Sunday, November 30, 2008

ANAMORPH (2007) d. Henry Miller

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

One of the most difficult questions to answer is the age-old query, “Is it Art?” An object that is art to some may be meaningless drek to others. Some may call an image creative while others consider it obscene. Wrestling with the definition of “art” has bedeviled scholars, critics and connoisseurs for centuries, but one thing most people can agree upon is that art and sadism have little in common. While art can often depict savagery and brutality, it cannot and must not have its inspiration in the purposeful maiming and murder of others just to create a shocking image. Even though there is consensus on this point, there are those disturbed individuals who have tried to create a canvas that is primarily painted with human suffering and blood, and the motion picture ANAMORPH is a look at the attempts of law enforcement to stop such a monster.

ANAMORPH is primarily the story of detective Stan Aubray, a veteran officer who is tormented by memories of a past case involving a serial killer nicknamed “Uncle Eddie”. Stan shoulders an immense burden of guilt and doubt stemming from the handling of that case and its impact on those around him. Five years after “Uncle Eddie” was seemingly brought to justice, another serial killer appears, utilizing identical methods of creating “artistic” murders and documenting his work in the grimmest of fashions. Detective Aubray and his colleague Carl Uffner delve into the darkest corners of the city to stop a madman before this newest painter in human misery adds more innocent victims to his growing collection of ghastly works.

While being a somewhat uneven film at times, ANAMORPH exhibits more strengths than weaknesses and has a fair amount going for it by the time it reaches its denouement. The story of ANAMORPH starts with a fairly compelling premise and it patiently develops its main characters as much as it develops its suspense and primary narrative structure. At times the pacing is a little uneven, but the main character of Stan Aubray, played by Willem Dafoe, is complex, flawed, quirky and quite fascinating due to his compulsive behaviors, obvious intellect and talent as well as his alcoholic tendencies. A great deal of attention and time is given to detective Aubray’s personal and professional quest to solve the case, and the struggles he engages in make the drama and intensity of this film human instead of cartoonish and unbelievable. Scott Speedman’s character of detective Carl Uffner is even more complex, for he starts off as almost an antagonist and maintains many unsympathetic traits throughout the film, but at the same time he is portrayed in a manner that renders him nearly a caricature of an NYPD tough guy. By the end of the story though, some intellect, insight and compassion are developed in his character and as a result, detective Uffner ends up more like an anti-hero than an antagonist. While there are times that the story of ANAMORPH has a feel that is reminiscent of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (Paul Lazar who played Pilcher in SILENCE plays the Medical Examiner in ANAMORPH) and the imagery that is created is grisly but does not cross the line into torture porn as SILENCE was able to do so well, the juxtaposition of art and grotesque violence helps ANAMORPH finds its own path through the woods. At times some of the “artistic” imagery and symbolism seems a bit forced and/or obscure and that keeps the storyline from having the razor sharp edge it needed, but most of the time the narrative focus on contrasting artistry and monstrosity is done with an honest and thoughtful effort.

One of the greatest strengths of ANAMORPH was its casting. For a long time, it seemed that motion pictures had become helplessly entrapped in the thinking that all cast members had to be between the ages of 18-24 with the occasional bone being tossed to a veteran screen presence for a “five liner”. That trend seems to be ending to some degree and it was VERY pleasing to the eye and mind to see a mostly seasoned cast do their jobs well. Willem Dafoe is the consummate film professional and his talents help blur a line so that the viewer has a hard time determining whether it was the performance or the way the role was written that made it work. Such is the case with ANAMORPH. Dafoe plays his part with an understated quality, but all through the movie you can tell there are forces just beneath the surface threatening to tear him apart. Even though their roles were small, adding James Rebhorn as Chief Brainard and Peter Stormare as the art aficionado Blair Collet both were inspired choices. James Rebhorn’s granite face and yet lance-sharp eyes make him the ideal “hard-ass” Police Chief and his “that guy” status adds immediate face recognition to your flick. There is something deeply reassuring when you see a “that guy” like James Rebhorn and you say to yourself, “hey, I’ve seen that guy before”. Instantaneous cinematic legitimacy is achieved, just as SILENCE OF THE LAMBS had with Scott Glenn and Charles Napier. Another form of cinematic legitimacy is also attained by adding “Mr. Creepy” Peter Stormare, even when he isn’t in the role of a bad guy. One can’t help but feel a sense of sitting in something unpleasant when Mr. Stormare steps into shot and even if your film lacks atmosphere before his entry, it will have an atmosphere all its own afterward. Clea Duvall (Sammy Strickland) and Scott Speedman (detective Uffner), while not household names, were also cast effectively for roles that needed people whose looks were not the focus but rather their troubled personas added to the already tangled tapestry. While Ms. Duvall’s character was not terribly well developed, she seemed to blend effectively with the carefully chosen sets to be part of an underlying current of abhorrent corruption that permeated the story. Scott Speedman’s character only deepened that sense of dread and decline into inevitable disaster. There was an effective chemistry created by the casting of the actors, even if the chemistry seemed headed in a fatalistic direction.

From a visual standpoint, there was a lot to like about ANAMORPH too. It was effectively and creatively shot with a good use of scope that helped to take in the action and all the sets both interior and exterior. What was very fascinating about the choice of sets is that ANAMORPH seemed to try to evoke the grimy 1970s New York look that made movies like TAXI DRIVER so very visceral in their appeal, but at the same time, many of the sets and props also tried to call up an artistic aesthetic that felt dream-like in an disconcerting way. These seemingly opposite visual concepts did not create disharmony, rather they found a way to coexist and even meld. The camera work also utilized color efficiently to keep the cinematic canvas from becoming too morose and the use of special photographic effects to show memory flashbacks of Stan Aubray, while not cutting edge, were successful rendered and worked well with all the rest of the tools on the director’s palette.

ANAMORPH has a small but enjoyable bonus features menu. In addition to three auto-play trailers that engage in advance of the main menu, and the film trailer that is part of the extras menu, there are a couple of rewarding tidbits. There is a 6 minute “Making of Anamorph” mini-documentary with the crew and cast members that looks into the story genesis and the inspirations behind the film. There is also a 2 minute deleted scene that is worth a quick look. While not the “Treasure of The Incas” when it comes to bonus features, it is deeply pleasing to see some extras on a Genius Products disc. Just having the chance to hear Willem Dafoe’s reflections on his role and director Henry Miller’s thoughts on his project help any viewer to have a greater understanding and respect for the film at hand. Bonus features always make a dvd-lover feel like their money was fairly well spent.

Developing an appreciation for art in the many forms that it takes is the journey of a lifetime that some never complete. It is a sad realization, for art is one of the few creations of mankind that truly separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Watching a film like ANAMORPH makes you realize that art can be perverted and twisted like any aspect of our culture, but it is better to look at the image no matter how unsettling and see what is truly there than to look away and pretend that something misshapen doesn’t exist. ANAMORPH is a study in how we look at images in our lives and what we see and sometimes don’t see. Any film that forces us to look, think and then reflect on what was observed and considered has successfully crossed the dividing line between being just another movie and taking the viewer on an artistic journey. What you derive from that journey is in the freedom of art lover, and that is the whole point.

EM EMBALMING (1999) d. Shinji Aoyama

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Westerners have a tendency to lump all “Asian” film into the same category and not really notice the differences in tone, style, pacing and imagery that differentiates Hong Kong, Philippine, Thai, Japanese, South Korean and Indonesian film, to name just a few. Hong Kong films use to be known for their incredible action sequences, but are losing that title a little more every year to the intrepid Thai film makers. Korean films seem to be eclipsing their Japanese competitors in creating atmospheric and visceral cinema. The Philippines use to be the country where you’d see some mind-bending flicks, but the Indonesians are producing some of the most bizarre movies based on their rich and exotic cultural mores. What sets Japanese film apart from the rest is not always their quality, but rather the close relationship their Film Production companies have with American counterparts, and as a result it has generally been more common to see Japanese cinema here in the West. The general description of most Japanese motion horror and suspense pictures is their use of dark and moody imagery blended with some good story concepts but often marred by slow pacing. That generalization may not always be the case or even be fair, but it fits EM EMBALMING (aka Embamigu) to a tee.

EM EMBALMING is the story of embalming specialist Miyako Murakami, a talented, young medical professional working for the Josei EM Center. She is invited by Detective Hiraoka to take part in what appears to be a suicide, but during the embalming procedure, Miyako discovers evidence that suggests the death might have been a homicide. Before long, Miyako finds herself enmeshed in a tapestry that includes The Daikotu Temple’s leader, Chief Bonze Jion, a young girl named Rika who exhibits multiple personality disorder, an organ trader named Dr. Fuji with a dark and mysterious past and even governmental officials with secrets they are trying to hide. Psychological experiments, insanity, stolen body parts and religious fervor create a whirlpool of deception and intimidation as Miyako is forced to plumb the depths of medical and clerical depravity to find the answers she is seeking.

On the dvd jacket, EM EMBALMING is compared to CSI, but that is a bit of a stretch, for one of the main characteristics of American TV is brisk pacing and EM EMBALMING suffers from a case of the “slows”. It is unfortunate though for there are some things to like about this film. The general plot premise and basic narrative structure and components are compelling and I found myself getting drawn into the story despite my best efforts to be bored to death by its occasional deceleration. In addition to a nightmarish premise and some interesting dramatic twists and turns, this film is relatively rich in atmosphere. A portion of the moodiness is generated by some of the characters who have a soulless quality, while others evidence some very quirky acting portrayals, all of which make this film feel bizarre and a little creepy. Most of the interior sets have a stark, sterile and harsh look and feel, intensifying the aura of unpleasantness. The entire film is shot with the care of a surgeon and an immense amount of minute detail is captured in very long, slow shots, from blood running down gunnels, to stitches being taken in dead bodies to tormented looks on character’s faces. While the color schemes and the overall architecture/décor were not overly impressive, the focus on people, places and mood helped to create a sense of menace that greatly aided in maintaining a degree of forward progress, momentum that EM EMBALMING desperately needed. It also helped that some of the medical imagery was grotesque and gory at intervals. You need not fear a SAW-like gore-fest. The shock scenes are woven in with purpose and add another layer of macabre to this film. They, like the atmospheric elements, were essential to EM EMBALMING keeping its head above water.

While I will always vote for a patient movie over modern “rocket rides” that do not allow for any character or atmosphere development, Japanese cinema has a deserved reputation for moving somewhat glacially through a plot, and EM EMBALMING is no exception. There were long stretches where character development gave way to cinematic circular motion and the story began to grind to a halt. In addition, many scenes were made unnecessarily long by shots that were held for a much greater span of time than most Westerners are use to. In bygone days, one might have suspected the long holds were done to pad out the length of a feature that was a bit too short. Here it is all about creating a degree of artistry much akin to watching a blade dangle over a helpless sacrificial victim. The idea is to create suspense and a sense of approaching peril, and so it does, but it is sometimes at the cost of essential velocity. Just as a meteor’s speed must be great enough to keep it from being sucked into a planet’s gravitational well, a film must maintain a sense of momentum or it risks being drawn into the ever-present “bog of boring flicks”. EM EMBALMING never sinks into the quagmire, but it does gets itself slimed a few times. There are lengthy stretches where there is sparse or even no dialogue, and once again, this can often be a benefit to a film. Occasionally, the lack of chatter is a plus in EM EMBALMING, but at times it makes the movie a little overly contemplative. In the end, I’d prefer to see a flick that is a little too thoughtful rather than some of the moronic fare that is far too common today, but I want my thought-provoking imagery to also ignite an emotional spark within me. The cognitive fires were burning as I viewed this film, but the affective coals were low in slumber.

EM EMBALMING has a small but interesting set of bonus features. Being a slightly older film/disc, there are six bios/filmographies of the director and cast, a feature that has become nearly extinct in the modern world of dvds and one I wish would return. I don’t always want to have to turn to the IMDB to learn more about a movie’s denizens. There is an audio commentary with author Jasper Sharp, he who co-wrote MIDNIGHT EYE, a Japanese Film Guide. Finally, there is a 20 minute interview featurette with director Shinji Aoyama which is very worthwhile. Learning more about the entirety of any film project always makes me think better of it.

If you are a fan of sinister and gloomy Japanese cinema like the original RING or DARK WATER and want something that is a little out of the ordinary from the usual supernatural fare, EM EMBALMING may be for you. It requires patience and reflection, but it is not an overly complex tale that will leave you scratching your head. It combines some very tried and true elements that most people tend to fear, medical science gone awry, psychotic persons run amuck, religion wielding far too much power in places that it shouldn’t and EM EMBALMING weaves into this nest some creepy visual threads that older viewers will probably appreciate. This film is probably one for more mature tastes for it is not all bangs and flashes, although it has got its shocks every now and then. Go in expecting your ride to be like that of a walk through an excellent art museum. You’ll like what you see, but you’ll also find some of the experience a little tedious here and there.

Friday, November 28, 2008

AMERICAN NUDES Volume 1 (2008) r. Cult Epics

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Film has long striven to bring to men the fantasies that they enjoyed as boys, teenagers or even adults. Sometimes those fantasies took the form of war epics or exotic adventure stories. Other times, film fantasies came in the shape of science fiction serials or horror tales. Most upstanding men would have never admitted it fifty or sixty years ago, but a popular fantasy arising in most males by the age of nine was the hope of seeing the pretty young wife next door or the lovely teenage girl down the street venture out one day without her clothes on, or find herself in a predicament where she ends up disrobed, or that you discover she has secretly joined a nudist colony and that you know a covert vantage point from which you can observe her au natural. What most men were unaware of in the 1940s and 1950s, but a select few had discovered was that some very brave film makers were bringing those fantasies to life in the form of “nudie” or “stag” loops/short films. Measured by today’s standards, these “nudie cutie” shorts are pretty tame and even quaint, but once upon a time, they were the height of naughty entertainment for the wayward Dad, the lonely single man or the connoisseur of the female figure. Cult Epics has restored to the world a collection of short films that is a true trip back in time to an era when you could see a young woman who called to mind the local beauty from the ice cream shop and she could be all yours as long as you were happy with the realization that you could only look.

AMERICAN NUDES Volume 1 is a collection of 17 short films spanning the early 1940s up through about 1950. Each of the shorts is black & white and while most are “silent” in nature, a couple shorts have voice-overs. The “silent” films all have jazzy or Big Band style music laid over them to give each a period feel and to increase their air of playfulness and light-hearted fun. The shorts with narration have a distinct “naughty news reel” feel and while maintaining a bit more historical authenticity are just as appealing. The “topics” of the short films are as diverse as the fantasies of men without crossing obscenity boundaries of the time. Lovely young women can be seen frolicking at sport and play outdoors, posing as artist’s and photographer’s models, taking part in nudist camp activities, bathing, swimming and splashing in pools and tubs, dancing their nightclub routines and posing in peep show-style reels, acting in silent skits, trying on clothes and performing in some contrived but marvelously outlandish schemes. Each of the 17 shorts has an impishly crafted title that may or may not give you a sense of what is coming, but they all deliver on some form of promise of suggestive sex and scantily clad sweetness.

There are a lot of things to like about AMERICAN NUDES Volume 1. For the many men who still remember the time when these films could be seen and/or accessed, these shorts will bring back a lot of memories. For the young men of today who have been raised on porn stars and internet tramps, there is a “girl next door” freshness that will still have appeal. For the men in between, there will be a sense of lost youth and passions aroused that will probably be both thrilling and a little sadly nostalgic. For any man who enjoys an attractive gal, these shorts evidence some impressive beauties. For their time, these films were surprisingly explicit. There are some films that are primarily “implied” nudes or not even fully nude, but the majority show full frontal nudity. The caliber of “actresses” is startlingly strong with body shapes of all types from slender to athletic to curvy and exceedingly buxom. While the hairstyles are a bit old fashioned (not to me though, I still love the dos of that time) and the women are of natural builds (no surgically enhanced women to be seen boys), these are all girls you’d want to bring home to mom, take out on a date and then run the car out of gas in a delightfully secluded spot. In short, these women were the true male fantasies of yesteryear and for many of us, they still are today.

In addition to the lustful nature of the visuals, there are the intangibles to be enjoyed as well. While some of the loops get a little redundant if they are dance routines, there are some like “Nat’rally Yours” and “Rosy Dream” that happen to star the same knockout and are both outdoor frolics that are simply joyful. “Accidental Nudes” is a wildly entertaining pool plunge that has an incredible bevy of bathing beauties and an Oliver Hardy look-a-like to boot. “Let er Rip” is possibly the best of the bunch for it has a comely and shapely lass having her clothes shredded from her body as she tries to claw her way through a thicket on a hike down a steep hillside. I once saw a very pretty girl tear her shorts on a fence while hiking in the mountains and this short film is the closest I’ve ever come to actually seeing a true realization of what I hoped would have happened. While ludicrous in the extreme, fantasies like “Let er Rip” are the kinds of daydreams that got boys through dull math classes or teenage guys through tough days at work, or GIs through the tedium between battles. Worshipful mental meanderings about the sweet young thing you snuck peeks at during church were clearly the fodder for many of these short films and they will restore a sense of youthful chicanery to any man watching today.

Any dvd connoisseur watching AMERICAN NUDES Volume 1 will need to be mindful that the condition of the source material for this disc is going to be inconsistent. While some of the shorts looked amazingly sharp and crisp, most evidenced some kind of fault brought about by the passage of time and/or improper storage methods. Some of the shorts had clear damage to their source, others were grainy, some were splicy and many suffered from overexposure. It is important to keep in mind that the cameramen of those days were often not experts in their field and were doing this as a way to make a few bucks or even as a lark. That these short films still exist at all is quite astonishing, for everyday 16mm and 35 mm film and crates of video tape find their way into the dumpster. I found the visual quality to be quite impressive and high marks need to be given to Cult Epics for the loving efforts they made to restore these to the condition they are in. Some viewers may also find fault with the application of period-style music to the silent features, but I’ve sat through silent “nudie” loops, and without musical accompaniment, they can be interminably dull. The addition of accompanying musical strains only adds to the atmosphere and intensifies the illusion that you’ve somehow slipped back into the past or been transported to one of the hidden corners of your adolescent psyche.

As each year passes and more of our history is lost to those who want to “tear down an old eyesore” or “refit obsolete structures”, we are sundered from the images and experiences that make us the country we once were. I find it fascinating that more and more people are clamoring for vintage television and film, for it is obvious that the mainstream entertainment that is offered to them does not satisfy. What is old is not useless and without value, quite the reverse. It is becoming increasingly apparent that what was once ours was better and that preserving it for future generations not only serves the purpose of creating essential connections between age groups, but it maintains a continuum of pleasure and satisfaction. AMERICAN NUDES Volume 1 works on many levels. It is marvelously enjoyable retro-smut, a charming look back at a vanished America and it is history that deserves to be preserved just as much as any political document or autographed baseball. In the end, isn’t it the memories of that which made us the happiest that we try hardest to cling to? You bet!

SATANIC SLUTS II: BLACK MASSES (2007) d. Nigel Wingrove

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Despite all the best efforts of the many world faiths, fundamentalist movements, religious revivals and clerical reforms, The Dark Arts continue to attract the interest of a growing percentage of the Earth’s population. Possibly this is due to the promise of “forbidden fruit” and the lure of exceedingly depraved behavior. Likely, it is the adrenaline rush brought about by “being bad” and getting involved with something taboo. There are even those who truly believe in the teachings of the Church of Satan and worship The Beast with the same fervor that Conservative Christians worship Christ. It is almost certain that both groups attend the same PTA Meetings and bake brownies to help raise funds for soccer equipment. Whatever the reason, just as pornography went through its “chic” phase in the 1970s, alternative lifestyle/sexuality has become just as fashionable in recent years and the trend shows no sign of abating. SATANIC SLUTS II: BLACK MASSES is a look into the artistic and club spectacle that is Dark Arts alternative culture.

SATANIC SLUTS II: BLACK MASSES is a lengthy descent into the heart of London alternative nightclub performances. There is a sizable introduction preceding a three part “main feature”. In the introduction, the viewer is exposed to the “genesis” of The Satanic Sluts as a film phenomenon, a web presence and a clubbing experience. The main feature is a series of “performances” that run an extremely diverse gamut of role plays/skits, pole dancing, belly and go-go dancing, musical performances, club footage and interviews with some of the Satanic Sluts and regular audience members. The subjects of each performance are both predictable and very shocking. Nun abuse, bloody rites, bdsm, lesbianism, dark imagery, incest and rape, fetish and kinky visuals, perverted religious iconography and sacrifice don’t come close to covering the variety of what can be viewed. There is no narrative structure, but a chronological order to club events/dates is maintained.

SATANIC SLUTS II: BLACK MASSES is a very difficult disc to review for the reason that there is an immense dichotomy between what I was unable to enjoy and what I appreciated about the production of the live events. Attending one of these live club performances must be an intense and dramatic experience. There is no question that a great deal of time and effort must have gone into the exotic costumes, the lavish props and darkly creative sets, the complex choreography of dance, music and role play performances as well as the marketing and advertising of each event. They are clearly colorful, sensual and push the boundaries of decency right to and past the edge. It also doesn’t hurt that the women on stage are usually attractive of both face and figure and are most commonly disrobed to a greater degree. Having been to some bizarre and peculiar performance art displays and wild club shows in my youth, I can easily appreciate how exciting such an event would be with young people experimenting with their sexual and artistic tastes as well as enjoying the margins of the nightlife experience. Had I attended one of these live events, I may well have come away impressed, certainly I wouldn’t have left unscathed.

As a dvd viewing experience, this is another matter entirely. In an attempt to emulate and even enhance the “creative elements” of the show, far too many “modern” film making techniques were employed that made this disc virtually unwatchable, unless you are a very young person raised on the misery-inducing visual morass that is music video. Most of the performances were blurry, color and image distorted, filmed, edited and presented in a jarring and jumpy manner, far too dark at times, certainly poorly framed and inexpertly shot. There were irritating stretches where microscopic text appeared on the screen for no reason at all except to be “hip” and “cool”. Only slightly less exasperating was the use of slow-motion and stop & go action. All of these photographic and editing techniques were undoubtedly meant to be “arty” and/or to imitate the chemically-altered consciousness of the club experience as lights, sounds, form and psychotropic drugs subvert the reality of the participant. However that may be, the vast majority of people watching SATANIC SLUTS II: BLACK MASSES will not be under the influence and will probably find this experience just as tedious as I did. I might have enjoyed this more had I knocked back a few glasses of my favorite whiskey, but then my ability to review this dvd would have been compromised. One can’t have it all.

There is a bonus features section on this disc that contains two sizable stills galleries, an extended scene of one performance, four trailers and a promotional flyers gallery. In some respects, the introductory segment acts like a “making of” documentary, so for those hoping for more, they really have just about all you could get in this kind of a disc. The only thing I would have liked more of was cast and audience interviews. The interviews to be had in the “main feature” were my favorite part and a few more of them stuck into the extras menu would have made this viewing experience a little more palatable.

It felt somewhat cruel to knock SATANIC SLUTS II: BLACK MASSES because I know how hard it is to create film and stage performances and something as complex as a live “performance art” show at an alternative culture nightclub must be a Herculean task. My best advice to those who might find this disc tempting is to borrow it from a friend, save up your money and go see performances of a like nature in some of the world’s most enticing cities. Being there would probably be incalculably more enjoyable then sitting at home and watching something on TV that you’d rather see for yourself.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

BACTERIUM (2007) d. Brett Piper

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

From a very early age, most kids fall in love with goop. Whether it is mud pies, cow pies, pies in the face or the pie you made by mixing together every ingredient in your grandmother’s pantry, children thoroughly enjoy creeping crud and other loathsome lumps of lowly sludge. It is only as adults that some people develop a deep and abiding disgust for gooey substances and shun scum whenever they can. However, many people maintain their love affair with ooze, which often times translates into a desire to see it up on the Big Screen in the form of a “creature feature” horror film. When monster mania swept The Film Industry in the 1950s and 60s, people got a chance to see all manner of slimy beasts on The Silver Screen and on Drive-In Screens, from THE BLOB to CALTIKI THE IMMORTAL MONSTER and to THE CREEPING FLESH. Even though that fad died down to a great degree by the 1970s and 80s, slippery sludge demons from beyond all reality still can be compelling baddies in flicks and Shock-o-Rama’s BACTERIUM is no exception. While it may not measure up to predecessors like THE BLOB, it is all B-Movie and it is able to deliver on a fair amount of its promise.

BACTERIUM is the story of three friends, Beth (Alison Whitney), Jiggers (Benjamin Kanes) and Brook (Miya Sagara), who are out enjoying a day of paintball competition and unwittingly stumble into a bacteriological experiment gone awry. While sniffing out an abandoned house, they run afoul of Dr. Phillip Boskovic (Chuck McMahon), the scientist responsible for foisting upon the world a dangerous super-virus and who is now racing against time to find a solution to this flesh-eating pathogen’s insatiable hunger. The U.S. military quarantines the house with the thought of sterilizing the contagion and then sends in Dr. Karin Rayburn (Shelly Dague). Before any steps can be taken, the virus mutates into an unforeseen and more lethal form and then begins to multiply, forcing those in positions of power to take drastic action.

BACTERIUM is unlike a fair number of EI Cinema feature films and that is to its benefit. The movie has a fairly well-written story that combines many wonderfully predictable plot devices that give it a simplistic “Greek Tragedy” sort of feel, but mixed with the narrative disasters you know are coming, there are the occasional plot twists that are surprising and that keep the film from being dull or derivative. While BACTERIUM clearly has its roots in classics like THE BLOB and THE THING, many scenes with bio-hazard suited soldiers and scientists recall lesser known gems like George Romero’s THE CRAZIES and there are bikers and a biker gang battling with militia infantry that is reminiscent of Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD. Added in for good measure is some occasional humor, some of it slightly subtle in form, while other moments had a sledge-hammer quality, but all of it softening the mood and keeping BACTERIUM from taking itself too seriously. What also helped this flick immeasurably was its fairly tight pacing. The story moved along at a good clip and while it was no rocket ride, it didn’t need to be. There was a very effective blend of guns, gore, grisly goo, grins and girls to solidify its B-Movie foundation and please any lover of old-style creature features of yore.

Another strong characteristic of BACTERIUM is that despite being a seemingly typical low-budget EI Cinema production, the acting was surprising passable. While Alison Whitney, Benjamin Kanes and Miya Sagara are not likely to be the next “A-listers”, they delivered their lines effectively and with a degree of professional skill. They also played their parts in a believable fashion. Instead of being sneering, too-cool hipsters or beer-swilling frat-house rejects, or trying to be obnoxious caricatures of 50s personas, they played it straight and were regular folks put into a situation that was far from regular. As a result, I didn’t hate their characters as I too often do with most performances today. It also didn’t hurt that the young ladies’ looks were a cut above the usual stable of EI Cinema actresses. Good looks and decent performances were the hallmarks of what made B-Movies of long ago as successful as they were. BACTERIUM’s camera-work was steady, stable fare. I could see what was happening and while the “shot on video” look to the film always tends to leave an impression that whispers “cheap”, the sets, props and décor were utilized effectively and the production did not scream “cash-strapped” as is too often the case with PopCinema. For goodness sakes, they even had a helicopter that was used twice and some CGI Government Science labs that looked pretty neat. While the most of the creature special effects were not “Industrial Light & Magic” caliber, they didn’t need to be. THE BLOB’s special effects were not on the same level as FORBIDDEN PLANET, but that did not keep it from being a Drive-In classic and a favorite on late-night television. All that is necessary is for the viewer to suspend their disbelief and find a way to get sucked into the story. BACTERIUM was able to do that.

BACTERIUM may not have been swimming in loads of bonus features, but what is there is very good. There is a 23 minute “The Making of Bacterium” featurette that is very enjoyable. It is a mix of cast & crew interviews/anecdotes juxtaposed with production sequences so that a viewer gets a real sense of the process from pre-production and idea genesis to the end of the project. There is a 4 minute “Bacterium Blooper Reel” segment that is worth a look. There is an audio commentary with producer Michael Raso and writer/director Brett Piper that is very worthwhile. Finally, there is a very small Shock-o-Rama trailer vault that actually contains only four trailers. Usually, the casual dvd lover is bathed in EI Cinema trailers to the point of watching “straight on ‘til morning”, but for some reason, the plan was to exercise restraint. It worked, for just as the film is better than the average PopCinema feature, the dvd extras reflect that higher quality and are something a little out of the ordinary.

There have been many times after I’ve watched a terrible film that I feared that filth unnameable would erupt from me in greater amounts than anything I had just witnessed in the movie, but this time I actually felt like pulling out all of my old “creature features” and watching them all over again. BACTERIUM is not the best of that wonderful sub-genre, but it can proudly take its place on the B-Movie “tablet of limited fame”. Many people will probably pass this film by because the title isn’t terribly lurid and the box art isn’t licentious. The description on the back sounds a lot like things we’ve seen before. If those people who “walk on by” do just that, they will miss a chance to see a flick that does feel a lot like low-budget drive-in fare that was proliferated across the outdoor cinemas of this fair land. If PopCinema could consistently produce other films that have redeeming qualities like BACTERIUM, a lot of movie-lovers would probably see “their hearts grow three sizes” and stop being so Grinchy when it comes to that company’s merchandise.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Exploitation Cinema is not really what people think it is. Most people would give you a definition that it was sleazy cinematic fare designed to titillate those looking for something lurid and stimulate the testosterone of those looking for something violent. While both of these descriptions are true after a fashion, neither really gets to the heart of what exploitation cinema really tried to be which was an unabashed effort on the part of film makers to cash in on currently trendy fads in popular culture. It isn’t all that much different today other than the fact that “political correctness” keeps most film moguls from mining ideas that would be currently seen as insensitive to diverse ethnicities or gender roles. During the height of the exploitation film craze throughout the late 1960s and all the way up to the early 1980s, every possible inspiration for a motion picture found its way to the Big Screen, from race issues, to sexuality, to drugs and counterculture, and gore/horror/sado-masochism. One of the unintended benefits of the exploitation era was that it familiarized white, middle-class Americans with Black, Latino and Asian culture in ways that had never occurred prior to 1968. As a result, even though producers and distribution companies were more interested in making a buck, what they were doing was tearing down some of the race barriers just by exposing white movie-goers to non-white faces and cosmopolitan cultures. CHINESE HERCULES and THE BLACK DRAGON are two examples of martial arts fare from the early years of Hong Kong’s glory days, when kung-fu films streamed over the oceans in large numbers and were cut, dubbed, re-titled, had new music laid over the original soundtrack and were later reframed and reworked when they hit video by the 1980s. CHINESE HERCULES and THE BLACK DRAGON are the epitome of 1970s exploitation flicks brought to America back in their day to make money for the film company who made the effort to bring them here. Now you can see them nearly as close to how they must have looked in a seedy theater back then.

CHINESE HERCULES is the story of a kung-fu student named Shen Wei Ta, who is haunted by a terrible tragedy of his past. He takes a job unloading cargo from boats making port at a small village. The villagers are tied economically to the commerce of the pier, which gives its pitiless owner too much power over his struggling workers. The situation becomes more troublesome when a syndicate takes control of the pier. The head mobster’s will is enforced by his muscle-bound sidekick, who cracks the skulls and breaks the necks of anyone who tries to stand up for their rights. Shen Wei Ta swore he’d never use the awesome power of his first in anger again, but the deaths of his co-workers force him to take up the challenge.

THE BLACK DRAGON is the story of Tai-Lin and his prodigal brother Chu-Fu Chi, who returns to their small farming village spinning tales of his successes in the Phillipines. Chu-Fu Chi’s grandiose behavior spurs Ta-Lin to follow him to “the Golden Land” where he soon sees for himself the squalor and fetid nature of life in a land where existence is cheap. Tai-Lin soon runs afoul of the criminal underground and is forced to make strange alliances to fight against the slithery tyranny of gangsters. Titanic battles ensue, leading up to a reckoning with Chu-Fu Chi and a true brotherly showdown.

Neither of these films are the classics and/or epics of Hong Kong cinema of yore, but they are still entertaining after a fashion. Both evidence the tried and true story structure typical of martial arts films that blend drama, character development carefully entwined with morality plays, action sequences and long stretches where you wonder whether you’ll see any more fighting. CHINESE HERCULES has a good premise, and while its story concept has been thoroughly tested in earlier films it is none the worse for wear. At times the story drags a bit and crosses into the realm of melodrama. In addition, there are clearly engine-powered boats dating it to modern times, the essence of the plot, the costumes and some of the mores make it feel like an older historical genre piece. The action sequences and set pieces are probably better scripted than THE BLACK DRAGON and are somewhat better shot too. Like THE BLACK DRAGON, the title character of CHINESE HERCULES is not seen nearly as much as one would expect, but at least at the end there is a titanic battle between the irresistible force and the immovable object that is a first-rate pay off. THE BLACK DRAGON has a very simple and transparent story, even sharing the “dock worker” character motif of CHINESE HERCULES, but it is a somewhat better paced film and has a more modern look to it, connecting it in some ways to films like THE STREET FIGHTER which would come later. THE BLACK DRAGON is also a bit more modern in its sensibilities as it is a more salacious flick with actual nudity and more overt and gratuitous sexual themes. THE BLACK DRAGON suffers from some pretty hokey countrified incidental music and scoring at times, while at other times its soundtrack feels like it is right out of LOVE STORY. CHINESE HERCULES has a somewhat more classical set of strains that probably add to its older aura. While each film has its own strengths and weaknesses, this double feature pairing is a pretty thoughtful one and the two movies complement each other nicely.

From a technical standpoint, this is definitely a recreation of “the grindhouse experience” for just as anyone braving one of the old 42nd Street-style theatres would have seen films under less than ideal circumstances, neither of these movies is in pristine condition. Both suffer from print condition problems like colored lines, scratches, splices, inconsistent exposure and washed out color. Some of this is probably due to the original film preservation efforts, some would be due to the condition of the film elements available to BCI Eclipse, some might be transfer problems as well and there is evidence of DVD authoring difficulties too. Of the two films, CHINESE HERCULES is probably in better condition and has brighter color and fewer print problems and artifacts.

What turned out to be more disappointing were the problems with the “extras menu”. The main menu of EXPLOITATION DOUBLE FEATURE: CHINESE HERCULES and THE BLACK DRAGON landed you in a grungy theatre lobby with choices of “scene selection”, “main features” and “extras” represented by three different theatre icons. That was both charming and entertaining to someone who longs for the “old-time theatre feel”. When entering the “projectionist’s booth” for the “extras”, you are given the chance to watch six different trailers. After passing through the doors to the main theatre, you can choose either feature film, and you can also listen to Grand Master Ron Van Clief’s audio commentary for THE BLACK DRAGON. However, there is an option to choose “play the Grindhouse Experience of films, trailers and commercials” which just led me to the audio commentary set up. Possibly I didn’t understand a tongue-in-cheek joke or I didn’t work the command functions correctly, but it felt more like there was an authoring problem with this disc and that I didn’t get to fully enjoy “the Grindhouse Experience”. If that was the case, then it is too bad, for up to that time I was fairly satisfied with my trip back to my youth.

It is nice to see that true exploitation cinema from the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s is being revisited in DVD form and that a wide range of companies are trying to both sate the appetites of those who saw it when it was hip and expose it to those who are discovering it for the first time. BCI Eclipse has brought out a wide variety of cinematic fare spanning an even more diverse set of genres and styles, and for that I am very thankful. Some of the films they have brought forth I saw in theatres long ago, or saw on video in later years, or in the case of CHINESE HERCULES and THE BLACK DRAGON I am seeing for the first time. Since I have seen a great number of films like them over the last 30+ years, my experience was more nostalgic than enlightening, but it was still a pleasant one none-the-less. If you are looking for a chance to see something a little different from what most Americans viewed as “martial arts” films then and now, this double feature is worth your time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

SPLATTER DISCO (2007) d. Richard Griffin

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Horror films and musical motion pictures came into the cinematic world roughly about the same time during the earliest days of “silent pictures”. Both became regular staples of movie theaters and yet one of the most interesting aspects of their seemingly unconnected stories is that while musicals were king for a time in the 1940s and 1950s, horror flicks have outlasted the musical feature. Musicals began to decline in popularity during the late 1960s, which became a full-fledged free-fall by the 1980s. Despite some attempts to revive musicals in recent years with motion pictures like MOULIN ROUGE, CHICAGO and ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, the musical seems as dead as a corpse from a John Carpenter movie. Or is it? Director Richard Griffin and Shock-o-Rama Cinema, the duo that brought us the wacky horror-comedy NECROVILLE, have teamed up again to create a horror-musical-comedy-satire called SPLATTER DISCO, which sounds like it would be an appalling pile of misery and a heartrending viewing experience, but it is actually the epitome of a very good bad movie.

SPLATTER DISCO is the story of the town of Westerly and the divisions ripping it apart between God-fearing right-wing conservatives on one side and the kinky deviants who just want to have their own brand of fun on the other. Shank Chubb and his son Kent own and run the fetish nightclub “Den o’ Iniquity” where all manner of hi-jinks and lewd behavior occurs. Mayor Rusty, whose political strings are manipulated by his shrewish and licentious mother, aim to shut down “The Den” and force all of its naughty patrons back to their seedy, deeply closeted ways. All the while these cultural and social skirmishes are happening, a costumed killer is on the loose and he is thinning out the population of “The Den’s” impish and gleeful perverts. It is only when Echo and Danni are able to find some evidence of political wrong-doing and Mayor Rusty finally stands up to his mother that the “Den o’ Iniquity” is saved from the municipal chopping block.

SPLATTER DISCO could have gone horribly wrong, but it does what NECROVILLE was unable to do. It went for broke right out of the gate, created some fun characters that were easy to laugh at and enjoy and it was sleazy and lurid without being abnormally base and crass. SPLATTER DISCO combines overwrought melodrama with cultural-war satire and mocks both by taking absolutely no prisoners. Every character and their actions and words are fodder for being lampooned, and even though most of the inexperienced actors and actresses struggled with poor performances caused mostly by overacting, it really didn’t hurt this movie for it fit the silly and sarcastic style of the narrative. Most of the characters were foolish caricatures of deviant young people out for kicks and if that sounds familiar it should be, because for much of the movie I was strongly reminded of A DIRTY SHAME (2004). At times I was also reminded of the punky, urban musical elements of STREETS OF FIRE (1984) and the Ken Foree in the white tux on the dance floor scene had a strong ALL THAT JAZZ (1979) feel, but neither of these was a serious attempt to recall either of those flicks. SPLATTER DISCO owes its debt of gratitude to A DIRTY SHAME, and while its inspiration was a far better film, SPLATTER DISCO had a lot of its own strengths too.

Throughout SPLATTER DISCO we are treated to goofy costumes of all shapes, sizes and sinful styles, even goofier musical numbers shot and choreographed to be ludicrous and yet somehow they were charming, and then exceedingly goofy story quirks, dialogue and references. At no time did this film overtly take itself seriously and that is why it succeeded. The only serious quality was the very unsubtle and yet not terribly potent anti-Religious Right Wing message and the attempt to lay bare the heart of conservative hypocritical attitudes/behaviors. What was also serious was the attempt to make this a colorful film that was reasonably well shot and looked good on many levels. It didn’t hurt that PopCinema finally added some attractive girls as window dressing and in some of the larger roles. Another immeasurable strength was the presence of some screen veterans who added a degree of professionalism, charisma and legitimacy to the movie. Ken Foree repeatedly stole the show from the youngsters around him but did it in such a modest manner that his aura of cool helped to ground SPLATTER DISCO in his personal magnetism. Seeing exploitation icons Lynn Lowry and Debbie Rochon in their roles also added points to SPLATTER DISCO. Ms. Lowry was always an underrated actress and is able to bring an indefinable air of charm to any film she has ever graced. While never a stellar performer, Debbie Rochon knows her way around a set, can give a solid performance and still has a mesmeric beauty that is of benefit to any production. Juxtaposed nicely with these professional strengths are the sleaze-factor qualities of SPLATTER DISCO that also make it a modern example of exploitation cinema. While not loaded with nudity, there is just enough disrobed pulchritude to add some titillation, and there are even more mischievous costumes and lascivious behavior to tickle most people’s fancies.

The greatest weaknesses of SPLATTER DISCO are its overall lack of the slasher component. Fairly infrequent deaths occur in a film that has “splatter” in the title, which may disappoint those who reach for this flick hoping for a bloodbath. The kill scenes are reasonably gory, but there just aren’t enough of them, probably because the writers tried to actually put together a story with some honest character development. While the “club scenes” were attractively constructed and then fairly well shot, most of the exterior and interior sets were comparatively simplistic and unimpressive. As a result, while SPLATTER DISCO has a reasonably comedic vibe and it is attractively lit and idiotically (in a good way) scored, there isn’t much of a truly horror atmosphere to this film. In the end, it really wasn’t a major loss. Anyone reaching for SPLATTER DISCO and seeing the prominent label “The First Slasher Musical” and was hoping for a Lucio Fulci film must be a master at self-deception. Go into this film with your eyes wide open, knowing you are going to get something a little smarter and slicker than truly sophomoric humor and some ham-handed but effective satire.

SPLATTER DISCO has a sizable extras menu, which is not to be wondered at when dealing with Shock-o-Rama. In addition to an audio commentary with actress Lynn Lowry and director Richard Griffin, there is a 37 minute “behind the scenes” featurette that I enjoyed. There is five minutes worth of two alternate scenes that were interesting and of course the always loaded Shock-o-Rama previews and trailer vault. While the extras on PopCinema discs may not be as cerebral as some of the bonus goodies on dvds produced by Euro-sleaze purveyors like Severin Films or No Shame Films, at least Shock-o-Rama makes the effort to add in some tidbits of interest that make any dvd-lover smile.

One of the most joyous experiences in life is the “pleasant surprise” and having your expectations exceeded. I have learned that I am almost always disappointed by a film when I go in with high expectations and am often pleased to see how much I like a flick when those same expectations are kept as low as possible. I went into SPLATTER DISCO expecting very little and as a result, it turned out to be a smirk-fest with the occasional softly modulated giggle. That is a good thing because horror-comedies can be miserable failures and painfully bad when they are mishandled. SPLATTER DISCO doesn’t try to be something it’s not, it uses what little cash it had wisely and goes after an audience that it knows will probably like its fare and does so with a startling degree of success.

Monday, November 10, 2008

d. Jean Rollin

Reviewed by
Tracy Hook

Fascination is an appropriate name for this film. This story haunted me for several days after watching it. I think that's what a great film sticks with you and reappears in your mind at the strangest moments, like drifting off to sleep, while driving, and even chopping vegetables. Some films reappear so much it becomes an obsession, but this didn't happen to me with FASCINATION, but it has with other Jean Rollin films. (I'm taking medication now so that's probably why. Thank God for Paroxetine!!)

The film starts with a scene in a slaughterhouse where two beautifully dressed women are drinking ox blood. Yes! Another vampire film. The fashionable ladies, Elizabeth and Eva, live in a nearby chateau and soon they have a visitor. The visitor is a young man with a gun and is running from a group of bandits who want the money that he stole from them. The young man, finds himself running to a large chateau where the women are staying, and so the story unfolds inside the chateau walls. This is a Jean Rollin film, so you know there's going to be full frontal nudity and lots of blood.

The man's pursuers are coming and they want their money. They know there's something forboding in the castle but greed propels them to it. Of course the bandits meet their demise, but true to Jean Rollin's formula that's not the end of the film. There's still the young thief to contend with. The female vampire group makes its appearance and they are ready to play games.

I've been a huge Rollin fan for about eight years now, so I'm pretty biased when commenting on his films. I love his use of camera work by showing the viewer the full view of a castle, a room, and even a pigeon loft. (What the hell are those used for? Ok..maybe they like squab stew. Oh well... I digress).

You may remember my review for LIPS OF BLOOD and I comented on the sheer curtains the female vampires were wearing. Well, in FASCINATION they are back! I started to formulate a theory that the French countryside was over-run by barely dressed vampires. Imagine A YEAR IN PROVENCE with vampires could happen maybe I'll write the sequel to that: A Year of Facination with Lips of Blood. Vampires will be terrifying Peter Mayle and his wife. Hold on to that Brie cheese! Brigitte Lahaie will cut it with her scythe.

If you are ready for more Jean Rollin after watching LIPS OF BLOOD, then this is a good and proper follow-up to it. Be sure to put on a see-through nightgown (they're in the top drawer of the dresser, as it's shown in the movie, now I know!) and be sure to pour the ox blood. The ladies love the ox blood!


Sunday, November 9, 2008

IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH (1970) d. Sergio Bergonzelli

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

There are many reasons why a motion picture can be deemed “enjoyable” or “viewable”. Most movie lovers would agree that the story of a film needs to be compelling and that same group would probably add that the acting performances of a flick need to be of a high caliber. Most what people don’t always take note of or are even unwilling to admit is that the cinematic potential for something shameful or titillating would also be high on their list of reasons to watch and then enjoy a movie. When a film tries to tackle societal and cultural taboos and yet still be imaginative or atmospheric, it is likely to garner a degree of remarkable attention. It was for that reason that the beautifully shot and even more impressively cast films of Russ Meyer’s BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS or SUPERVIXENS have become cult classic for many reasons beyond the pendulous bosoms of his actresses. Radley Metzger’s avant-garde films of the same era also caught the eye for their sensuality and supremely scandalous surrealism. When a film tries to create a visceral response and does it in an artistic manner, something beyond exploitation cinema is created. IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH has the reputation of being a Euro-sleaze film, but it is more and less than just a simple genre label. As a result of being a more complex film, it can be said that it is both “enjoyable” in a strange sense but maybe is even more of a compelling “viewing experience”.

IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH is the story of Lucille, who is the governess in a palatial Mediterranean villa. She lives with her son Colin and Falesse, the daughter of the former master of the house, Andre. Everyone in the villa suffers from a series of neuroses and/or psychoses stemming from violent experiences going back 13 years to a night of murder, rape and insanity. Add to this mix the taboos of incest and bloodlust, a blackmailer with a penchant for molestation, and the convoluted tale of assumed personas, infidelity, lies, depravity and sinister manipulation and IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH is an exhilarating mix of plot twists and narrative devices that makes it an elaborate tale.

IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH looks fabulous and trades on the strength of its beauty throughout the entirety of its 90 minute runtime. Even from the start of the title credits, the viewer is treated to a surrealistic design utilizing the optical illusion of swirling oil paints creating the blazing colors of a vortex which is probably a superb metaphor for the personality of the story and the emotions of the characters. As soon as the title credits are over, the viewer is plunged into sumptuous sets with striking exterior architecture and lavish interior décor. Added to that are exotic and extravagant modern fashions so beautifully juxtaposed with the elegant and sophisticated set designs so that the eye is constantly bombarded with color, form and shape that borders on picturesque. To intensify the visual cornucopia even further, the camera work and photographic effects of IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH are quite impressive. Whether it is dramatically executed camera angles, multiple images, superimposed images, filters and fog or thoughtfully composed framing of wideshots or close-ups, this film is a smorgasbord for those seeking a motion picture founded on the strength of its imagery. If it was just the imagery that stimulated the mind, IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH would be a bit static in its nature, but there is a quirky score and incidental music and exceedingly exaggerated dialogue dubbing that helps to intensify the emotional impact of the scenery. Married to these audio quirks are the eccentric performances and even appearance of the principal cast members Eleonara Rossi Drago (Lucille) and Maria Pierangeli (Falesse) who steal the show with their haunting and disturbing facial expressions and the mesmeric aspects of their eyes. While neither actress has the smoldering glamour of the typical Euro-beauties like Erika Blanc, Silvia Tortossa or Helga Line, they don’t need to. Their performances and appearance is not supposed to be alluring, but rather are meant to be vaguely appalling and repellent, and so they are. Finally, there was the superb restored transfer from original Italian film elements done by Severin Films. One of the great delights of any viewing experience is the chance to see a motion picture look nearly as good as it did when it was released. This film is a kaleidoscopic panorama of hues mixed with symmetrical and asymmetrical designs. Had it been a murky and miserable transfer, all the joy would have been sucked from the experience like blood drained from a corpse. Fortunately, the emphasis was put in the right place and we can see a beautifully crafted movie the way it was meant to be seen.

The weakness of IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH is the story; if you can call it a weakness for it seems that from the onset, the narrative is not meant to be as important as the imagery. Until most of the loose ends are tied up very late in the film and in a hasty and somewhat sloppy fashion, IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH plays more like an episodic plot that it does a truly chronological narrative. Beyond the fact that the primary story idea is mixed with a non-linear plot and a multitude of flashbacks or scenes related to flashbacks, the main plot points seemed pieced together in a manner that is meant to be deliberately non-cohesive. What emerges instead is a series of intense, atmospheric scenes that are very delicately stitched together by an underlying mystery connected to this “family’s” psychosis. Despite the lack of story cohesion, there is something about the yarn of IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH that draws you in like a simple and yet overwhelmingly sticky spider web. Possibly it was the promise of sickening taboos or other naughty niceties. In the end, while IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH was compelling, it does not deserve its reputation of being any more depraved than other European sex/sleaze cinema of its time. In fact, it is the implied nature of the exploitation fare and the somewhat restrained violence, nudity and sex that puts it a cut above most of Europe’s cinematic debauchery that was still to come at the beginning of the 1970s. This film did remind me of the works of Radley Metzger, for like the skin of an onion, it has many layers of visual complexity and expressionistic flair. It may not have delivered on the story front, but it didn’t have to.

The bonus features menu of IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH is very thin and probably with good reason. In addition to the focus being the film transfer, most of the principal cast and crew of this film has long ago passed beyond the confines of this mortal realm and entered “the domain of hidden things”. That is the problem with any revisionist project, once the primary human source material is lost, there is no going back. No criticism is meant towards Severin Films and I hope none is taken, they just arrived on the scene too late to conduct interviews with the director and much of the cast. There is the theatrical trailer of IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH, and that is all. It is a shame. What most cinema-loving Americans could use more of are anecdotes from the misty film pasts of actors and crew members of films like IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH. Every time the chance to see inside their hearts and minds is lost, we are not as richly vibrant people anymore, for the voices of history can not be resurrected as easily as one would think. I am thankful that Severin Films brought us this quirky little gem in the splendid condition that it is. I just wish that they could have worked some of their interview magic with some of the creative persons connected with this film before they had passed the shadows and gone to their reward.

When you watch IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH, keep in mind that this is a film that will appeal only to certain parts of the cinema-loving brain. If you are looking for an all-inclusive experience of unmatched spiritual enlightenment, you will be disappointed. If you are a person who can appreciate elements of a film’s majesty and can overlook its “weaknesses”, you will be subtly impressed. IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH is a slice of history much like its American cousin SIMON KING OF THE WITCHES. It blends some of the visual splendor unique to that transitional time period between the end of the 60s and the 70s. It charts its own course and unashamedly tries to whet specific appetites we mostly won’t admit we have. It is not high cinema, but it is creative and artistic in its own fashion. My advice is to uncork a really heady vintage before viewing IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH so that the film and the wine’s bouquet can work together on the more epicurean centers of the consciousness and lead you to planes that no narcotic can ever really explore.