October 20, 2016



Idila /Idyll
Tomaz Gorkic - 2015
Artsploitation Films Region 1 DVD

Yes, this film is from Slovenia, the country that gave us Melania Trump, and I'm probably not alone at groaning when I saw that title. But beyond that, this is a nifty film that makes the most out of a small cast and a handful of locations.

As the title suggests, this is a rural horror film, something that recalls The Hills have Eyes and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with its family of miscreants. Deliverance also comes to mind. Two men, possibly brothers, both facially deformed, terrorize a photographer, his make-up artist, and two models who were planning to do a photo shoot in some very pretty country near the mountains, hence the original title. The quartet is captured and kept in a dark cellar. Gorkic contrasts the sunny, open countryside with enclosed, dimly lit space where the men keep their prisoners, and house a makeshift laboratory.


One of the most horrific scenes achieves its power through what is imagined rather than what is seen, with a montage that tells the viewer just enough about what is happening to the victim, followed by shots of liquids running through tubes and into bottles. There is more graphic horror at the end, something that Gorkic builds up to, following the escalation of dread.

For those who care to look more closely, Killbillies casually critiques classism, sexism, and unthinking consumer culture. Attractive women are prized commodities, usually valued for their looks, while the men here are id dominant in varying degrees. The film mostly focuses on Zina, the first character we see, who ties the film together, making explicit the connections of the other characters. What at first appears to be a scene of a girls' night out is the set up for the rest of the film and Gorkic's themes. Another indication that Gorkic has more on his mind that simply scaring his viewers is that while he is aware that audience identification will more naturally go towards the most photogenic of his characters, it is the most monstrous person, the burly Francl, who has the most human moment during a brief, but telling, cry of grief.

Killbillies is both Tomaz Gorkic's first feature, after several short films, but also the first Slovenian horror film. It turns out that the main location for the horror, a large, ruined stone fortress is a real tourist attraction, Fort Hermann, built in 1906, and partially destroyed during World War I.


October 16, 2016

Coffee Break

Trine Dryholm and Pierce Brosnan in Love is All You Need (Susanne Bier - 2012)

October 10, 2016

Denver Film Festival: The Schedule


I couldn't help but think a bit about the Denver Film Festival when I read this article about the number of films shown last month in Toronto. The Denver Film Festival has almost as many films, but is geared more for a regional audience of cinephiles. Coming at the end of festival season, this year's festival schedule won't totally conflict with the newer, higher profile AFI Film Festival. For myself, I've chosen to be less attentive about Cannes and Toronto, and haven't even scanned what's playing at the New York Film Festival this year. Instead of fretting about what's not coming to Denver, what appears on the schedule that catches my eye turns into a happy surprise.

Past relationships may have paid off with the opening and closing night films. Damien Chazelle's Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench played at the 2009 festival. The audience favorite at Toronto, La La Land will be the opening film this year. Chilean Pablo Larrain's very busy year began with The Club at last year's festival prior to its theatrical run, and Jackie, about the just widowed Jacqueline Kennedy, as this year's closing film. There's also a Colorado connection, with John Carroll Lynch appearing as Lyndon Johnson in Larrain's film. Lynch was born Boulder, Colorado, and grew up in Denver. The reality of film festivals is that you need some crowd pleasers for economic viability, especially to make room for those films that will attract a smaller audience.

Among the several awards handed out at the festival is something called the Rare Pearl Award. I can only guess at the criteria, but it seems fitting that it should be given to the husband and wife team of Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon. As writers, directors and stars of their films, the pair has a brand of whimsy that makes something like Amelie look relatively restrained. Paris Barefoot is the literal translation from the French title of Paris Pied Nus, and far better than Lost in Paris, n'est-ce pas? Supporting Gordon and Abel are Pierre Richard, the top French comic actor during the 70s and 80s, and our favorite French octogenarian, Emmanuelle Riva, presumable having more fun than she did with Amour.

The full schedule has several other familiar titles making the rounds of several film festivals. If the festival in full could be described as an iceberg, the number of films that I will be covering will be the equivalent to a sno-cone. What I post between November 2 through the 13th will be based on what screeners are available, screenings I can attend, and recommendations from several film critics and historians.

If I can express disappointment, it's that someone decided to have an unnecessary screening of Young Frankenstein. Disappointment because, Gene Wilder has several other films worth revisiting, but also because this is the DENVER Film Festival, and Denver's own Lisa Gaye should be remembered. OK, so she was not as big a star as sister Debra Paget, but as this scene shows, the girl could dance!

paris pied nus poster.jpg

October 09, 2016

Coffee Break

Laura Dern and Justin Theroux in Inland Empire (David Lynch - 2006)

October 06, 2016



Victor Matellano - 2015
Artsploitation Films Region 1 DVD

It's been a while since I've seen Jose Ramon Larraz"s original Vampyres from 1974. What Victor Matellano has done is not simply remade the film, with Larraz given co-credit for the screenplay, but also tied this new version with literary, historical and cinematic references. Matellano doesn't attempt to go beyond what may have been considered transgressive in the original, so that the blood and sex are relatively restrained by current standards. And in light of the original film, the casting of actors from horror films from the Sixties and Seventies can be seen as more than a gimmick to attract viewers.

Two female vampires, also lovers, live in a supposedly abandoned house in a heavily wooded area. By standing in the woods, with one sometimes pretending to be unable to walk the full distance, they get unwary drivers on the otherwise lonely road to drive to the house. Hospitality, with a very potent red wine, turns the guests into unwilling victims drained of blood. In some cases, the vampires simply catch someone walking through the woods, and deftly cut that person's throat.


The Larraz film ends with an older couple checking into the seemingly unoccupied house that is home to the vampires. The female half of that couple is played by Bessie Love, most famous as a silent era actress. While Love had no horror films to her filmography at that time, unless you want to count The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, her presence brings a connection to cinema's past. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Love's last film was Tony Scott's The Hunger. In the new film, we have Caroline Munro as the owner of a nearby hotel who might have some idea of what's going on at that house in the woods, with Lone Fleming as the hotel receptionist. Munro starred in one of Hammer's last and best vampire films, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. Fleming remains still active in Spanish horror. Antonio Mayans, whose filmography includes work with Jesus Franco and Umberto Lenzi, appears as a mysterious man with a scythe. May Heatherly takes on Bessie Love's role, while the then ninety-three year old Conrado San Martin plays her husband. Additionally, another Franco veteran, Jack Taylor, narrates the short "Making of . . ." supplement.

Theophile Gautier is referenced several times, first with a quote from his 1836 short story, "La Morte Amoureuse", and with the short story read by a young woman, Harriet, who is camping in the woods. The passage quoted is of a woman sucking the blood from the wound of a man. Gautier is credited with writing one of the first known literary works about vampires. Harriet also likens her two male friends with her as being similar to Mary Shelley, Lord Byron and John Polidori, the trio that shared ghosts stories, resulting in Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein, and Polidori - The Vampyre. As it turns out, the three turn out to be closer to the would-be ghost hunters of The Blair Witch Project, also directly mentioned by one character, and alluded to when Harriet discovers that the mysterious black cloaked women can not be photographed.

Mattelano takes advantage of using a RED camera, to film with an agility that was not available for Larraz, both in the use of available light and in camera placement, with frequent overhead shots. Unlike the original which was filmed in England, this new version, also in English, was filmed in Spain. Definitely a remake worth seeing, and so very appropriate for the Halloween season.


October 04, 2016

Phantom of the Theatre


Mo gong mei ying
Raymond Yip - 2016
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Phantom of the Theatre mostly takes place in 1930s Shanghai, at that time the center of Chinese filmmaking. And for the first few minutes, it appeared that Raymond Yip's film would take on the look of a film from that era. Those few moments are left behind, though what I did like was Yip's embrace of filming several scenes on a large set meant to duplicate a Shanghai street. That street is about a realistic as what might have been found on the MGM lot, with Vincente Minnelli calling the shots. The fakery is especially undeniable when Tony Yang is alone in the street, crying in anguish.

Yang plays a young filmmaker, Weibang, who's debut film is a ghost story, filmed in the theater where an acrobatic troupe died in a fire thirteen years ago. The troupe's final show was a private performance for Weibang, arranged by his father, an influential warlord. Rumor has it that the theater is haunted, and we see several characters die by what appears to be spontaneous combustion. Weibang's girlfriend is a doctor who figures out what what is really causing the horrifying deaths of the victims. Not that Manfred Wong's script explains everything, but a quasi-scientific explanation is required for Mainland China approval. Less critical viewers might also be more accepting of the overload of coincidences that bring the characters together.

I love movies about filmmaking. Those first few minutes of Phantom of the Theatre suggest a different kind of film. Five actresses are competing to be named the Screen Queen. The established diva wins, but the up and coming actress gets a special prize for being photogenic. The young writer-director, hoping to get his dream project made, hopes to interest the established actress. Neither she, nor the younger star have time for the young man, who finds his script scattered on the floor. There was the potential for a screwball comedy with dueling divas, and an earnest young filmmaker caught between the two women, and the financiers who try to control everything behind the scenes.

That's not this film. Still, there are some nice moments with the characters lost in dreams and hallucinations. There is a phantom, and he it's sufficient to say he's not pretty. There is sympathy for the villainous characters of the phantom and the warlord, played by Simon Yam, the most well-known actor in the cast. As soon as the explanations for the mayhem are revealed, the intrigue dissipates, kind of like the ghosts who disappear as puffs of smoke.


October 02, 2016

Coffee Break

Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore in Maggie's Plan (Rebecca Miller - 2015)