Tag Archives: James Bond

Twitch, But Don’t Blink

I freely acknowledge that Mario Bava’s 1971 Euro-trash classic Twitch of the Death Nerve probably does not show up on most people’s lists of favorite Easter movies, but with so much gruesome in the news these days, I thought it might be good to lighten things up with a dose of mayhem you can actually see and perhaps run away from.

Plus it involves many useful ingredients for rollicking good/dreadful ride;

  • 1) I actually do like director Mario Bava’s work, especially his Black Sunday (1960), featuring the ultimate scream queen, Barbara Steele. It’s an excellent “first film” if you’re looking to dip your toe in the cheapo-Euro horror film pool of the 60’s. Of course you may not get that toe back.
  • 2) There’s a “Bond Girl” in the flick. That alone will probably prick the attention of half the audience. Claudine Auger is featured here a few years after her turn as the tragic heroine “Domino” in 1965’s Thunderball.
  • 3) The body count in Twitch is jaw-dropping. Not since A Fistful of Dollars or the final scene of “Hamlet”…
  • 4) The gamut of death-inducing weaponry exceeds that of a game of Clue. It includes a spear, a shotgun, a rope, and a hatchet…not to mention weird insects and a freshwater (?) squid.

You’d think with all that going for it, how could it miss?

Well…it does.

I started watching this jewel with Chloe, our resident canine critic.

Her opinion? “If you want me, I’ll be in the bar”.

She’s a big Joni Mitchell fan.

The Devil Rides Out

Movie night!

The Devil Rides Out (1973) aka The Devil’s Bride.

My favorite Hammer horror film; period.

There are so many points of interest.

  • The script is an adaptation of a Dennis Wheatley adventure/supernatural novel that features the Duc de Richleau, a modern warrior in opposition to the evil occult. Richleau is every bit as fascinating and urgent as Nayland Smith battling Fu Manchu or Professor Van Helsing pursuing Dracula. Christopher Lee is at his very best in this portrayal.
  • Richard Matheson adapted the novel into the screenplay. Mr. Matheson authored the novels; I AM LEGEND, THE SHRINKING MAN, HELL HOUSE, and SOMEWHERE IN TIME. He also wrote the terrifying short story “Born of Man and Woman” and many of the best episodes of “The Twilight Zone”.
  • The sets are up to the usual Hammer standards for detail and utter lack of clutter and shadows – how do they make that much light come from every direction?
  • Niké Arrighi delivers a pathetic (in the best sense of that word) performance as the damsel assailed by satanic forces. It’s quite a change from her portrayal of the free-spirited costume assistant Odile in Truffault’s Day for Night.
  • A wonderfully sinister Charles Gray (Blofeld in several James Bond flicks) dominates (sans cat, however).
  • The conjuring of “The Goat of Mendes” (Satan himself) in the sabbat, the giant tarantula attacking the little girl, the angel of death attacking the protective circle; all impressive and frightening moments.
  • Drop dead cool cars on tiny English country lanes.
  • Three-piece suits to die for.

Of course the ending is incoherent…but there’s a nice purging inferno.

And the cars are so very cool…I may have mentioned that.

I love it.

Italian Bleak

Movie Night!

Michaelangelo Antonioni has commanded too much of my lifetime film-watching – way-y-y-y too much.

I think I saw his L’Avventura about 1971. I loved it and I loved Monica Vitti in it. I’ve seen it three or four times since and still love it and her.

The next Antonioni flick I saw was Zabriskie Point. What happened? This was one of the most tedious cinematic experiences in my life. Oh sure, the explosion’s cool, but repeated 821 times? It was like a visual Philip Glass score. I’m pretty sure nothing was left on the cutting room floor here.

Still, I really liked L’Avventura. I reasoned I should go back and see the films he made right after that film. I watched La Notte. I watched L’Eclisse. (In the background I could hear the loud buzzer and the announcer’s voice braying; “Thank you for playing”).

So.

Tonight it’s one more swing at Mr. Antonioni; Red Desert (which sounds ever so much better in Italian; Deserto Rosso).

I’m encouraged. Red Desert also features Ms. Vitti. This was the flick she made before she played the title character in Modesty Blaise (think James Bond movie with Bond girls but no Bond. I know, I know guys, that doesn’t sound half bad, but trust me, go have lunch at Hooters instead).

Red Desert is bleak. It’s shot in a polluted industrial quarter of Ravenna. The skies are grey when you can see them. Mostly you see smoke of various un-reassuring hues and fog, lots of fog. The ground barely exists. It’s unhealthy-looking mud and marsh and industrial seaport. Everything is tastefully furnished in mid-twentieth century factory debris. Dante and William Burroughs would be impressed.

The people are also bleak.

Ms. Vitti works hard and is effective, but at what? Her character must drive this film, but how? She’s a bewildered victim buffeted from husband to lover to infant son, fearful of everything (“…colors…”) to the point of incapacitation. This is the focus of the whole film. John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands did this far better in A Woman Under the Influence.

And then there’s Richard Harris (yes, that Richard Harris). He acts as if he thought he was in film by Alain Resnais. Look around you, Mr. Harris. This is Ravenna, not Marienbad.

And I gotta let ya know up front. The desert’s not red…it’s not even a desert. It’s a rocky beach with pinkish sand and adds no discernible value for the viewer except as visual relief from the ravages of Ravenna.

No, the film’s not as dreadful as Zabriskie Point, but….I think I’ve invested enough of my time in Mr. Antonioni.

Besides, Scream of the Demon Lover is comin’ up next in my queue. You just know that’s gonna be choice.

Son of Japanese Noir

Movie night!

I was so taken by Yoshitaro Nomura’s ZERO FOCUS (see previous blog) I had to watch his reputedly best film; THE CASTLE OF SAND. Lucky me.

THE CASTLE OF SAND contains a satisfying quota of “noir” elements.

  • It pairs an older/wise investigator with a younger/energetic partner. They work separately and come back together to compare their discoveries. Those discoveries are meagre, but spark progress in each other through this cross-pollination. Yes, there are some “Eureka!” moments, but not the usual Hollywood kind. Mind you, I’m not knockin’ Hollywood “Eureka!” moments. They’re usually pretty exciting storytelling. But it’s intriguing to see these two hard-working, sweating, high-integrity guys tease just enough new information to keep their investigation from fading away.
  • It has bar scenes, dining car scenes, and police headquarters interview scenes. Check, check, and check.
  • It has trains. I know that sounds strange but this is always good for me. I’m a passenger with no control. I am caught in a powerful, loud machine hurling me towards the next chapter in the adventure at hand. Gulp.

It does not have Ginzu knives.

But wait! There’s more!!

Unlike ZERO FOCUS, this film is in color. Mr. Nomura uses that color to exploit the beauty of rural Japan. Imagine if the Ingmar Bergman of SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT had shot a film in rural Kentucky in early summer. The vistas are impossibly green – the people are small against it. The roads/trails are generally straight and so are the people. Integrity is high – tolerance is low. Hospitality is ubiquitous – charity is rare.

The acting in this film is perhaps not as uniformly fine as in ZERO FOCUS, but the older detective portrayal by Tetsuro Tanba (fellow James Bond aficionados will remember Mr. Tanba as Tiger Tanaka in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) is very nice.

The treasure in this film is the remarkable way the resolution is revealed. Our detectives apply for a warrant to arrest their suspect. To do so, they must present their case to an assembly of police officials. As they tell their story we see their story in painful and lush flashback. As they speak and we watch, everything is underscored by a piano concerto written and played by our prime suspect. The camera smoothly and logically and relentlessly moves from police conference to rural saga to concert performance. I could not look away. The plot twists as the story is unveiled are effective and startling………and plausible.

This is a gem.