Cinema Penitentiary Diaries Aug 1-4, 2015

  1. Four of the Apocalypse Lucio Fulci doesn’t have a natural eye for the western. What sets his westerns apart are the stories, and with Italian westerns being  notorious for their barely coherent plots, Fulci’s strong narrative sense gives his westerns a storytelling elegance.  “Four of the Apocalypse,” like “White Fang,” even boasts a literary pedigree, being based in part on two short stories by Brett Harte.  The film opens with “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” and ends with a climax inspired by “The Luck of Roaring Camp.” The interim owes quite a bit to John Ford’s “Stagecoach.” while not a literary work, “Stagecoach” is certainly a classic text in the lexicon of film studies.  Compared to his zombie pictures, Fulci’s westerns are not overtly gory, but when a bullet opens up the flesh, you flinch at the way that red spot spreads. We feel the pain in Fulci’s pictures, the pain of the cold in “White Fang,” the pain of childbirth in “Four of the Apocalypse,” the pain of the bullet in “Massacre Time.”
  1. Don’t Torture a Duckling This is often the first non-horror film discovered by Lucio Fulci fans, and so is predictably over-rated. It is a rambling affair with some decent performances by Florinda Balkin and Irene Pappas, and two gruesome scenes that will will grip you emotionally as well as viscerally.  The film has moments of natural beauty, which is to say the countrysides are lovely, and it is put together rather well, but I find more imaginative direction is less regarded work such as the oft-denigrated “AEnigma.”The Red Queen Kills Seven Times A feast for fans of giallo queen Barbara Bouchet, who plays one of two sisters at the center of a murder spree that is said to have its origins in a dispute between sinters several hundred years ago.  A lot of beautiful women are murdered in this one, which isn’t unusual for a giallo, and it becomes quickly irrelevant which of them will turn out to be the murderess.  Director Emilio Miaglia is very good at his sort of thing, and it is a pity he didn’t make more of them.  Even better is his out and out horror picture, “The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave.” The Gift of Love Two years  after “Written on the Wind,” Robert Stack re-unites with Lauren Bacall, and I recall what director Douglas Sir said then about the casting of Robert Stack and Rock Hudson. Hudson was transparent.  He could not be false. Stack was the opposite.  He was a twisted, convoluted, and neurotic.  These opposites formed the dynamic conflict between the characters in both “Written on the Wind” and the following year’s “The Tarnished Angels.”  It struck me that had Sirk directed “The Gift of Love,” he might have cast Hudson rather than Stack, which would have generated more sympathy for the husband’s suffering and doubt, leading to a more transcendent ending. Stack’s agony is more palpable, and we do not want to share it with him,  It drives us away, so the end is not a day of jubilee, but simply one of reconciliation and hope for the husband.  The audience is glad to have been given a happy ending to such a desolate story, but that’s as far as it goes.    The film is a remake of 1946’s “Sentimental Journey,” which I look forward to seeing to find out how John Payne and Maureen O’Hara make out. Moonlighting In the early eighties, before John Malkovich hit Broadway in 1987 with “Burn This” and every actor in the Western world wanted to be Pale, Jeremy Irons was the first name in acting.  I first saw him on stage in 1982 with Glenn Close in Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing.”  The dialog was so dense and the delivery so rapid that I wasn’t able to keep up with the sense of the play, but I sure was taken with Jeremy Irons, and saw all the pictures he was starring in at the time.  Except for “Moonlighting.”  Despite the critical praise, I couldn’t get enthusiastic over the travails of some Polish workers illegally remodeling an apartment in London.  It has only now been remastered and released on bluray, and it is damn good, and makes me ant to re-watch all those great Jeremy Irons pictures from the 80’s, especially “Betrayal,” which I was crazy about back in the day.
  1. Vendetta is the third picture made for WWE by the Soska Sisters, and it is a hard-fisted throwback to the unrestrained exploitation pictures of the eighties. If you are unimpressed with the pussyfooting slap-dancing of Tarantino’s mushroom-sucking ripoffs, and long for the good old meatgrinder sadism of “The Executioner,” this one’s for you. Nightmare Beach Umberto Lenzi’s artless direction gave a sense of realism to his cannibal movies.  Same goes for this beach party holocaust. A murderer is electrocuted and returns from the dead to electrocute spring breakers.  Or maybe it is just somebody impersonating him, someone who believes the kids are better off dead.  All those things that were so much fun in Frankie and Annette’s world are lethal here. And those who survive spring break are worse off than those who have died..because they are surely going to hell. Compulsion One of several films loosely based on the Leopold and Loeb case. Even though Orson Welles only appears in the climactic half hour, he gets top billing. I liked Dean Stockwell better.  A decent film that would only be average were it not for the sordid content. About Cherry Ashley Hinshaw thinks she is pretty hot stuff.  You can see it in her every gesture.  This girl is nothing but an egoistic brat who fancies herself an actress.  She is a Plain Jane tarted up to look like a porno star, which is the character she plays and about the only thing she is suitable to play.  To its credit, the movie blows her cover, revealing how sickening this whole porno lifestyle is. Some might be enticed to see the picture because Dev Patel, the kid who runs the Marigold Hotel, is in it, but I don’t think “About Cherry” was designed for the same audience.
  1. Sentimental Journey The remake of this 1946 sudser fantasy is superior in every way to the original. The story is pretty much the same, but the characters are much different. In 1958’s “The Gift of Love,” John Payne is a childish Broadway producer, where in the remake Robert Stack was a genius physicist. Maureen O’Hara’s famous actress is replaced by Lauren Bacall’s lowly receptionist. Walter Lang’s direction is flat, where Jean Negulesco’s is magically imaginative. The difference is similar to those between the John Stahl originals of “Imitation of Life” and “The Magnificent Obsession”  and  Douglas Sirk’s magnificent remakes. Not that Negulesco’s direction compares favorably to Sirk’s.  It could just be that I am more partial to the technicolored fifties than the forties’ shades of gray.   Dead Hooker in the Trunk The first effort by the Soska Sisters is amateurish in the same way that “Pink Flamingos” was amateurish.  Who would expect that either John Waters or the Soska Sisters would ever learn to make a decent film, let alone emerge as leaders in their fields? But if we look at “Dead Hooker in the Trunk” retrospectively, we can see the talent and willingness to go all the way into forbidden territory that marked their second picture “American Mary,” as well as the skills at fight choreography that gave the  prison riot in “Vendetta” one of  the wildest climaxes of any penitentiary film. The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave When I saw this in a theater back in the 70’s, I didn’t even know it was Italian. It sure was creepy, though.  One thing the movie didn’t have, and nobody expected it to, was wall to wall nudity.  Well, I just saw the movie again, expecting to scare myself in the middle of the night, and the movie was nothing but a fashion show of redheaded strippers and whips.  Not scary at all.  It was more like a Jean Rollin picture than anything else.
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