Thrice upon a time, far from the West…

The Weather Underground thingamajig in the top right corner reads 88 degrees Farenheit as I’m about to post this. How appropriate.
Please be sure to comment below, and let us know what you think..!

This past week, I decided to check out three foreign Westerns, the third of which I’d already seen a while ago, to add some balance perhaps: “the good, the bad, the weird” from South Korea (2008), “Renegade” from France (2004) and “800 bullets” from Spain (2002). All three are over two hours long.

There was one revelation: “the good, the bad, the weird”… It’s especially rare to laugh out loud as I did watching this, and to hit the back button on the DVD player to replay a scene.
I enjoy bathroom humor. I do. It was funny when I was a kid, it’s still funny now. One example is when the weird, Tae Goo, kills two men in the same way, by use of a rod kicked up their nether region with farting sounds and a weird expression of… Delight on one baddy’s face.
Yeah, I cringed too, but seeing as this was in a fight, not some torture scene, fair is fair.
But it’s not all off color jokes. Matter of fact it’s not all jokes, there’s quite a lot of bloodshed, shootings, stabbings et al. There is some excellent stunt work as well, horsemanship and gorgeous scenery which they shot mostly in Manchuria, in the desert.

There are three main characters, a bounty hunter named Do-Wan (the good), a ruthless psychopathic gun for hire going into business for himself named Chang-Yi (the bad), a train-robber with more lives than a cat named Tae-Goo (yes, the weird), and some strong supporting turns throughout.

During a train robbery, Tae-Goo (the weird), “acquires” what appears to be an invaluable treasure map, and from then on, he has both Do-Wan (the bounty hunter) and Chang-Yi (the killer) on his heels, as well as the Ghost Market Gang, Manchurian bandits, the Japanese and Manchurian armies, plus a few spies.
I’m hoping for a sequel because this Tae-Goo has mucho comedic potential. The bounty hunter’s more two dimensional (he’s supposed to be a good guy, and as we’ll see with Renegade, that can be a problemo).
As to Chang-Yi the bad guy, interesting look, with a dark pinstripe suit and hair covering half his face, Manga-style.
And yet, it all works. Maybe because director Kim Ji Yoo keeps the action moving fast, maybe because the score, evocating Ennio Morricone and the Gypsy Kings at times, is rousing, especially when the story veers into Road Runner and Coyote territory on an epic scale, and it works very well indeed.

This movie gets 5 beans

5 beans

Renegade”, the French Western, also uses an ancient map/manuscript as a ploy to bring villains in search of gold to the Sacred Mountains of the Chiracahua. Beyond that, “Renegade” becomes a convoluted mess.

The basis for this movie is a Belgian-French comic book which ran from the sixties to about the mid seventies, following the adventures of Mike “Blueberry” Donovan, a Southerner who joined the U.S. cavalry after the Civil War, and has a much more interesting character arc. In this adaptation, Blueberry (Vincent Cassel) has been transformed into a kid from a relatively well-to-do Cajun family, sent West to an uncle’s ranch to “straighten” out some. This was meant to “explain” Cassel’s French accent, but is a pretty big deviation from the original, and a questionable one.

Young Blueberry is involved in a fight at a whorehouse with Wallace Blount (Michael Madsen). Blueberry and Blount survive, but the girl Blueberry spent the evening with gets a bullet in the head and burns in a fire. Wandering outside the town, a wounded Blueberry is rescued and nursed back to health by Chiracahua Indians. He remains with them for a few years until we flash forward to the present, which finds Blueberry as town marshal, still haunted by that fateful night years ago.
No. He hasn’t gotten over it.

Meanwhile, the local big rancher (Jeffrey Lewis) sends two “adventurers” into the mountains to find gold: Woodhead (an underutilized Djimon Hounsou) and “Prosit” Luckner (Eddie Izzard with a dodgy German accent). Prosit Luckner’s made deals of his own, with Wallace Blount, who is after something more than just Indian gold.

Now, a few reviewers have been turned off by a couple of scenes using special effects, first to depict Blueberry’s vision quest with the Chiracahua, and secondly to show Blueberry’s surreal spiritual fight against Blount after they both drink some potion in the Sacred Mountains’ treasure cave.

Renegade” has a number of problems, not the least of which being that the good guy is just about as vapid as the bounty hunter of “the good, the bad, the weird”, only more so. That is really a waste of Cassel’s talent. This makes the villain, Wallace Blount, the real center of gravity of the story, even though Michael Madsen is doing the same schtick he’s been doing since “reservoir dogs”.

Juliette Lewis (Jeffrey Lewis’ daughter in real life) is miscast as the rancher’s daughter, saloon manager and Blueberry’s love interest.
Lewis’ persona is too modern, but then…
Then the film makers sinned.
They sinned by having her belt out “Danny Boy” in her saloon, very badly slaughtering the song. And “Danny Boy” is really not something you caricature if you don’t want your audience to groan in pain.
It gets worse. She sings a few bars of it again later on, trying to bring Blueberry back to the living. That-actually-hurt.
There is beautiful scenery. There are some very good actors. But in this “baguetti Western” as Izzard called it, their talents are mostly wasted and the better scenes are actually the special effects sequences, which drag on a tad too long, especially the second one. Pass.
If you are interested in surrealism in a Western, check out “dead man” with Johnny Depp or “El Topo” with Alejandro Jodorovsky instead.

This movie gets no beans

totally redone beans red 0

A movie about movies is how director Alex de la Iglesia described “800 bullets”. The story takes place in modern day Spain, where we have a family torn by tragedy, as well as the land-grabbing scheme familiar to Westerns. Julian Torralba (Sancho Gracia) is a movie stuntman decades past his best days working on American Westerns shot in Almeria. Some years ago, his son died performing a stunt on a Russian backed Western. Julian now spends his days performing with his troupe for the occasional car load of German tourists, eking out a living, getting drunk and reminding everyone of his glory days doing stunts for Clint Eastwood or George S. Scott (sic).
His daughter in law Laura (Carmen Maura) is an executive at a real estate development firm in Madrid, living with her 10 year old son Carlos (Luis Castro) and her mother in law Rocio (Terele Pavez).

During a family move, Carlos discovers photos of his late father and of his grandfather, Julian. Laura refuses to answer his questions, but Rocio tells him about Julian before swearing him to secrecy. She and Laura get along icily. It’s summer recess and Laura puts Carlos on the school bus taking him to a ski trip. Carlos instead hops in a cab and ends up in the desert of Almeria wearing mountain clothing, looking for Julian.

You wouldn’t know it from reading the above, but “800 bullets” is a clever and fun comedy. It is mostly the lively dialogue and interaction between the very flawed (read ‘human’) characters which make this highly enjoyable. This is one to watch in Spanish with subtitles.

Julian is not a nice man, either. When Laura decides to buy the Western village where he and his troupe live and perform to build an amusement park, he visits her in Madrid to change her mind, promising he’ll never see Carlos again, and that he would put his grandson on the bus back to Madrid himself if Carlos tried to visit him in the future.
Laura’s not having any of this and the firm’s plans go ahead, prompting Julian to lead an armed resistance with his troupe of misfits.

800 bullets” reminds me of “I sell the dead” in that you sense the enthusiasm and love of movies throughout the entire film. It’s also typical of Alex de la Iglesia’s movies in the rich tapestry of characters: it’s not just leads and supporting actors, virtually all of them have good lines and are funny and  a unique depiction of who they are.
Take the cab driver who takes Carlos to Almeria (he also played the perv neighbor dressed as Darth Vader in de la Iglesia’s “la comunidad”). Or the undertaker, who years ago was hired on a Spaghetti Western which folded because of rain: throughout the movie, he cusses in Italian. The only thing he ever got out of that deal…

This movie gets 4 beans

4 beans

It’s good to sample foreign made Westerns, “the proposition” being a prime example. France has a couple more which are also derived from a comic books series: “Lucky Luke”. They are not yet available in region 1 (unless in Canada but probably without subtitles), but hey, let’s hope for the best.


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Midnight Movie Madness

I sell the dead!” – A Man Could Go Quite Mad (85 minutes, USA 2008)

“Never trust a corpse…”

Amongst the various genres, horror, and I suspect humor to a lesser extent, fans have quite an eclectic variety of interests, from zombie movies to vampires, slapstick to satire, but they are quite passionate about them, perhaps even… Picky.
So blending genres is always tricky, especially when dealing with a public who knows what it likes. Quite the balancing act.
The exceptions are rare enough to be noted and recommended, such as the Sam Raimi-Bruce Campbell “team”, Neil Gaiman-Dave McKean or the craftsmen behind “I sell the dead”. Larry Fessenden has been at it a long time, and knows film making in and out. He both produced and acted in “I sell the dead!”, Glenn McQuaid’s true directorial debut, even though “I sell the dead!” was developed from a previous, shorter effort, “the resurrection apprentice”.

Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) sits in a prison awaiting his execution after being convicted of grave robbing. There, he is visited by am Irish priest (Ron Perlman), who has a curious interest in criminals such as Blake and his partner Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden). In flashbacks, Blake describes his adventures from street urchin to businessman-corpse supplier in association with Grimes, against strong competition from the Murphy clan, a ghoulish collection of killers.
Along the way, increasingly horrific supernatural encounters seem to promise the rivals riches, but at a terrible price.

When dealing with a low budget genre movie made by hard working enthusiasts who know their craft and share real affection for film, as well as each other, the result is… Infectious. There usually are aspects to forgive given budget constraints, but not here: the decors, costumes, music and McQuaid’s script and direction all blend with and support the actors.

And what performers… Ron Perlman, Dom Monaghan, Fessbenden are of course excellent. But John Speredakos is devilishly creepy, as is Angus Scrimm , of course. Heather Robb and Brenda Cooney are remarkable, and James Godwin’s got to be seen to be believed.
The interplay between the two grave robbers Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) and Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden) make me wonder about Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins.

There is ambition which shows through, from producers Peter Phok and Fessenden, to McQuaid and this talented crew, but there is also experience: the film is consistently good to great without anything for the audience to ‘forgive’, as I stated earlier.

Watch it after Midnight, with a bottle of Scotch or Whisky. Then the next day, when you can’t remember how it ends, shave your eyeballs and watch it again.

“I sell the dead!” receives 4 jellybeans.

4 beans


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Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison and American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is bit of followup to Lastech’s Midnight Madness discussion of Malpertuis.

Harlan Ellison wrote Deathbird Stories in 1975  It contains 19 short stories that took him ten years to write.  The book looks at what happens when the old gods are replaced by new ones.   Computers, money, and isolation are just a few.

Ellison has a comment at the beginning of the book.  He suggests that the reader not attempt to read the entire book at once.  I would agree.  The writer deals with facets of our humanity that are not always pretty and nice.  It’s good to take the time to digest and think about it.

Along The Scenic Route is about road rage with a twist.

Paingod Ellison answers his own question of:

If God is good, why does He send us pain and misery?

The Deathbird What if Genesis was wrong and things happened a bit differently?

Be aware that the book is NOT for children and does explore some adult themes.  It’s well worth tracking down though.  Lucky for me,  I’ve been able to bring it in from the library.  The San Francisco Public Library is a wonder and if they don’t have the book I want, they will bring it in from elsewhere.

This book gets 5 claws.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman was winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards in 2002.  It, too follows the theme of old gods being replaced by new ones.  The old ones are dying off, but a war is brewing.  It’s quite a good read and you’ll have fun figuring out who all the gods are.

This book gets 4 claws


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Midnight Movie Madness

“Malpertuis” – alternate title ”the legend of Doom house” green nose and blue eye shadow (director’s cut 125 minutes, France-Belgium-Germany 1971)

“And those eyes! I’ve got a whole tin of eyes, but none like yours!”

Based on a book by Jean Ray of the same title, adapted for the screen by Jean Ferry, directed by Harry Kumel. This movie is available on a two disc DVD set: disc 1 is the director’s cut with a Flemish soundtrack and English subtitle.
Disc 2, referred to as the Cannes version because it appeared at the Cannes festival, is dubbed in English.
So, if you have trouble watching a movie with subtitles, be aware… The English version has been heavily cut and is missing some significant material.
Speaking of material, there is a lot of it, and I don’t just mean in the film. Both DVDs have extras well worth watching and the book itself, written by Jean Ray in 1943, answers some questions necessarily left out by the adaptation.

Warning: there are spoilers ahead.

Sometime in the early part of last century, in the house of Malpertuis lives a strange assemblage of people, some of whom are related, on the surface constituting a dysfunctional family headed by the dying and evil Uncle Cassavius (Orson Welles). Cassavius’ young nephew Jan (German actor Matthieu Carriere) returns from years at sea, and is tricked into seeking his sister Nancy (Susan Hampshire) who has gone to live at Malpertuis after some family misfortunes.
Cassavius’ testament dictates that Malpertuis’ inhabitants will inherit his considerable fortune, on condition that they never leave the domain, until their death.
Seduced by his cousin Euryale (also played by Susan Hampshire), Jan changes his mind and decides to stay, slowly unraveling the house’s mysteries.
Most of the people living at Malpertuis are forgotten gods of ancient Greece captured long ago by Cassavius, a master of the occult.
It is somewhat difficult describing a movie which unfolds like a dream, and that’s exactly how “Malpertuis” develops. It helps knowing that the source material, Jean Ray’s book, has in tone and style been compared to H.P. Lovecraft among others. And for those who enjoy Lovecraft’s stories, “Malpertuis” can be a thrilling experience.

Technically, shooting this turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. First of all, the cast includes Dutch, Belgian, British, German, French, Canadian and one American (Welles) actors. There were scheduling issues due to availability, scenes shot in two languages between actors who did not understand the other’s language, and then the major headaches caused by Orson Welles.
These difficulties are discussed at length in the discs’ interviews and commentaries by Kumel, director of photography Gerry Fisher and some of the actors.

It’s worth noting here, not simply because Kumel himself expounds on them at considerable length, but because in a real sense, Welles’ behavior as described, egotistical demands and tantrums, sabotaging the other actors’ performance, meddling with the shooting schedule, mirrored the way the “Malpertuis” characters interplayed.
The drunken hubris, pettiness, the wondrous but by then waning reputation of Welles, turning the performers’ awe and respect for him into resentment and into something likely close to hatred. He was their god, once.

Kumel credits his DP (director of photography) Gerry Fisher with much of the atmosphere and artistry of the film, and more. Fisher, in preparation for the shoot, visited as many museums as possible, even after shooting began, to immerse himself in paintings of the Flemish and Dutch masters.
This shows throughout, but Fisher also worked around issues presented by Orson Welles’ demands. As I remarked in a review of “Daughters of Darkness”, Kumel uses color as symbols and character/mood definitions.
Welles insisted on using his own clothes and doing his own make-up, due to his theater background.
Two issues came of this: in the scenes set in Cassavius’ bedroom, Kumel decided on three colors to dominate: black, red and white. In the commentary, he attributes to these an oppressive quality, apparent in “fascist”, specifically Nazi, flags. In contrast, Jean Ray in his book refers to red, black and white as characterizing the various types of magic. Red represented also sin and passion, blue represented virtue and white, purity. We’re made to understand Jan is a virgin, hence the blue eye shadow worn by Carriere. Well, at the beginning anyway.

Problem was, Welles arrived wearing a green house robe over his white shirt, and as was his habit, a fake nose made of green colored theater putty. Fisher devised a lighting combination which made the robe look black and gave the nose a leaden complexion, very much as described in the book. Terrific creative work, also seen in the individual lighting he gave each character, even as they appeared together or in groups, truly remarkable work, as was his mastery of shadows and their projection.
Welles was not the only obstacle Kumel had to overcome. The actor playing Abbe Doucedame disappeared for a few weeks, screwing up the schedule.

Kumel gives credit where it’s due, and not just to Gerry fisher who is owed a lot. His cast performed admirably. By today’s standards, the character of Jan may well be annoying to the point of exasperation. In the book, he is a product of the bourgeoisie, spoiled and subject to mood swings and tantrums, drawn between two strong female characters, who are goddesses after all. Strange then that screenwriter Ferry decided to make him a sailor returning after years on the oceans, essentially combining Jan’s character with that of his father.
Another issue is that of the scene in the tavern of the red district where Jan follows Bets (Sylvie Vartan). It does not work, the song supposed to be an homage to Dietrich in “Blue Angel” sounds like bad late ‘60s pop, which it is. Vartan was a popular French pop singer.

This brings me to the other jarring scene, toward the end of the movie, when Jan turns out to be a modern day computer engineer who is released from a mental hospital, after being “cured” from his hallucinations about ancient gods captive in Malpertuis.
That scene, which Kumel says critics hated but made sense to him, suddenly pinpoints the action in time to the early ‘70s, with the wide ties, bell bottoms, sideburns, cars of the era, even shots of Biafra which was much in the news at the time.
This is way too specific, too mundane after we were lured into the unspecified era of the tale. Like the helicopter appearing at the end of “Donkey skin”, it feels like a bucket of cold water.
There are many nice twists and touches throughout, visual and otherwise, which make “Malpertuis” a must see. One of my favorites has to do with the quote at the top of this review, spoken by Philarete to Jan, taken from the marionette maker of “the tales of Hoffman”.

Because of this, as well as the originality of the themes, explored later by Harlan Ellison and Neil Gaiman, about the nature of divinity and destiny, “Malpertuis” gets four jellybeans.

4 beans


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Midnight Movie Madness

“The Haunting” – (112 minutes UK-USA 1963)

“It ought to be burned down… And the ground sowed with salt.”

Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), an anthropologist interested in paranormal phenomena, puts together a diverse group to study Hill House: Theadora (Claire Bloom), a clairvoyant, befriends Eleanor (Julie Harris) who was the subject of unexplained poltergeist activities as a child. Theadora may be attracted to Eleanor, but Eleanor develops a crush on Markway. Russ Tamblyn is the youngest of the owners, trying to figure out what kind of business to make of the old mansion. Together the group explores Hill House and face their own insecurities.

“The Haunting” is the quintessential Midnight Movie, a true masterpiece which almost never happened were it not for Robert Wise’s vision, although I’m not certain he truly knew what acquiring the rights to Shirley Jackson’s book would lead to. Wise ended up setting up production in the UK, since he could secure better financing there. This movie’s influence is felt even today, not as easily defined as a shot or a few bars of music, rather like a suggestion, transcending and advancing several genres.
Is it the story of Eleanor’s (Julie Harris) mental breakdown, or of the house and its haunting?
By the end, you sense that the house is a gestalt, blending suffering souls ended in our dominion, to form a different natural order. Jean Cocteau might have smiled upon this house, though perhaps reservedly.

This is visual poetry, with elements of horror, thriller, and psychological study. No wonder, perhaps, since this movie was based on a book by Shirley Jackson.

Two other recommendations for the subgenre:
“Stir of echoes” (1999) starring Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Erbe and Illeana Douglas;
“The changeling” (1980) starring George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere and Melvyn Douglas.

“The Haunting” gets 5 JellyBeans…

5 beans


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Sued for sexual harrassment, Dracula gets charge reduced to tailgating!

Might as well start with a joke… I was going to do a review of “Nosferatu” for Wednesday’s Midnight Movie Madness, but then realized I’d not only done a write up on “Daughters of Darkness” last week, but we also brought in Dan Simmons’ “carrion comfort” from the library. Enough suckers for a week…
That being said, in his introduction of the 20th anniversary of his book, Simmons has interesting things to say about what he calls the mind-vampire.

In real life, this mind-vampire appears to be abusive, immature, governed by compulsion and survival needs, with a keen understanding of others but unable to care about them. He is perhaps cunning rather than intelligent and skilled in the uses of suggestion. In short, a manipulative bully, a hybrid of vampire and serial killer.

What makes the serial killer perhaps scarier is that he’s not bound by rules. No garlic, running water, sunlight or crucifix, no requirement to even be invited in! This frankly makes the vampire seem, well, civilized by comparison, as though the vampire represented waning aristocracy. And in Murnau’s “Nosferatu”, the count is pretty mangy indeed, filthy even, with his rodent features and traveling as he does with coffins filled with dirt and plague-carrying rats.

“This vampire killed many rats… In the litter box, mostly…”

Dracula Tito in red

Today’s vampires are merely grungy, probably listening to Pearl Jam and Nirvana, driving their black Euro SUVs at night.
Back in real life, the old saying of treating others the way you’d like to be treated has another side: don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you. The thing is that much of human interaction boils down to rape, the imposition of one upon another, and hard times show that most people are unfortunately not bound by any moral or ethical restraint. The mind-vampire could most likely be a boss, such as the infamous Richard C. Woollam (formerly of BP) but perhaps a spouse, a relative, anyone really, who can detect vulnerabilities and inflict damaging words or words conveying some threat.

No man or woman is an island as they say, and so if you can’t be bullied or cajoled into acting against your own interest, the mind-vampire will influence others and turn them against you.
Human nature being what it is, manipulation readily crosses into coercion or worse. I think that’s been shown in part by Stanley Milgram’s (Yale, 1961) and Philip Zimbardo’s experiments (Stanford, 1971).
Well then, how’s about a good ole ghost story…?


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Midnight Movie Madness

Daughters of Darkness – Fateful encounters (100 minutes Belgium/West Germany/France 1971)

“I was wrong, after all… What you did wasn’t foolish, Stefan, it was merely… Unrealistic.”

Almost 40 years on, “Daughters of Darkness” shows even better than when it was first released. This is not a gore-fest, and while I wouldn’t call it a character study, it certainly has more layers than the Horror genre typically leads you to expect. It means neither to blow the viewer away, nor to titillate.  It is absorbing, somewhat like “let the right one in”. But more on this later…

When this movie came out, the vampire sub-genre was waning: “Daughters of Darkness was book-ended between Roman Polanski’s “the fearless vampire hunters” (1967) and “Dracula and son” (1976), a French spoof starring Christopher Lee.

I remember the early ‘70s as a sort of “either or” proposition, in terms of cinema: serious films (at times overly so, veering into pretentiousness) or exploitation flicks, with little in between. On the face of it, and given when “Daughters of Darkness” came out, I suspect it was wrongly perceived as exploitation, with elements of horror and soft-porn. Many reviews tend to label it as “lesbian vampire horror” or “erotic vampire” story, and while this is not entirely inaccurate, it tends to lessen the scope of the film.

Yes, there are several shots of full frontal nudity, and female characters kissing, but… Vampires by nature are sexual beings seducing their prey before feeding on them. The need defines the skill.

There are really two main story arcs in “Daughters of Darkness”, as well as two predators. We begin with the young newlyweds, Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) and Stefan (John Karlen), and soon realize Stefan is essentially a sadistic child in a man’s body. He remains emotionally detached from Valerie, only reaching out to her after she is hurt by his behavior: he appears to feed on her vulnerability and attraction to him, and keeps testing her. Much of this is like watching a kid pulling the wings and legs off a fly.

Such behaviors are more widely understood nowadays than in 1971, thanks in part to self-help literature and talk shows, but in retrospect John Karlen’s role and his performance were highly unusual for the day and accurately portrayed a fractured individual swaying between fear and rage, projecting his need for control upon his bride.

A revealing influence on Stefan’s character is the personage referred to as “Mother” and “Lady Chilton”, who turns out to be an older man growing orchids in surroundings of green and purple (director Kumel also relies on color to define characters and events): more sugar daddy than mother as it appears, and something Stefan is desperately trying to conceal from Valerie. Appropriately enough we are introduced to them as they travel to Ostende on a train, appropriate because Stefan is compelled to compartmentalize his relationships.

They arrive at the Palais des Thermes during the off season, the sole guests in this oppressive looking structure. Shortly after sunset, another couple arrives: the countess Elizabeth Bathory (Delphine Seyrig) and her companion Ilona (Andrea Rau). Dressed in 1930s fashions, the countess appears to the stunned concierge in exactly the same way as she did 40 years prior, to which she replies he probably remembers her mother. That is until she calls him by his first name, “Pierre”, toying with his apprehension with a jab at his fear. You see, Pierre remembers a series of unsolved murders which took place in the region 40 years ago. This is unspoken and slowly revealed as the story unfolds.

In real life, countess Elizabeth Bathory was in fact a historical figure from, of all places, Transylvania. Born in August 1560, she died sometime in August 1614 at the Cachtice castle where she was walled in.  During the Long War against the Ottomans, while her husband was away, she provided for and defended the peasantry of their lands.

Sometime after her husband, Ferenc Nádasdy, died in 1604, four of her servants were tried and executed for participating in crimes which she was rumored to have ordered, the torture and murder of hundreds of young girls. The crimes were said to involve mutilations, sexual abuse, and baths taken by the countess in her victims’ blood for the purpose of maintaining her youth. Later on, allegations of vampirism took place. For political reasons, she was not tried, but imprisoned at Cachtice until her death.

Now, in the neighboring town of Bruges, the bodies of young women drained of their blood raise old fears.

Stefan and Valerie witness the body of such a victim being taken away by ambulance and a retired policeman takes note of these foreigners.

He follows them to the hotel where the familiar figure of the countess is waiting for them. What unfolds is a sinister game of musical chairs between the protagonists. Ilona wants to leave the countess, eventually getting her wish. Stefan, who bound Valerie to himself, already yearns to be free from those ties and also gets his wish. Perhaps more than companionship, the countess herself was looking for a “vessel”.

They all may get theirs, but only the countess through power and dark skills, found satisfaction.

Is there any form of retribution at last?

To quote Francis Urqhart, F.U. to his friends, “you might very well think so, but I couldn’t possibly comment.”

Listen closely to Valerie’s last words…

“Daughters of Darkness” gets 5 jellybeans.

5 beans


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Adventures Through Time and Space

“The Mighty Boosh” – Surreal adventures through time and space (UK 2004)

“Don’t be cynical

It’s a follicle miracle!”

Sometime in 2007, a co-worker e-mailed me a link to a Youtube video taken from a show I’d never heard of. The clip was maybe 9 minutes long, from a British comedy series called “the Mighty Boosh”. This was from an episode from season 2 entitled “the legend of Old Gregg”.

I waited another two years for the series DVDs to be released here. I was hooked.

The Mighty Boosh’s first season (8 episodes) introduces Vince Noir (Noel Fielding) and Howard Moon (Julian Barratt), two zookeepers working at the run-down Zooniverse managed by Bob Fossil (Rich Fulcher). Vince Noir is obsessed with hair products, electro music and is the apparent air-head of the two. Howard Moon is a Jazz fanatic and prone to embellishments.

Season two (6 episodes) finds Vince and Howard sharing an apartment with fortune teller Naboo (Michael Fielding, real-life brother of Noel) who really is a shaman, and Bollo the gorilla (Dave Brown in a gorilla suit). As to Season 3 (6 episodes), Vince and Howard now work for Naboo at his shop (the Nabootique).

No explanations are given for the changes in settings between seasons, much like in a dream, you find yourself in different places without transition. What matters are the adventures and characters, from the North Pole to planet Xooberon, even the afterlife, where the Ape of Death suffers from bad hair as well as a short temper and Death (actually Deaths, plural) ferry the departed in taxi cabs through space and speak with a Cockney accent.

Each episode has a different story arc, giving this series a leisurely pace, as opposed to say, “Big Train” which is composed of short sketches. Flashbacks are often done using colorful animations and there are several musical numbers per episode. Most of the songs are pretty catchy and contribute greatly to the feeling of whimsy. The look of the series is very colorful and never dull, as the entire series was shot in studio, with special effects described as cheap by some viewers, but in actuality charmingly quaint. For instance, a scene in which protagonists are being chased by the Yeti was shot with the actors running in place in front of a backlit screen rolling in a loop. It’s a pretty common technique used in older films and series, which helps give the Mighty Boosh some sort of “grounding” visually.
Each DVD set includes two discs and plenty extras, such as interviews, making of, Boosh music, bloopers, etc. for many hours of enjoyment. Rich Fulcher is the sole American of the cast and deserves a special nod. He is extremely funny in his various roles, the deviant Bob Fossil, the Ape of Death and kinky Eleanor among others. The bloke is mental.
The series followed a common development pattern in Great Britain, from stage to radio and finally television, with plenty of time to refine and hone a wonderful and unique program. The Boosh really has to be experienced.
A word of caution, however, due to the common usage of profanity (four letter words), I would not recommend it for family viewing if you have young children.

“The Mighty Boosh” gets 5 jellybeans

5 beans


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Midnight Movie Madness

Dead Alive – Everything you always wanted to know about zombies but were afraid to ask (97 minutes New Zealand 1992)

They’re not dead exactly, they’re just… sort of rotting.”

In the pantheon of horror-comedies, “Dead Alive” easily ranks up there with “Evil Dead: army of Darkness” and “Shaun of the dead”. I’ll say right now that you probably shouldn’t eat custard or strawberry ice cream when watching this early effort from Peter Jackson (“Lord of the Rings”, “King Kong”, “the frighteners”), in the days when special effects included stop motion and gallons of movie blood. Lots of movie blood. So much blood, that “Dead Alive” is reputed to be the bloodiest movie of all time.
1957: the latest acquisition of the Wellington zoo is a rare and dangerous Sumatran rat-monkey, whose bite causes humans to turn into ravenous zombies. The creature looks suspiciously like Kitsune, by the way. Unfortunately for Lionel (Timothy Balme), his domineering mother Vera (Elizabeth Moody) is intent on sabotage as he tries to enjoy his first date there with Paquita (Diana Penalver). Standing too close to the cage, Vera gets bit and stomps the rat-monkey to squishy bits in her rage. Lionel takes her home and tries to hide her horrific condition from everyone, leading to problems growing as fast as the body count.
Virtually everything in this gem is outrageous and the carnage is way past the top, into the stratosphere. It also provides answers to vital questions about zombies:

–         What happens when two zombies fall in love

–         Why you shouldn’t take the resulting offspring to the park

–         How to feed a captive zombie when its head is halfway off

–         How to immobilize a zombie with a garden rake and a vise

–         Why animal stimulant shouldn’t be used to poison zombies

And much, much more… Jackson and writers Stephen Sinclair and Frances Walsh (Jackson’s spouse) packed a lot of chuckles and groans in what may be the definitive splatter-fest.

Jackson’s camera work and skillful direction  keep things lively and all the efforts spent recreating the look of the fifties, with cars, clothes and even hair styles of the era greatly enhance the movie’s charm. Performances are above the average for the genre, especially from the leads, but Father McGruder (Stuart Devenie) fighting off zombies in his graveyard is a classic (“I kick *** for the Lord!”), well worthy of Bruce Campbell’s best, as is Uncle Les (Ian Watkin) showing a lot of spine as the zombies overrun Lionel’s house. Also keep an eye out for Peter Jackson’s cameo as the undertaker’s assistant pumping Vera with embalming fluid…

The JBoD rating for this movie is 4 jellybeans (out of 5)

4 beans


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