and Oskar takes it all in his stride (the way only 12 year olds can do) when he realises Eli is a vampire…

‘Can I come in? Say that I can come in.’

Written by John Ajvide Lindqvist and adapted from his own novel, Let the Right One In has, like its little vampire protagonist, subtly worked its way into the minds and hearts of audiences everywhere. Emerging from relative obscurity, it has found a large enough audience to become the sleeper hit of the year so far. And rightly so.

The two leads deliver mesmerising performances. Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar is compelling to watch. When we first encounter him, it is his reflection in the window of his bedroom we see first. This image speaks volumes about his ostracism from society – he appears as a lonely projection of himself. However as the film progresses, he becomes more fleshed out and his relationship with Eli is really the heart of the story. Lina Leandersson as Eli strikes the right balance between innocence and sinister maturity. We are given the bare bones of her history, but it is more than enough to assure us she is equal parts victim and monster. The fact that she is trapped for eternity in the body of a child is more than a little unnerving, given her experiences. When she is discovered nestled animal-like in a bathtub by an intruder, we feel genuine concern for her as she huddles sleeping in her blankets. She is, after all, only a little girl. Isn’t she? There is something quite feral in her movements, as she flits about cautiously one minute and moves in swiftly for the kill the next. The sound effects that accompany her feeding are sufficiently disturbing and the sight of her quickly crawling up the side of the hospital building is also wonderfully chilling.



Imbued with a distinct fairytale-like quality and seeping with creativity, the film is frozen over with chilly imagery that will sear itself into your mind; from the constant flurrying snow and vaporising breath, to the sight of Eli wandering through the icy night in her bare feet. The only warmth that omits from the story is the tentative relationship between Oskar and Eli, and even this is at times tinged with ambiguity and menace. We have already seen what the ‘little girl’ is capable of and are all too aware of her strength and cunning.

Director Alfredson has a seamless ability to conjure up the most provocative images to enhance the story: everything appears almost bleached out, save for a startling red berry here, or a drop of blood on crisp white snow there. The way he balances scenes of quiet drama with more intense moments is pitch perfect.
Indeed, those wanting a truly visceral feast will no doubt dribble with glee during the climactic swimming pool massacre or throughout the series of increasingly distressing events that befall one of Eli’s victims who is unfortunate enough to survive the attack… Perhaps being a vampire is not so ‘cool’ after all.

The film’s adherence to old vampire folklore is interesting too – the title itself comes from the notion that vampires may only cross the threshold of a home if they are invited. If they are not, the consequences are apparently dire.

As dreamily beautiful and delicate as the film looks, the story never lies huddled in the corner under an abundance of stylisation. The measured direction and gentle pace serve to better absorb us into the bloodstream of the eerie world in which the story unfolds. The way in which events insidiously work their way into your consciousness and chill the spinal column as they go, is remarkable. Nothing seems contrived: we are left to process events and details and the film makers don’t see fit to spoon-feed their audience. The subtle nuances gradually build to a fitting denouement. All captured nicely by the dreamily crisp cinematography courtesy of Hoyte Van Hoytema. That’s not say we are left wondering what has just happened: the film takes its time but it does deliver, and when it does, chances are you will be reeling from the impact.



While Eli makes Oskar believe in himself enough to stand up to his tormentors, one can’t help but think of her reasons. They do genuinely care for each other. We are reminded of her silent guardian Håken who was responsible for hunting down fresh blood for her and the lengths he went to in order to protect her: the way she suggestively stroked his face, fleetingly threw a stark light on the depth and true nature of their relationship. Oskar’s loyalty to Eli and the two’s seemingly necessary co-dependency suggests he might be a fitting replacement. Perhaps Eli and Håken once recognised within each other the kindred spirit that she now shares with Oskar; despondent and dysfunctional souls existing on the periphery of life. Her nurturing, and grooming, of Oskar to ensure her own survival, is an aspect of the film that perturbs the most.

Johan Söderqvist’s hauntingly beautiful score is equal parts brooding and lushly moving, and perfectly enhances the intimately epic nature of the story.

There is so much more I would love to discuss about this film, but I really don’t want to give too much away – I hope I haven’t done that already. Seek this film out and watch it.

Chilling, brittle and bittersweet - and guaranteed to not thaw out of your thoughts for a long time to come…

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Inferno

1980
Dir. Dario Argento

When poetess Rose (Irene Miracle) discovers an old book written by a mysterious architect, she believes that the New York building in which she resides is also home to one of the Three Mothers – powerful witches who bring suffering and death to all who encounter them. She asks her brother Mark (Leigh McCloskey) to come and help her, however prior to his arrival she is stalked through the building’s labyrinthine interior and slain by an unseen, and presumably supernatural assailant. It is up to Mark to follow the cryptic clues left by his sister and solve the mystery of The Mother of Darkness, before it is too late…

Preceded by Suspiria (1977), Inferno is the second instalment of Argento’s only recently completed Three Mother’s trilogy - Mother of Tears (2007) is the final film.
In Suspiria, we are introduced to the notion that three powerful witches, residing in different parts of the world, ensure that hopelessness, sorrow and death hang heavy upon those souls unfortunate enough to encounter them. Inferno fleshes out the idea a little further by naming the witches, disclosing their whereabouts (Freiburg, New York and Rome) and providing more lurid details about the architect, Varelli, who designed and built their monstrous abodes. Mark’s endeavours to find out what happened to his sister are aided by a number of clues she left on a scrap of paper – clues she found when leafing through the pages of the sinister and ancient tome.

Inferno is a somewhat convoluted and wispy story structured around numerous set pieces. It takes its time to unfold and does so in the most languid manner – which only adds to its sinister otherworldliness. Boasting an incredible neo-Gothic look, the film drips with vivid colours and lurid lighting. The look of the film really enhances the dreamlike quality of the story and the complete lack of logic as events unfold. Everything is bathed in warm ambers, stark blues and blood-kissed reds. Characters wander around the vast interior of the creepy house in a somnambulistic state: all wide-eyed and aghast. Rooms exist where they logically speaking should not. Take for example, the flooded ballroom Rose discovers on her first moonlit perambulation into the basement, seemingly suggesting that the house’s foundations are nothing but water. As well as not making any sense, this scene also provides the film with one of its most memorable and ethereally beautiful moments. Dropping her keys into a puddle in the basement, Rose bends to retrieve them and her whole arm disappears into the puddle. She realises there is a whole other room beneath her: a flooded ballroom that contains a huge portrait of the Mother of Darkness. Floating through the uncanny space Rose, and we, are jolted out of a dreamlike trance by a rotting corpse that bobs into view from the murky depths.





Despite the fiery connotations of the title, Inferno spews forth a multitude of images of water: Mark’s odd dream about water lapping on a disserted shore, the spooky ballroom submerged in water, the bookshop owner’s watery demise in Central Park and the many shots of trickling rain and rippling puddles that are sprinkled throughout the film.

Like Suspiria before it, Inferno also possesses an eerie fairytale quality. Rose and Mark seem rather naïve and child-like and resemble a grown-up Hansel and Gretel as they follow the breadcrumbs of clues throughout the house. Their nemesis after all, is a wicked witch who wants to destroy them.

Whereas Suspiria had a blood-curdling and ominously pulsating score by Goblin, Inferno’s score comes courtesy of Keith Emerson and resembles a psychedelic space-opera. The soundtrack also uses a number of pieces by Verdi to astounding effect. When Sara takes a taxi to the library in Rome to search for a copy of The Three Mothers, our ears are blasted by a synthesized rendition of Nabucco in a 5-4 time arrangement. Delirious. A later scene features Sara and Carlo (Argento regular Gabriele Lavia), being menaced by an unseen force in her apartment during a power cut: as the lights flicker on and off, Verdi’s Chorus of Hebrew Slaves comes in short, sharp and utterly unnerving blasts as the tension mounts and the blood flows.


The cast are essentially ciphers to further the wandering narrative and provide victims for the evil witch and her minions. Playing a similar role to the part she played in Suspiria (Miss Tanner), is Alida Valli as an overbearing and fiendish housekeeper. Also putting in an appearance is Daria Nicolodi (Argento’s partner at the time) as the Countess Elise, a somewhat nervous and sickly woman whom Rose befriends. Nicolodi provides the film with a rather memorable death as she is torn to ribbons by deranged cats in a creepy attic. Critics have often noted that it is possible to chart the disintegration of the relationship between Argento and Nicolodi through the films they made together. Aside from Deep Red (1975) and Tenebrae (1982), Nicolodi was slain in progressively nasty and ever more elaborate ways under Argento’s direction in subsequent films.

With Inferno, Argento does what he does best: creates an engrossingly atmospheric, highly stylised and utterly illogical tale of rapturous death and violence. The follow up to Suspiria is perhaps my favourite Argento film and certainly one of my favourite horror films too. It retains its bewitching and mesmerising power even after repeated viewings.
It is perhaps one of the only films to ever fully capture and convey sheer nightmare logic onscreen. And it does so in the most startlingly beautiful way.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Theatre of Blood

1973
Dir. Douglas Hickox

Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price) is a Shakespearian actor who refuses to act in anything other than plays written by the Bard. He has extreme delusions of grandeur that are eventually quashed when he is panned by an influential circle of critics and is publically humiliated at an award ceremony. Faking his own suicide in order to return and have his revenge, he gathers together a merry band of meths-drinking misfits to aid him in his opulent quest to obtain bloody vengeance on those critics who ruined his career. Also along for the ride is his loyal daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg), who has fun in a myriad of different roles and disguises. Ludicrous and ever more elaborate deaths mount up as two woefully inept and utterly incompetent cops attempt to track him down and learn some stuff about the Bard as they go.

Theatre of Blood has more than a few similarities with Price’s earlier ‘themed death’ film, The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971). Both films feature crazed individuals extracting bloody revenge with extravagantly themed murders – in this case, all the deaths are inspired by demises in various Shakespearian tragedies. While this film lacks the melancholic poetry of Dr Phibes, it does maintain a literary finesse and its humour is just as irreverent, camp and politically incorrect. Price is once again at the top of his game. While thoroughly deranged, his character still retains a modicum of humanity and sympathy. While he veers from hammy to hammier, Price invests such theatrical vigour and enthusiasm, its impossible not to enjoy the blackly humorous story as it unabashedly unfolds. In a number of scenes when we are allowed a glimpse into Lionheart’s troubled psyche, he performs several well known and evocative soliloquies from various Shakespeare plays. Price really shines in these scenes, delivering an impeccable performance laced with sorrowful pathos and a burning obsession. The sharp and humorous dialogue, with its many allusions to Shakespeare, is barbed and witty and delivered with theatrical panache by a strong cast that have just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek.



The various death scenes that are scattered throughout the film are, aside from Price’s devilishly knowing performance, the undoubted highlights. The set up to each unfurls effortlessly and with dark glee, and is only surpassed by the pay-off when it finally comes. Michael Hordern (Whistle and I’ll Come To You) is harassed and slashed to death by a bunch of tramps, ala Julius Caesar. Arthur Lowe has his head cut off in his sleep as his wife sleeps next to him, ala Cymbeline. Another critic is drowned in a vat of wine, ala Richard III and another is tricked into murdering his wife, Othello style.

Other deaths include a man having his heart cut out as a substitute for a pound of flesh (The Merchant of Venice), a woman electrocuted and fried alive with rigged heated hair rollers (Henry VI pt I) and the overtly camp Robert Morley is force fed his ‘babies’ – two poodles (Titus Andronicus). Some of the personas Lionheart adopts to carry out his murderous deeds are as over the top as the murders, notably Butch the hairdresser; resplendent in flares, medallions and sporting a huge afro wig.
The costumes are as elaborate as everything else on display, and as Theatre of Blood was filmed in the 70s, there is an abundance of shag-pile carpet as far as the eye can see in many of the kitsch sets.

‘It's Lionheart alright... only he would have the temerity to re-write Shakespeare.’
Rigg is convincing as the devoted daughter, who is probably the only person in the film who actually believes her father is a good actor. Her downfall, at the hands of the progressively delirious meths drinkers, is sudden in its execution and unnerving in its simplicity.

One of the best moments occurs when Price and Rigg stow away in a huge chest that is delivered to the house of critic Horace Sprout. When Sprout and his demanding wife go to bed, the Lionhearts emerge from the chest decked in surgical garb and fake moustaches and set about meticulously sawing off Sprout’s head. Injecting the sleeping couple in the buttocks with tranquilisers, Lionheart only pauses once in highly melodramatic fashion to have his brow wiped by his assistant.
This sort of grotesque humour is what fuses Theatre of Blood with its vitriolic charm.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Night of the Eagle

1962
Dir. Sidney Hayers

Based on the novel Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber, Night of the Eagle follows the intriguing story of highly sceptical college professor (is there ever any other sort?), Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde), who discovers his wife Tansy (Janet Blair) has been practising witchcraft to protect them both from his dangerously jealous colleagues.

Norman is an uncompromisingly logical sort. After his wife reveals to him that his colleagues’ wives are using black magic to ensure his untimely demise and she is countering their efforts by also dabbling in the occult, he fears she may be losing her mind. Tansy normalises witchcraft and speaks very matter-of-factly about it, even as she unpacks her groceries in one scene. She has hidden lots of little trinkets around the house to ward off evil forces, such as specially blessed spiders in little jars and various other bizarre accoutrements – Norman forces her to burn them and as she does, he accidentally burns a photo of himself too. Soon after he is almost killed in a traffic accident, accused of sexual molestation by a female student and held at gun point by said female student’s inconsolable boyfriend. Whereas Tansy cites these occurrences as evidence of the supernatural, Norman dismisses them as unfortunate coincidences.

The stifling and suffocating little clique of academics and their spoiled wives that Norman and Tansy have been consumed by seem harmless enough to Norman. However Tansy seems to harbour a secret fear of one of the wives in particular, the disabled and gleaming-eyed Flora Carr (Margaret Johnston). They play bridge every Friday evening and it seems only Tansy senses the jealousy and hatred of the other women, who feel their husbands should have been promoted instead of Norman. All their little snide remarks and knowing glances whip up an atmosphere of tension and paranoia. As the Taylor’s are new in town, Tansy has no one to turn to except her scathingly sceptical husband who believes her to be naïve and susceptible to superstitious nonsense. Blair’s performance is suitably unhinged and desperate as Tansy finds herself becoming more and more isolated and afraid.



Taking elements from various MR James tales, Night of the Eagle also has distinct similarities to Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon (1957), another subtly foreboding film in which a highly logical and sceptical man realises that the world is not as rational as he once thought and that the threat of the supernatural is a very real one. Indeed the first words of dialogue uttered in Night of the Eagle are ‘I do NOT believe’, and are spoken by Norman as he engages in a debate with his students about the nature of superstition. He claims superstitious people are entwined with a ‘morbid desire to escape the existence of reality’ and are dangerously close to insanity. Norman soon changes his mind (with this being a horror film and all) when his cosy world of reason and books is brutally ransacked by the chilly intrusion of witchcraft and the supernatural.

When Tansy is possessed by the diabolical Flora, she retreats to their seaside cottage and Norman gives chase. A moody and frantic search on the cliffs for Tansy ensues as Norman becomes increasingly panicked. A number of shots of Tansy, as she gently lumbers along the deserted beach towards the eerily beckoning ocean, mirror similar images in another Tourneur film, his melancholically haunting masterpiece I Walked with a Zombie (1943). Tansy’s somnambulistic wanderings contrast nicely with Norman’s growing concern for her and the tension is wound ever tighter.

A particularly bravura scene, again recalling Tourneur’s suggestive brand of horror and actually preceding a very similar scene in Robert Wise’s Lewton-esque The Haunting (1963), occurs when Norman receives a recording of one of his lectures in the post. He plays it and as he listens, a strangely hypnotic noise emanates from his audio-player and seems to cause momentary pandemonium. The Taylors’ house is suddenly set upon by an unseen force banging at the door while a storm bursts out of nowhere and rages outside. Tansy beseeches Norman not to answer the door as lights flicker and we are bombarded with sound effects and delirious camera work. Ambiguity soon gives way to the driving force of the narrative and gradual build up to an action packed finale. Any ambiguity is firmly quashed. We now know the interference of the supernatural is tangibly real.





In another highly charged scene in which a crucial revelation is subtly revealed, Norman is menaced by a giant eagle in his classroom and staggers up against the blackboard where he had earlier scribbled ‘I do NOT believe.’ When he moves away from the board, his shoulder rubs off the word NOT, and the new message conveys the significant journey he has undertaken throughout the course of the film. He now firmly believes… Prior to this, Norman realises that his wife is possessed when she begins to limp towards him with murderous intent, mimicking the mannerisms of the disabled Flora Carr, who is revealed as the villain.

The films special effects are kept to a minimum but when onscreen, they are well handled – as evidenced in the scene where Norman is attacked by a giant eagle. We see only glimpses of its talons as the camera swoops and glides over Norman. Seeking momentary refuge in the school, the colossal bird soon pecks its way trough the huge oak doors and flaps wildly down the corridor after the terrified professor, cornering him in his study. Indeed, aside from the scenes featuring the giant eagle, Night of the Eagle is a shining example of the Lewton-esque ‘less is more’ approach to horror. Wyngarde is mesmerising as Norman, whose icily cool and calm exterior gradually melting away into abject terror, is compelling to watch.

A subtle chiller that creeps icily under the skin.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Interview with Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni

Independent, daring and fiercely intelligent, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni has not only acted as a dark muse for numerous filmmakers throughout her career, she is also an artist in her own right. Consistently exploring painting, music, performance and writing as ways to more fully understand and express herself, what sets Cataldi-Tassoni apart from other artists, is her astute directness and uncompromising gravitation towards subjects that many other artists would only shirk from – these, she embraces openly and confronts unflinchingly.
Not content to use one form of art as a means of expression and self exploration, Coralina also writes and performs her own music; music that is imbued with the same idiosyncratic style, innate melancholy and evocativeness that seeps from her paintings. And then of course there is her film work with Italian horror Maestro Dario Argento, who has cast Coralina no less than four times in his films. Coralina has claimed that she comes to life in her various death scenes in Argento’s films; she also kindly made time to chat with Behind the Couch about her film career, her work as an artist, her music and her forthcoming biography.

From what I have seen of your artwork, it is quite dark and abstract. Is it fair to say that you are drawn to the darker side of life, artistically?

Being drawn to darker subjects is something I believe happened at an extremely young age. My bedtime stories where tragic and dramatic. They were opera librettos. The people coming and going in my household were like real opera characters come to life. I would do my homework under my father's piano and hear all the truest stories of life. Some were very tragic. It was kind of like being allowed into a psychiatrist's office to eavesdrop all day. I learned at a young age that people give hurt and get hurt.
My life has taken many roads, and a few very long and winding ones have been obscured by my darkest thoughts and by those of others. I am never more familiar with the darker side of my life as when I step with one foot out of hell. Who knows, maybe I am scared of stepping with both feet out. Maybe being drawn to the darker side of things makes me feel in control. In control of death.

How would you describe your art? What are your main influences?

My art is autobiographical. I am influenced by the faces of people I’ve met; those I know now and those that I will some day meet. Visions. I am influenced by the music I choose to play on my stereo before I begin to paint. Over and over - I keep that thought - until the painting is done. I keep the thoughts that I always obsess about. The ones I dedicate all my art to: to those people and things I have loved, I still love and to those I pray I will never love again.

What ideas and themes capture your imagination the most as an artist?

Courage.

How long have you been involved with writing, recording and performing music?

I love music more than anything. I have been writing for 10 years.

What inspires you when you compose music?

This creative process is no different from my painting, really. It just happens that I use another instrument. But the thoughts are the same, all the same sounds in my head, just laid out in a manner people can actually hear them; not just see them. I believe everything and everyone has a sound. My memories, my voice, the voices of others, situations, objects, cities, streets, rain, moon, smiles, toys, pebbles. Everything. Everyone and everything are notes. Sounds. I feel them. I hear them. I translate these sounds in the way I hear them. My songs are translations of these sounds.

Click here to visit Coralina's myspace and listen to some of her songs...

I would imagine that with your art work and music you put yourself in quite a vulnerable place; because it is the very essence of yourself that you open up for people to glimpse. Is this a fair statement?

No matter what form, I am always vulnerable. I like being vulnerable. Every form is the essence of myself. It is like speaking more than one language. Sometimes I choose to use an Italian word to express myself rather than an English word, or vice versa. But they are all coming from me.

How did you come to meet and work with Dario Argento?

I guess if one lives in Italy, auditions in Italy, as a consequence, one works in Italy. I met Dario in soul for the first time, while watching Deep Red on TV as a little girl late one night. I would meet him in person a few years later. He wrote the character of Giulia in Opera for me. Opera was like coming home, returning to all those years I spent in opera houses. The smells, the sounds, the music...

You’ve worked in the horror genre quite profusely – does this again indicate that you connect somehow with the dark side of art and expression?

No, I just connect with these particular directors and they connect with me.

What film makers do you most admire and why?

I like elegant and classy filmmakers that have the courage to be themselves. I like to be infected by courage.

What do you say about the allegations of misogyny hurled at Argento?

Well, I personally cannot complain. When he kills me, we both come to life. We give each other life. I do not think hatred breeds life.

You’ve been murdered quite graphically a couple of times on film now. What is this experience like? Is there a cathartic element involved?

I doubt any death can prepare me for my real death some day. Also, I do not think it is cathartic. It is what it is. Tragic, disturbing and sad. What I can say is that I would rather die in an Argento movie than not. What would be even better, is if I could die in an Argento movie but in real life live forever. But who knows? Maybe this is the closest way of achieving my goal of immortality.

What do you think of horror films today? Can any comparisons be made between current offerings and the films of years gone by?

Today too many of them are just about grossing me out. I think there is this huge misconception about me and my interest in horror movies. I like stylized visions and emotions. Intelligent movies of words, faces, thoughts and camera work that makes me think. My thoughts like to be moved around, shuffled, placed, misplaced and found. Not frozen by disgust - that is boring.

BTC: Can you tell me about your recent short film The Dirt?

Claudio Simonetti (Goblin) and his sister Simona, offered me this role. I am forever grateful for their trust in me. I play a photographer who is obsessed with wanting a child. She has many secrets, but not as many as the strange plant that grows in her apartment. The Dirt has been going around the festival circuit and I recently won for Best Actress in a Professional movie at Fright Nights Film Festival in Austria.

How did your forthcoming biography, Coralina: A True Life, come about?

Journalist and writer Filippo Brunamonti, who has followed my career for years, was in New York and approached me with his idea of writing my life story. I accepted because I knew I could not be in more talented and caring hands than his.

You collaborated with Mariano Baino, (Dark Waters), on the trailer for the autobiography. Is film directing something you’d like to experience in the future?

A few months ago I would have told you no. But after experiencing the writing and directing of the trailer with Mariano, I cannot make that statement any more.

You were invited to compile a top-10 list of your Favourite Tragically Romantic Heroine Deaths in Opera. It seems that Italian art-forms are rife with depictions of the demise of beautiful women – what do you think draws Italian artists (including Argento of course) to this mysterious link between sex and death?

Life.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Shock

1946
Dir. Alfred L. Werker

After witnessing a brutal murder from her hotel room window, Janet Stewart (Anabel Shaw) falls into a state of catatonic shock. When she awakens, she discovers she is being held in a private hospital and treated by the sinister Dr Cross (Vincent Price), who she realises is the man she saw commit the heinous murder!

Shock is not just an ‘old dark house’ type thriller with a mental hospital and a two dimensional villain. Its twisted and slyly subversive story, in which a perfectly sane woman is made out to be insane so her accusations of murder are not taken seriously, unravels as a tightly constructed and provocative little chiller.

Janet seems quite frantic and preoccupied from the moment we meet her. She forgets to pay her taxi driver as she rushes into the hotel where she is to meet with her estranged husband. We learn that she was wrongly informed of his death in the war, and that he is actually still very much alive but had been a prisoner of war. She is overwrought with desperation to see him again. Her night is sleepless, and after a particularly surreal and unnerving nightmare, in which her husband calls to her from behind a giant door she can’t open, she paces her hotel room and looks forlornly out of her window; eventually witnessing the murder that puts her into the titular shock. When her husband arrives, he finds her is a disturbing catatonic state.



The film, shot in 1946, briefly touches on post war stress and the strain and tribulation many families felt due to not knowing if their husbands, sons and fathers were alive or dead. It is revealed Janet’s husband, Lt. Paul Stewart (Frank Latimore) was a prisoner of war, hence his not returning straight home after the war ended and her understandable urge to see him again.

When it is suggested that Janet be treated in a private hospital, ‘just outside of town’, and her psychiatrist, Dr Cross, is revealed to be the man she saw murder his wife, the stage is set for a compelling story. Price’s calm tones have an undercurrent of menace and merciless precision. His handsome and sad features belie the atrocious act he carried out in a fit of passionate rage. The plot thickens when Cross’s mistress whom he was arguing with his wife about, turns out to be his assistant at the hospital. Elaine (Lynn Bari) is portrayed as the driving force behind the dark plans, she comes across as something of a Lady Macbeth, manipulating and pressuring the increasingly distraught Dr Cross. Price conveys Cross’s predicament effortlessly, playing the doctor as a man constantly drifting out of his depth into increasingly sordid territory he really has less and less control over. A great deal of time is spent following his particular strand of the story and we come to realise that he killed his wife in a sudden burst of rage, but it was essentially an accident and he was only convinced not to go to the police by Elaine. It is also Elaine who suggests they drug Janet and try to worsen her fragile state by constantly unnerving her and pushing her further towards the bleak caress of insanity. Elaine’s constant harassing of Cross eventually drives him to murder her too.



During a particularly moody, if somewhat rudimentary sequence, one of the other patients escapes from his room during a raging storm. Sneaking into Janet’s room he is apprehended by Elaine and a struggle ensues. Janet awakens to find the patient attempting to throttle Elaine and when he is apprehended by a group of doctors, her ravings about the murder she witnessed are assumed by all, to mean the attack on Elaine. It’s a clever, if contrived twist that ensures her story remains disbelieved by all she tries to convince. They believe her to be utterly delusional now.

Meanwhile Cross has staged his dead wife’s ‘accidental death’ at their lodge even further outside of town, but Janet’s pesky husband and his insistence on a second opinion sets off a chain of events that reveal Cross as the murderer Janet always said he was…

We KNOW that Dr Cross murdered his wife, so the tension is created around the fact that no one believes Janet’s story – she is utterly alone and helpless and essentially at the mercy of Cross and his devoted mistress Elaine. There is a decidedly uneasy scene after Janet has been committed as Cross and Elaine stand menacingly over her bed as she sleeps. Anabel Shaw is convincing enough as the tepid Janet, her panic and frustration is nicely evoked in the scene where she attempts to leave the hospital and is apprehended by an orderly who assumes her ravings are those of a mad woman. Her pleading falls on deaf ears and she is patronised into returning to her room and further sedated.



The film is most effective in its depiction of the treatment administered to a perfectly sane woman – these are quite distressing and uncomfortable and retain a quiet power. The moment where Cross leans over Janet and calmly tells her that she is losing her mind as she feebly protests, and just maybe begins to believe him, is a considerably chilling one.

A neat and nasty little thriller that boasts an early role for Price, whose suavely sinister and tortured performance throughout the film, is the kind he became famous for.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Rorschach & Black Lace

As I sat in the cinema last night, thoroughly enjoying the spectacle of Watchmen as it unflinchingly flickered across the cinema screen, I was struck by a number of striking similarities between the character of Rorschach and the masked killer from Mario Bava’s stylish and kitschy horror thriller from 1964 - Blood & Black Lace.

Rorschach, a troubled vigilante, shares an undeniable visual companionship with the killer/s in Blood & Black Lace, spurned to bloody action by greed and lust.

Their garbs are irrepressibly comparable. Fedora hat, leather trench coat, black leather gloves and a startlingly blank face mask.

Killers in giallo films usually boast a host of repressed anxieties, often stemming from some trauma they had previously suffered, or from distinctly Freudian sexual anxieties.
Not only sharing visual similarities, the darkly troubled Rorschach also shares a few psychological traits with many a killer from the Italian subgenre. His character’s particular flashback scenes wouldn’t be out of place in any rudimentary giallo film: physical abuse, sexually promiscuous mother and shades of Oedipus all flashed across the screen in increasingly disturbing and telling ways.

The giallo-esque iconography and idiosyncratic traits of Rorschach contain the same highly fetishistic and sexualised connotations of many devious giallo killers. Their wardrobes and twisted psyches convey the same weighty issues and psychological scarring. Of course I am not saying that such similarities are at all deliberate or even significant – I merely thought a couple of interesting parallels ran between Rorschach and a number of murderers featured in various giallo films, particularly Blood and Black Lace.


The significance of the mask in Blood & Black Lace of course, is that its blankness tentatively suggests that anyone’s face could be lurking beneath it – the killer could be anyone and anyone has the potential to become a killer… That, and the fact that it looks genuinely unnerving. This contrasts of course with the significance of Rorschach’s mask, in that his projects a subconscious interpretation onto the otherwise phantom-blank features. The tidily symmetrical shapes belie the contorted mindset that lies beneath the blankly shrouded face – their existence conveyed only in the constantly shifting ink-blot patterns that adorn the mask.
His psychoanalytical constructs are projected for all to see, whereas the killer in Blood & Black Lace has a morally blank expression - cold and absent of features.

A similar garb to Rorschach’s is also customised by the killer in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) – Dario Argento’s debut film. The troubled killer in BWTCP has undergone a disturbing psychological transfer instigated when she viewed a painting that was inspired by a sexual attack on her when she was a young girl. Glimpses of details of the painting stand in for disturbing flashbacks.





The same dress code is utilised by the deranged murderer in Argento’s quintessential giallo shocker Deep Red (1975), in which a middle aged woman plays a particular lullaby while bumping off psychics in order to cover up, and recreate, a previous murder.
Indeed, this fetishistic get-up also features fleetingly in Argento’s uneven but still immensely entertaining Phenomena (1985) – a paranormal fantasy-horror film with distinct giallo trimmings. The two killers in this film are a disturbed woman who was raped and tortured when accidently locked in a hospital ward for the criminally insane, and her oedipal-orientated and deformed offspring. He kills beautiful women he has become infatuated with and his monstrous mother kills anyone who comes close to figuring out his identity.

The fact that Rorscach takes his name and mask from the ink-blot tests designed by Bernard Rorschach and based on the psychoanalytic concept of object relations, is also obviously significant for its psychological connotations. Watchmen creator Alan Moore’s inspiration for Rorschach came from Steve Ditko’s DC Comics creation, The Question – an objectivist and philosophical crime fighter. Ditko in turn was influenced by several similarly composed characters from 1930s comics such as The Blank from Dick Tracey. Obviously none of these characters share anything in common with Bava’s featureless villain, except in appearance. Perhaps it was Bava who took the inspiration for his Blood & Black Lace killer from these sources. Bava certainly would have been familiar with the world of comics having adapted Danger Diabolik in 1968.



Rorschach’s outlook on the morally corrupt world he exists in is as black and white as his mask. His unwillingness to compromise ensures his fate is sealed and he will not outlive his fellow Watchmen. Rorschach takes moral absolutism to its most violent extreme – this same moral absolutism is subverted by the killers in Blood and Black Lace and indeed the misfit killers of many a giallo film: highly uncompromising individuals with a warped view of reality and one fixed goal - the realisation of their own moral outlook.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Interview with Robbie Bryan - Director of iMurders

iMurders is a forthcoming horror film directed by Robbie Bryan. After a bizarre love triangle leads to a tragic shooting, the members of an online chat-room begin to fall victim to a mysterious assailant who stalks and kills them in the privacy of their own homes. The key to unlocking the savage murders lurks in the dark past of the one of the chat-room users. But will it be too late to prevent more murders?

The film stars a few familiar faces and stalwarts of the genre, including Gabrielle Anwar (Body Snatchers), Tony Todd (Candyman), William Forsythe (The Devil’s Rejects), Billy Dee Williams (The Empire Strikes Back) and Charles Durning (When A Stranger Calls). iMurders is the directorial debut of screenwriter Robbie Bryan (The Stand-In) and promises thrills, chills and many bloody spills. Behind the Couch caught up with Robbie Bryan recently for a chat about filmmaking and the sinister side of the world wide web…

How did the idea for iMurders germinate?

Well that goes back to my very first feature, The Stand-In (1999), which starred Kelly Ripa - Lou Myers from A Different World - David Ogden Stiers and Judith Ivey. Before we got distribution, I was selling copies on my company's website, www.goodtobeseenfilms.com, and I was going into chat rooms, like All My Children, which Kelly Ripa was also on at that time trying to get people to buy the film. I saw an underworld of people who considered some of their best friends to be people who they had only met online, which was weird to me. You don't always know who you are talking to and that's creepy. And I thought ‘what a cool premise for a Murder/Mystery.’ So I wrote it.


So do you think there is anything inherently sinister about the internet?

Not really, its just very impersonal and its way more accessible for people that are creepy, which is rich for horror.

What makes iMurders stand out from the other technological orientated horror movies today?

I think we focused on good characters and the human element, which is the antithesis of how I feel our technological world is leading us.



This is your debut feature as a director. How was the experience of directing your first film from one of your own screenplays?

Daunting, to say the least. Almost every day, I was working with a serious film veteran like William Forsythe, who worked on the first day of principal photography, or Gabrielle Anwar, or Tony Todd, or Billy Dee, or Charles Durning or Maragret Colin and I always had it in the back of my mind, whether or not I was worthy. On the other hand, I did SO much work in developing the film and my shot list, so a little part of me felt, ‘Yeah, you've earned this.’ But just a little part!

You’ve assembled a pretty impressive cast for such a low budget film. How did you go about this?

Yes, I was so thrilled to get this cast, much less shoot it on 35mm, with such a low budget. The cast that we got varied in how we got them. A few, Wilson Heredia, Gabrielle Anwar, Margaret Colin, Charles Durning, Jack Mulcahy and Dan Grimaldi came from producer relationships, as did Tony Todd, who I worked with on The Man From Earth (2007), and some came from just offers we made through agents. We also benefited from the fact that the WGA was on strike when we shot, leaving great actors available for work when they normally wouldn't be.

The music is composed by Harry Manfredini, the guy responsible for scoring, amongst other classic horror films, Friday the 13th, House and Slaughter High. How did he become involved with iMurders?

Harry and I had the pleasure of meeting at a Fangoria convention and I just pitched him. He’s a tremendously cool guy!

Are you a fan of horror? What do you think makes a good horror film?

Actually, iMurders is the first thing I've written that even approaches this genre, although truth be told, it has more of a suspense thriller vibe, than outright horror – it’s a fun, suspenseful, whodunnit. Horror fans have greatly embraced me on Myspace, and I hope they are kept happy too! Ironically, my first gig as an actor was in Friday 13th VIII, with Kane Hodder and I feel that horror fans are some of the most loyal and also the most forgiving. There are many horror films I love, particularly old-school ones like Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween. I also like the Saw movies and flicks like Hard Candy, which is more psychological horror, like Silence of the Lambs. I like movies that make you think and squirm, mostly. Japanese films like The Eye as well.

 
What were the positive experiences working under the constraints of such a low budget?

When you are working with a low budget, people come in with an almost theatre-like attitude, in that we all band together and make this possible. There are no trailers; actors brought mostly their own wardrobe. Plus, there is more of a collaborative process. And I think that keeps everyone excited and on their toes.

Any drawbacks?

The negative is that there are not as many ‘toys’ to get cool shots, not as much time to rehearse, not as much time to set up shots and you are limited in what you can pay people, so you only have so much time with them.

As a writer, how do you feel about handing your scripts over to other directors?

Hate it! And that's why I loved directing iMurders. My theory is that if I am not going to get a butt load of money to have someone direct my vision, I'll do it.

What is the usual process of writing for you? Any ideas or themes that you find yourself drawn to as a writer?

My process is to come up with a central idea. And first start developing characters and their traits on a yellow legal pad, and then when I am comfortable, I go into the room these characters are in and just write. Some days, it flows, other days it's not there and I put it away and come back another day. I generally like things with a heart, but iMurders was written during a very angry time, when I was mad at the world and this business, and that's how I identified with the killer.


What filmmakers do you most admire and have been most influenced by, if any?

This is my least favourite question, because I feel like it's such a ‘year book’ answer, as well as a ‘look at how I went to film school’ answer. I am influenced by SO many filmmakers and how they touched me and made me want to be involved in this industry; but I like the camera work and interesting story telling of Robert Zemeckis, for one.

Can you tell me a little about your production company Good To Be Seen Films?


Good To Be Seen Films came about from a saying of my mom’s, who passed away 10 years ago. She was ravaged by MS and was completely paralyzed and when I'd go to visit her in her nursing home, I'd say, ‘Good to see you, Mom’ and she'd answer, ‘It's good to be seen.’ It's on her tomb stone. Our mission is to make quality indie films of all genres. Films I can be proud of and will still attract a mainstream audience.

What positive experiences will you bring away from directing iMurders?


What's positive is the belief that I can do this. While I am a modest guy, I’m most proud of the challenge we overcame to accomplish what we did for the budget we had. It makes me more certain that I can move on to bigger endeavours. I will make sure I learned from any mistakes I may have made and not make them next time.

What does the future hold for you? Any other projects you can tell me about?

Next up is a cool kid’s adventure movie called The Mighty Misfit Kids, and then if all goes well with the iMurders’ distribution, it is set up nicely for a sequel.

Check out the trailer for iMurders here and have a peek at some more information about iMurders at the film’s official myspace page...

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Suspiria

1977
Dir. Dario Argento

The arrival of American ballerina, Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper), at a prestigious dance academy in Freiburg, coincides with a series of savagely brutal murders. Suzy slowly begins to realise that the academy is actually a front for a coven of witches led by the diabolical Mater Suspiriorum – The Mother of Sighs – who plans to unleash untold suffering and pain upon the world. With her friends falling prey to evil supernatural powers and no one to believe her seemingly outrageous story, Suzy must face her deadly foe alone…

The first film in a trilogy, Suspiria precedes Inferno (1980) and the only recently completed final chapter, Mother of Tears (2007). With Suspiria, Dario Argento created one of the most vivid, nightmarish and hallucinogenic horror films of all time. Deeply influenced by the drug-addled and lurid writing of Thomas De Quincey, Argento also borrows from Lewis Carroll, the Brothers Grimm and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). The dark tale of witchcraft, the occult and fiendishly violent death unfolds like a morbid and highly gothic fairytale; even beginning with a ‘once upon a time’ styled narration.

Events bleed out from under a rage of primary coloured lurid lighting and intense noise. The soundtrack, courtesy of Goblin, is supremely sinister and pulsating and features a cacophony of otherworldly shrieks and rasping whispers. As distracting as this sounds, it actually enhances the experience of watching Suspiria. The viewer becomes utterly immersed in a claustrophobic and insanely nightmarish world where nothing is left to the imagination. The distinct lack of logic, while no doubt forehead-smackingly bizarre, also fuels the infernal atmosphere and adds a grotesquely skewed dimension to proceedings. 





Argento’s camera, here lensed by Luciano Tovoli, is as fluid as you might expect. It performs a few startling movements throughout the course of the film. One such moment occurs when Daniel, the blind pianist from the academy, is walking home with his dog at night through a large town square. The camera stalks him from every conceivable angle, even swooping down on him from the roofs of the buildings at one point, in an utterly breathtaking shot.



Jessica Harper as Susy, is one of Argento’s typical heroines: strong, resourceful and determined, if prone to bouts of memory loss: she attempts, throughout the course of the film, to remember several words whispered to her by the girl she met in the storm outside the school when she first arrived. These words are clues to unlock the mystery of the wretched academy.

Argento initially wanted the students to be played by adolescent actresses, but eventually changed his mind. Hey, it seems even Dario Argento has limits. However events in the film still unfold as though witnessed from a young girl’s perspective. Suzy is innocent and seemingly naïve, whilst her class mates play petty jokes on one another and are basically spoiled brats. The teachers, particularly Miss Tanner (Alida Valli), are extremely overbearing and demanding. The actors are dwarfed by the grand set designs and if you look carefully, all of the door handles in the school are quite high up, adding to the child-like perspective of the characters.




The violence is extremely intense and at times unbearable, particularly the opening double murders which feature stabbing, hanging, impalement and the puncturing of a still beating heart with a blade. However, with such an opulent and fever-pitched intro, nothing else in the film can quite live up to the initial intensity conjured by Argento. Things soon dissolve in a murky pool of illogicality. Characters wander around as though in a daze, exploring the ghastly interior of the malevolent building, bathed in swathes of reds, blues and greens, until they meet their gory demises, usually at the hands of unseen and presumably supernatural entities.

Suspiria is considered a classic of the horror genre, and rightly so. No film has ever really come close to touching its intensity, dreamlike qualities, artistic approach to violence or majestic moodiness.

A hellish and distinctly unsettling fairytale of graphic power.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Dracula (1931)


Dir. Tod Browning

After my post yesterday about Bram Stoker and the fact that the whole of Dublin is reading Dracula this month, I found myself craving a peek at Universal’s classic adaptation of Stoker’s novel again. Featuring Bela Lugosi in his most memorable role, and some of the most iconic imagery from the whole Dracula mythos, courtesy of controlled direction from Tod Browning, Dracula is always a darkly bewitching film to indulge in.

Opening with the spooky bit from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, the film’s highly dramatic and romanticised mood is instantly evoked. This adaptation opts to open with Renfield, not Jonathan Harker, travelling to Transylvania on business with the mysterious Count Dracula. Now seeming like rudimentary cliché, he stops off briefly at a local inn and is warned of the dastardly Count and his dubious ways. Quashing the local’s protests to turn back and ignoring their hushed whispers of ‘the Nosferatu’, he continues on his way and meets with a sinister carriage at Borgo Pass, high up in the mist shrouded mountains. This scene is hauntingly back-lit and seeps with uneasy tension.

Obvious but still exceedingly striking visual metaphors abound when Renfield reaches Castle Dracula and is invited by the Count to step through a massive spider web, and, unbeknownst to Renfield at this stage, into a world where he will embrace insanity and an unquenchable thirst for blood.



The at times beautifully fluid camerawork courtesy of Karl Freund, is rarely as impressive as the instance where it skulks into the crypt beneath Dracula’s crumbling castle and casts it’s piercing gaze at The Count’s slumbering brides rising up from their coffins and wafting through the murky chamber, wraith like. This provocative sequence is one of many highlights and each shot is elegantly composed, creating an overwhelming sense of depth, darkness and dread. It is here where we are also given our first glimpse of the imposing Count Dracula and the quiet menace he exudes.

The various performances of the cast are wildly uneven. Given that the film was made in 1931 and the phenomena of synchronised sound was relatively new to cinema (The Jazz Singer was released four years prior), many of the actors still retain a silent-era mode of highly expressive emoting, whilst flatly delivering their lines.
David Manners (who would go on to star in The Black Cat with Lugosi several years later) is typically stiff as Harker, while Helen Chandler as Mina, does what pretty much every other female character in old horror films does: screams a lot and faints. She is often patronised by Jonathan, particularly when she recalls a haunting dream she had about the Count advancing towards her and is told by her husband to ‘Forget about all these dreams and think about something cheerful, darling.’
Indeed this scene also holds the film’s only hint of sexual undertones as Mina breathlessly describes Dracula’s eyes and lips moving slowly towards her slender neck. ‘Where did the lips go?’ asks a flustered Van Helsing.

‘Listen to them. The children of the night. What music they make!’
Lugosi excels at portraying the Count. He possesses an otherworldly quality and more than a few chilling animalistic qualities. There are many tight shots of his face that litter the film, highlighting the actor’s piercing eyes and cold, hypnotic stare. The various scenes of him creepy stealthily into various female characters’ bedrooms in the night are quite impressive, as he slinks menacingly towards their beds with his gnarled hands ever twisting into grotesque claws. When we see Dracula descending the staircase in the faded decadence of his abode, Lugosi’s expressive and quite balletic gestures lend the scene an eerie beauty.

Dwight Frye is at times a revelation as the deranged Renfield. There is a particularly blood-chilling shot of him onboard the doomed schooner as it drifts into the dock at Whitby. He is framed at the bottom of the steps leading beneath the ship’s deck, looking up at the camera, grinning and giggling manically. A later scene, shot from ground level, features him creepily crawling across the floor towards a fainted maid, with a dark glint in his eye and even darker intentions for her on his mind. The crazed grin from before is once again smeared across his gaunt face. Renfield also has some of the film’s more evocative dialogue, such as when he begs to be allowed to eat a spider. ‘I want little lives. With blood in them.’ It’s quietly haunting little flourishes like this that help elevate this version of Dracula to its classic status.

While the film does have its overtly dated and rather camp moments, such as the various bats on strings, rubber spiders, Dracula recoiling in horror from the crucifix and some really rather bad dialogue, Browning seamlessly creates a haunting and downright dreamlike atmosphere. Events drift along into, at times, a sort of skewed and nightmare-like logic. Certain bizarre shots, such as those of the armadillos and the wasp in Dracula’s castle, add a touch of the exotic and ‘otherly’ to proceedings and really enhance the dreamlike quality of the story.






Unfortunately, after building up such a foreboding sense of tension, the film seems to just stop and evil is vanquished. A little too easily. Even so, Browning’s Dracula remains a hauntingly beautiful and nightmarish film that still proves irresistible viewing today…

When Universal released their 'Classic Monster Collection' boxset, one of the special features included is the option to watch Dracula with an alternative soundtrack courtesy of Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet. It proves a mesmerising score and its frenzied and hypnotic strings add to the darkly elegant ambience of the film. A classy delight.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker
In light of the fact that Dracula is this year's Dublin: One City, One Book's selected text, I thought it appropriate to delve into the background of the novel's author: Bram Stoker.

Born in Dublin in November 1847, Bram Stoker was a sickly child and bedridden for much of his formative years.
As a young man he attended Trinity College in Dublin and excelled in athletics as well as his studies. He graduated in 1868 with a degree in mathematics and began working as a civil servant in Dublin Castle.
This experience inspired him to write his first book, the rather riveting sounding Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland. This thrilling epic took the form of a handbook of legal administration and was published in 1878.


At this stage, Dracula was but a mere twinkle in Stoker’s eye, and the budding writer busied himself with some freelance journalism and theatre criticism. Soon after attending a performance of The Rivals at the Theatre Royal, Stoker met Henry Irving and subsequently became his agent. This relationship is speculated to have been somewhat ‘unconventional’ and rumour has it that Stoker was infatuated with the rather dashing but cruel Irving. Contrary to this, Stoker met and married Florence Balcombe who had actually been involved with Oscar Wilde at the time. She turned down Wilde’s attentions in order to set up house with Stoker in London.

Sometime in 1890, and apparently after overindulging in some rich crab pate, Stoker took himself to bed and experienced some of the most vivid and feverish nightmares imaginable. These were to form the basis of his inspiration for Dracula. It is also suggested by certain scholars that Irving also helped inspire Stoker to realise his blood thirsty and ravaging antagonist and Stoker based many of the Count’s tyrannical mannerisms on Irving. Dracula was not completed until 1897 and in-between times Stoker wrote The Snake’s Pass, The Shoulder of Shasta and a number of short stories whilst researching European folklore and history.


Dracula may be the most famous vampire story in the world today, but it certainly wasn’t the first. It was preceded by fellow Dubliner Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla in 1871, a scandalous tale about a lesbian vampire who manipulates a lonely and naive woman. John Polidori’s The Vampyre also preceded Dracula and was written during the summer of 1816 while Polidori stayed with Mary Shelley and Baron in Europe. Polidori’s representation of the vampire as an aristocratic man also inspired Stoker when he was creating the diabolical character of The Count.

When Dracula was published it was not an immediate success, though reviews were positive. Many readers thought it a titillating and rather scandalous read.

Stoker went on the publish several more notable novels, including The Jewel of Seven Stars and The Lair of the White Worm – none were to have the same impact on literature or indeed Western culture as Dracula though.

Stoker died in London in 1912 after a series of strokes and complications allegedly caused by Tertiary Syphilis. His ashes were placed in an urn and stored in Golders Green Crematorium.

Dublin: One City, One Book – Dracula


Now in its fourth year, Dublin: One City, One Book is a project set up to encourage the population of Dublin to read the same book during the month of April each year. The project was instigated to help promote awareness of great home-grown literature and make it more accessible, in a city that has spawned one of the greatest literary heritages in the world.

This year’s selected text is Bram Stoker’s sinister and full blooded classic Dracula, a book that has seized the imagination of countless readers in a vice-like grip throughout the decades, and been adapted for cinema, stage and television more times than Count Dracula has had hot virgin blood… Well, maybe not.

All manner of fiendish Dracula-inspired events will be taking place throughout Dublin city during the month. If you find yourself in the vicinity and feel so inclined - why not check out a few...

Click here for more information.

Bay of Blood


1971
Dir. Mario Bava

AKA
Twitch of the Death - Nerve
The Ecology of Murder
Last House on the Left - Part II
Before the Fact
Bloodbath
Bay of Death
Carnage
Chain Reaction
New House on the Left (!!)

A wheelchair bound Countess is murdered by her conniving husband who makes it look like she has committed suicide. He doesn’t even have time to rub his hands together and cackle manically, as he is then bumped off by an unseen assailant who disposes of his body in the bay. Soon, a group of relatives and randoms including the Countess’s daughter (Claudine Auger) and her husband (Luigi Pistilli), an illegitimate son (Claudio Camaso), a sleazy businessman (Chris Avram) and his devoted secretary (Anna Maria Rosati) converge at the bay to lay claim to the property and its potentially lucrative and undeveloped surroundings. Also residing in the bay is an obsessive bug collector and his fortune-telling wife. When four teens show up to party in an empty villa, the stage is set for a slew of bloody murders and subjective camerawork, as greed, paranoia and double-crossings all lead to murder. Everyone has their own selfish and devious agenda to inherit the lush bay and everyone is both suspect and potential victim. Let the games begin.

This film is widely acknowledged as the first slasher film and Bava immediately cuts to the chase with an elaborately staged double murder. The serpentine plot involves a substantial number of grisly murders and had a deeply profound influence on filmmakers such as John Carpenter, Sean Cunningham and Steve Miner – the latter’s Friday the 13th Part II (1981) pilfers shamelessly from Bay of Blood, particularly a couple of nasty death scenes – notably the machete in the face murder and the two copulating lovers impaled together by a spear. The highly gothic atmosphere of the opening scene segues into an incredibly stylish barrage of blood-dark set pieces and verging-on-camp mayhem.



Bava changed gears significantly with this film, not that he was ever a director content to just repeat the same film over and over again: he regularly dabbled in different genres, stamping his work with his inimitable brand of style. Gone is the overt Gothicism and highly charged sexuality of the likes of The Whip and The Body (1963), Kill Baby Kill (1966) and Black Sunday (1960). In their place is the natural progression from what Bava began with Blood and Black Lace (1964); a series of stylish and overtly gory set pieces revolving around murders carried out within the strands of a highly convoluted but strangely compelling plot.

Much of the iconography associated with slasher films is present here. The subjective camera work, the glinting blades, the sexed-up partying teens stalked and maimed one by one, and the revelatory payoff where we discover just who has been carrying out the dastardly deeds. The section of the film featuring the group of partying teens who break into an empty holiday villa on the shores of the bay is the essential blueprint for many a subsequent slasher film. The sexy teens party, make out, undress, go skinny-dipping, have sex, take drugs – well, they drink lots of alcohol, and are stalked by an unseen assailant before they get cut up and murdered, all against the backdrop of the beautifully wooded and isolated bay. All is lovingly filmed in gory detail by Bava’s ever gliding camera that frequently cuts to the stalker’s point of view.
There is no undercurrent of conservative morality with Bava’s film though. When the slasher was embraced by American filmmakers they imbued it with their own sensibilities and intrigues and eventually sex and partying led to death. Bava’s concerns lay elsewhere and he seems to suggest that greed can push almost anyone to murder at any time. There is also no one character that the audience can sympathise or identify with: all of the characters are essentially knife fodder and none are well enough written or fleshed out to invest in.




At times Bava’s camera lingers longingly whilst gazing at the various wounds and scars that are inflicted throughout the increasingly bloody proceedings with an almost fetishistic indulgence. The director does over use his zoom lens at times but this adds a kitschy level of enjoyment, as do the marvellous seventies set designs and costumes.
Bava makes excellent use of the idyllic location and whether it is reflecting the blue sky and gleaming sun or rippling under an ominous moon; the bay never looks anything short of moody and bewitching.

The cruel and somewhat sadistic irony of the climax in which the two final killers standing are gunned down by their own children is certainly a memorable one and rounds of the cynical nihilism of the story fittingly. Even by today’s standards, many of the slayings are brutal and quite shocking, and Bava revels in presenting them with directorial panache and chutzpah.