Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Brute

The Brute opens in white-coater mode as a psychiatrist addresses the audience straight to camera, acknowledging his presence within a film and commenting on various theories as to why men abuse women.

Following this it then presents what appears to be a dramatised case-study as Teddy (Julian Glover) arrives at the house he shares with his wife Diane (Sarah Douglas) and proceeds to verbally, emotionally, and physically abuse her. Diane is thereby left with marks that she has to explain away in her job as a model. It is clear, however, that neither her photographer friend Mark (Bruce Robinson, later director of cult favourite Withnail and I) not his parter Carrie (Suzanne Stone) do not believe her story of having been involved in a car accident; besides anything else the vehicle has not been damaged.

After this, however, writer-director Gerry O’Hara gives us something unexpected as the second fourth-wall breaching encounter with the psychiatrist is recontextualised as one of his regular therapy sessions with Diane.

Teddy, unfortunately, refuses to accept that he is the one with the problem, continuing to vacillate between abuse and contrition. He appears apologetic, only to then reveal a branding iron which he attempts to use on her. Diane manages to get hold of the iron and strikes her husband before fleeing.
 
When Diane returns with the police Teddy denies her allegations. The police do not bother to inquire as to why Teddy has a blanket over his legs, merely accepting his explanation that Diane is neurotic, alcoholic, on medication etc.

Around this point the filmmakers throw us another surprise, as Diane is introduced by Carrie to Maria (Roberta Gibbs), another battered wife, with attention then shifting to Maria and her abusive partner.

While uniformly well-acted, competently directed and intelligently written by O’Hara, The Brute is one of those films whose appeal, as something that the 1970s punter would have paid to go and see at the cinema, for entertainment, as opposed to feminist consciousness raising, is hard to discern. In this it reminded me a bit of the later Hollow Reed, a film in which a gay man struggles for custody of his child against his ex-wife’s new partner, whom he suspects of being abusive.

In relation to this possible failing, however, one of The Brute’s strengths is its refusal to give easy answers, as when Mark initiates a relationship with Diane, which Carrie is fully aware of, or when a friend of Maria’s partner is visibly shocked by his violence towards her but does not know how to respond. Somewhat against this, however, there’s Carrie’s martial arts displays, have been fine if introduced earlier but here coming across as somewhat deus ex machina.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Italian Gothic

Another possible Edinburgh Film Guild season...

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The late Maggie G├╝nsberg argued that Italian horror cinema could be divided into two broad periods: Gothic horror from 1956-66 and giallo (i.e. thriller) horror from 1970 onwards. With this mini-season we explore the former period, and the distinctively Italian take on the Gothic by filmmakers such as Mario Bava, Riccardo Freda and Antonio Margheriti.

Black Sunday -- the official directorial debut of Mario Bava also introduced the fetish star of Italian Gothic, English actress Barbara Steele, here playing a double role as the satanist vampire and her innocent victim.

The Playgirls and the Vampire -- a troupe of dancers and their entourage take shelter in an old castle for the night, not realising that it houses a vampire and his lookalike descendent, both being played by Walter Brandi, one of the key players in the early Italian Gothic.

The Horrible Secret of Dr Hichcock -- The first of director Riccardo Freda's Hichcock diptych riffs on the Master of Suspense's Rebecca and Vertigo amongst others, with Steele playing the new wife of the titular pioneering anaesthatist and necrophile.

Crypt of the Vampire -- Christopher Lee appeared in several Italian Gothics, including playing vampires at a time when he refused to reprise the role of Count Dracula for Hammer. This adaptation of Le Fanu's Carmilla, however, sees Lee play one of the vampire hunters.

The Long Hair of Death -- After a mother and the elder of her daughters are executed on trumped up charges of witchcraft, the younger daughter, who was spared, takes her revenge. Steele plays both daughters.

Kill Baby Kill -- In turn of the century Europe a doctor is sent to a remote village to investigate a series of mysterious deaths, only to find his scientific certainties collapsing in the face of mounting evidence of the supernatural.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

J-Horror

Another potential Edinburgh Film Guild season for next year...

Although most western audiences only became aware of Japanese horror cinema with the release of The Ring, Dark Waters, Audition and so on, the genre has a long history in the country. With this mini-season we showcase six of the best Japanese horror films from the late 1950s through the 1970s.

Jigoku -- Right from the opening credits, projected onto a naked woman's body and accompanied by a John Zorn-esque soundtrack, you know you are in for a trip as a university student falls foul of a demonic figure to find himself plunged into hell, the depiction of which still packs a punch and shows how those rumours of Hammer producing extra-gory versions of their films for the Japanese market arose.

Matango -- Survivors from a shipwreck find themselves on an island populated by mushroom people. The condition turns out to be contagious...

Irezumi -- After being kidnapped, made to work as a geisha, and forcibly tattooed with a large spider, Otsuya seeks bloody revenge upon those who have wronged her. The title Irezumi refers to the traditional Japanese tattooing methods depicted in the film.

Goke Bodysnatcher from Hell -- After their plane crash lands in an isolated area a mixed group of characters discover that there is a body-jumping alien parasite amongst them. Tarantino referenced Goke in Kill Bill Vol 1 as the bride flew to Japan against a blood-red sky.

Horror of Malformed Men -- Suffering from a de facto ban in Japan, this complex and at times avant-garde production based on a story by the pseudonymous Edogawa Rampo -- i.e. the Japanese Edgar Allan Poe -- must be seen to be believed.

House -- A group of school pupils venture into the house of a witch, with bizarre and frequently fatal consequences. At times reminiscent of Dario Argento's Suspiria, but incredibly upping the what-the-fuck factor even higher.

Should Kwaidan/Kaidan be there? Or one of the Toho Dracula films?

US Trash Cinema

Being another possible Edinburgh Film Guild season for next year. As before comments and suggestions welcomed...

As the likes of Eric Schaefer's Bold! Daring! Shocking! True! and David Friedman's A Youth in Babylon show, trash cinema has existed almost as long as Hollywood, exploring subject matter that mainstream filmmakers could or would not exploit, generally around some combination of sex, violence and drugs. With this season we showcase six important example of the genre. 

Reefer Madness -- one of a slew of films conveniently released as the US government moved to ban marijuana in the 1930s, Reefer Madness sees clean-living youths fall under the deadly sway of “the weed with roots in hell” to suffer hysterical and factually inaccurate consequences.

Blood Feast -- Caterer Fuad Ramses is appointed to prepare a 21st birthday feast for Mrs Fremont's daughter Suzette. Ramses proposes an “Egyptian feast” which Mrs Fremont agrees with, not knowing about its unique human ingredients. The original gore film from Herschell Gordon Lewis and David Friedman.

Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill -- Three go-go dancers go on the lam after one kills a boy racer and wind up at a dilapidated farm where a fortune is hidden. Thelma and Louise ain't got nothing on Turu Satana and Hajii...

The Wizard of Gore -- Montag the Magician performs incredible tricks by which members of his audience have fatal wounds inflicted upon them, only to then recover at the conclusion of the performance. The problem is that Montag is not actually curing these wounds, instead only delaying their effects...

Pink Flamingoes -- John Waters' first feature length film sees Divine and David Lochary's characters vying for the title of filthiest person alive. Presented completely uncut, including the chicken sex scene, the man with the talking anus, and Divine eating dog shit.

Double Agent 73 -- When Agent 99 is murdered by the drugs kinpin whose operation he had almost infiltrated Double Agent 73 is called in to continue the investigation. The 73 refers to the real bust size, in inches, of freakshow star “Chesty Morgan”.

Blaxploitation

I'm in charge of programming films for my local film society, The Edinburgh Film Guild. As part of our programme we have four mini-seasons of six films/screenings each which showcase cult type films. For next year I'm thinking of doing a Blaxploitation mini-season. What do you think of the films I've chosen and which changes would you make? I've deliberately steered clear from Sweet Sweetback, Shaft and Superfly.

BlaxploitationThe term Blaxploitation refers to a type of exploitation cinema that emerged in the early 1970s, with the realisation that African-Americans comprised an increasingly large part of the US film audience that Hollywood had hitherto failed to tap into. Most Blaxploitation films used familiar genres but changed their dynamics by having black rather than white heroes and anti-heroes. In this mini-season we showcase six examples of the form, featuring iconic stars such as Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, Pam Grier and Rudy Ray Moore.

Hitman
-- Based upon the same novel as Get Carter, but transposed to Los Angeles, this hard-hitting revenge tale gives the better known Michael Caine vehicle a run for its money. Bernie Casey stars.

Black Caesar -- Independent auteur Larry Cohen's re-imagining of the 1930s rise-and-fall gangster tale, with Fred “The Hammer” Williamson in the title role as the ambitious Harlem mobster.

Coffy -- Pam Grier plays the titular nurse seeking vengeance upon the drug pushers whose wares were responsible for the death of her sister.

Blacula -- Acclaimed stage actor William Marshall plays the titular vampire, an African prince who had unwisely sought Dracula's help against the slave trade centuries before, and who now finds himself in present-day Los Angeles.

Welcome Home Brother Charles -- Having spend several years in the pen after falling victim to racist cops, the titular protagonist seek revenge. His method and weapon have to be seen to be believed.

Disco Godfather -- The inimitable Rudy Ray Moore is a retired cop now working as a DJ in the hottest disco in town. When his relative flips out on PCP he goes seeking revenge. One of those films that's so bad it's good.