Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Beyond Reason (1982) [filmed in 1977]

... aka: Al di là della ragione (Beyond the Reason)
... aka: Hinter dem Jenseits (Behind the Hereafter)
... aka: Mati

Directed by:
Telly Savalas

After directing a handful of episodes of Kojak, Lt. Theo Kojak himself decided to take the plunge and write, direct and star in his very own feature. A vanity project? Perhaps, though it's more likely he was temporarily bitten by the artiste bug after helming a few TV episodes. Either way, the film was not successful on any front, didn't even make it to theaters and Savalas' filmmaking career both began and ended right here.

Dr. Nicholas Mati is a psychiatrist at a mental hospital who plays by his own rules. He's not above a little return slap to the face if need be, playing into delusions or even gambling with the patients. His "alternative treatments" have put him on the shit list of hospital director Dr. Batt (Barney Phillips), who gives him one last warning about his behavior before he takes him in front of the Board of Review for disciplinary action. Despite his facile "love conquers all" philosophy applied to psychiatry, his co-workers like him well enough and try to encourage him to play by the rules long enough for the director to get off his back. In addition to tending to patients, Dr. Mati also teaches. He recommends to some graduate students during a lecture that they forget "cold, clinical labels" and psychological diagnoses because of their stigma and because "specifics are not needed." In other words, approach each person - mentally ill or not - as the unique individual they are, just as he hopes to be seen for who he is: an unconventional doctor with his own unconventional methods.

Whether it be his cab driver (Bob Basso), his doorman (Milton Frome), his colleagues or his patients, everyone seems to want Dr. Mati's advice on just about everything. Little do they know, but he's actually the last person they should be asking as he's losing his own mind. Mati sees his complacent wife Elaine's (Diana Muldaur) painting change from a serene woman surrounded by flowers to a "depressing" mournful woman shrouded in black. He hears a voice on a tape recorder changing, rewinds it, re-listens and the voice is no longer there. His lectures start taking on a grim tone as he tells a future generation of shrinks they're in for a future of disappointment and frustration in their field and will eventually be "stripped of all the smug securities" of their education. And he starts hearing voices in his head, especially those of Leslie Valentine (Laura Johnson), a beautiful yet mysterious student he first encounters thumbing through some classified files she shouldn't have access to.

Just when things can't get any more disorienting for our deteriorating doc, someone with a newspaper clipping about a TV appearance he made in his pocket leaps to his death from the hospital rooftop and a patient mysteriously dies after having hallucinations of stabbing a baby to death in its crib (!) All of that adds to the visions and voices in his head. People and images change right before his eyes as Dr. Mati is eventually overwhelmed with various horror imagery, flashbacks, delusions, paranoia, loud voices and swirling camerawork. Leslie and her roommate Ann (Rita Marie Carr) also find themselves in danger after Dr. Mati links them to the suicide victim.

Oh, so you've seen this before? Same here. And yet, while this psycho-drama isn't great, I feel I must kind of defend it because it's also not nearly as bad as some may lead you to believe. It's not poorly made, the plot is coherent, the acting and dialogue are decent and there are some good scenes as well as some nice directorial touches here and there. What really holds this back is the sheer predictability of it all. There's simply not enough mystery, intrigue or twists in the script, nor enough insight into mental illness, nor enough visual panache, nor enough wit, nor enough of anything to make this stand out from loads of other psycho-dramas. Simply put: A lot of other filmmakers have covered this same ground already and done so with either far more style or for more depth.

The cast includes Walter Brooke as one of Mati's straight-laced colleagues, Tony Burton as a patient, Lilyan Chauvin (SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT) as a nurse, Toni Lawrence (daughter of Marc) as a student, Biff Elliot as a police sergeant, Susan Myers (who had the lead role in the made-for-TV Carrie rip-off The Spell the same year) as Savalas' daughter and blink-or-you'll miss it contributions from Debra Feuer (Night Angel), Denise DuBarry (Monster in the Closet) and former Miss California Melissa Prophet (Fatal Games). Telly offspring Nicholas Savalas, who was briefly in the tabloids years later for dating Tori Spelling and (supposedly) being verbally abusive to her by telling her "10 times a day how ugly [she] was," also has a small role as a student. It was produced by Howard W. Koch, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the time. The backers were Armenian, including Arthur Sarkissian, who'd later have more success producing the Rush Hour action / comedy series.

Actress Melissa Prophet describing how she met and worked with Savalas, including bits about this particular movie. Note: If she actually played a college girl hooker who turns into a devil then that was eliminated from the film as there's nothing even remotely like that here! (February 16, 1986 | By Cheryl Lavin, Chicago Tribune | FULL ARTICLE)

IMDb currently has this as a 1985 release, noting it was filmed in 1977 in the trivia section (Savalas also promoted the unreleased film in May 1977 at Cannes according to a Washington Post article). However, there's a VHS release from Full House Video out of the Netherlands that has a 1982 date on it, as does another European video release I found. I'm not entirely sure if this is the date of the actual video release or the date the film was copyrighted under a new name since there were several title changes. The 1985 release date seems to stem from the U.S. Media VHS release as well as it making its TV debut on CBS that same year. To complicate matters a bit further, TV Guide has this listed as a 1978 release.

So was this first publicly shown in 1977, 1978, 1982 or 1985? According to an article in the Las Vegas Sun dated November 27, 1977 (below), Savalas was still editing the film then, so we can at least scratch the earliest date off. After that, I'm not so sure. I'm going with 1982 to coincide with the European VHS releases until someone can prove me wrong.

One thing many sources do have wrong is that Priscilla Barnes plays Leslie Valentine. Nope! But she can be seen in the first scene as one of many medical students watching Mati interact with patients. She has no lines and isn't even listed in the credits. The fact she's often falsely credited with the wrong part stems from an intentionally deceptive early 80s trade ad in Variety (above) that attempted to give Barnes star billing after she became a household name replacing Suzanne Somers on Three's Company in 1981. Though religion plays absolutely no part in this film, the same ad tried to sell this difficult-to-market film as a religious horror and included an Omen-style upside down cross.


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Der Fan (1982)

... aka: Blood Groupie
... aka: Fan, The
... aka: Trance

Directed by:
Eckhart Schmidt

Teenager Simone (Désirée Nosbusch) is obsessed with internationally-famous pretty boy New Wave pop star 'R' (Bodo Staiger). She wears his t-shirt, has posters of him on her walls and listens to his music all day, every day, analyzing each of his lyrics. She writes to him frequently and meets the mailman at the post office every single morning expecting a letter back. It has yet to arrive. She fantasizes about him kissing her but makes do with a life-sized decal of him on her bedroom wall for the time being. Even though they've never met, she thinks they share a bond and he writes his music just for her. As for all of the other women who show up with him in magazines? Well, they're only after his money but he already knows that, sleeps with them and then shows them the door. That's because he's biding his time waiting for someone just like Simone. She is the only one who truly understands him, truly loves him and can truly make him happy. If only he'd write her back.

Simone's obsession has already crossed the boundary into unhealthy and is causing her all kinds of problems in real life. She keeps ditching school, refuses to do her homework and refuses to take tests. She doesn't get along with her parents and barely acknowledges them. She completely ignores her former boyfriend. She even attacks the postman (Klaus Münster) because she has it in her mind that he's hiding R's response letter back to her. Either that or her mother (Helga Tölle) has confiscated it. In one of her letters, she asks 'R' to blink at her during a live TV variety show performance as a signal to her but her father (Jonas Vischer), who keeps threatening to send her to a boarding school if she doesn't shape up, switches the channel before he's even through singing. If only everyone wasn't conspiring to keep them apart.

The troubled girl has even worked out a worst case scenario in her head. If he refuses to acknowledge her and / or she's unable to find him, she plans on jumping from a tower with a note written to him so he'll be forced to at least think about her from time to time and thus she'll always remain a part of him. But that's only if she somehow can't get to him. No longer trusting anyone, she secretly gets her own P.O. Box and decides to wait one more week for the letter. If it doesn't come she's decided to  finally "take action" and go after what she wants. Needless to say, a letter doesn't arrive.

Now with plans to go all the way to Munich, Simone runs away from home. She gets a ride from a lecherous old man but ditches him when he tries to rape her in the back seat. Finally making it to the city, she starts watching the activities outside of a TV station every day. There, actors, singers and other celebrities pull up in fancy cars to be greeted by fans seeking autographs. Sometimes the celebs even select a fan and take them into the studio so they can watch the taping. Simone shows up there every day hoping 'R' will come back to perform on "Top Pop." She finally gets her wish. 'R' does show up and her first reaction to a face-to-face with him is to pass out.

Simone's taken into the studio, where she receives a surprising amount of attention from the singer. At first, we think he pities her or thinks it's cute she was so overwhelmed by him or he's just being a decent person, but the truth soon comes to light. To him she's just another groupie. They come there all the time. And he takes them to wherever he happens to be staying, has some fun and is then on his merry fan. After his mannequin-themed music video wraps, he gets into an argument with his manager, his PR man and his miserable-looking secretary April (Simone Brahmann), who seems to be secretly in love with him, and runs off with Simone. He takes her to a flat owned by a friend, where the two have sex and Simone confesses her undying love and dedication to him. He reacts to that by immediately trying to bolt; throwing her a bone by telling her he'll "try" to come back and see her in a few months and "try" to call her. We all know how that would work out. This time, however, he's picked the wrong girl.

A slow-building shocker, this isn't for an instant gratification audience as it makes one wait until the last 30 minutes for the more overt horror sequences. However, everything leading up to that is just as - if not more - interesting. This makes for a neat contrast to other movies dealing with celebrity and the music industry, which are almost always told from the perspective of the artist. Typically, the fans themselves are portrayed as vapid, brainless, shrieking nuisances on the sidelines so it's refreshing seeing a movie told entirely from the other perspective... even if that perspective also happens to be twisted! We get to hear Simone's thoughts and fantasies throughout (warped as those may be) in a voice-over, as well as what motivates her as she searches for a way to keep 'R' with her forever.

The director has stated this was meant to draw parallels between unhealthy celebrity worship and how Germans are still haunted by, and thus still infatuated with, Hitler and National Socialism. These two themes are frequently merged, like when a shot of the music star is superimposed over a picture of Nazis saluting Hitler, but they're also not overt nor forced upon viewers. Ignoring them altogether we're still left with a dark, fascinating little film about obsession and teenage isolation.

Staiger, in what appears to be his only film role, was likely cast because he actually was the lead singer of a moderately successful New Wave / synth-pop group called Rheingold, who also do all the music for the film. The songs are available on the band's 1982 MiniAlbum Fan Fan Fanatic. Nosbusch went on to have a successful acting career in Germany and even appeared in a few English-language films and TV shows using the name "Desiree Becker." The actress, who was 16-years-old at the time of filming, ended up taking the director to court to try to force him to remove some of the nude shots of her but was unsuccessful. Former krimi star Joachim Fuchsberger also appears very briefly on a TV set.

There were home video releases in the UK (on VHS and DVD, and both cut), Germany, Netherlands, Japan (it became a favorite of real-life cannibal Issei Sagawa!) and some other countries but this eluded the U.S. for decades. That all changed in 2015 when Mondo Macabro finally released it uncut on DVD and Blu-ray. It's uncut and comes with German and English audio tracks, two essays (one about the film and one about German New Wave music) and a 20-minute interview with the director.

Director Schmidt would go on to make other genre films like Das Gold der Liebe (1983; "The Gold of Love"), Loft (1985) and E.T.A. Hoffmanns Der Sandmann (1993; "The Sandman"). None of these were officially released in America nor as widely distributed as this one.

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