Sunday, November 30, 2008

La setta (1991) [filmed in 1990]

... aka: Demons 4
... aka: Demons IV: The Sect
... aka: Devil's Daughter, The
... aka: La secta
... aka: Sect, The

Directed by:
Michele Soavi

I'm through with Michele Soavi! Through with his horror-ography, that is. Finally seen them all, from the 1985 documentary Dario Argento's World of Horror to 1994's Cemetery Man. It always feels good to see everything a director has to offer, right? My last watch is his 1991 film La setta aka The Sect, which was filmed over a two month period starting in September 1990 so it can be included here. The film was released here in America under an awful and misleading title I don't even want to type out again. There are some awesome visuals in here, along with nicely done production design courtesy of Massimo Antonello Geleng, excellent cinematography from Raffaele Mertes and a great score composed by Pino Donaggio. In addition, this thing is filled with perplexing, off-the-wall ideas that will make most viewers go "WTF?!," but, I think, in a good way. It's the first time I recall seeing a woman getting raped by a bird or a bunny rabbit using a remote control, that's for sure!

Unfortunately, like most of Michele's other movies, the dialogue is diabolical(ly awful), some of the lead actors are terrible and much of the story seems swiped from a popular movie directed by Roman Polanski. I'm sure you've heard of it before. While Polanski's film was a solid piece of work from top to bottom, Soavi's can be referred to as "ROSEMARY'S BABY: All dressed up with no place to go." Sometimes I get the impression that certain directors try to be weird for the sake of being weird, but lack the focus or talent to bring it all together in a cohesive, satisfying way, and Soavi has seemed to straddle that fence throughout his career.

Things start with a bunch of hippies (cue "Horse With No Name") being killed by cult members in California during the 1970s before jumping ahead 20 years to Frankfurt, Germany. Jamie Lee Curtis' sister Kelly Curtis stars in this one as an emotionally unstable school teacher. You can certainly see a family resemblance, though Kelly is more beautiful in my humble opinion. The major difference between the two is that Jamie Lee can act and Kelly cannot. Herbert Lom co-stars (and gives one of the film's only good performances) as an elderly, dying man Curtis almost runs over and then lets stay in her home. Lom carries around a mystery box he won't let anyone else touch, keeps drinking water and has special drops he keeps putting into his eyes. He sneaks a beetle into a sleeping Curtis' nose and from then on out things go all kinds of bat shit weird as her tap water turns an unnatural color of blue, her pet bunny starts watching TV, a piece of cloth starts trying to smother people, she starts hallucinating about wind chimes and a long tunnel leading about a mile underground is found in a secret room in her cellar (which she didn't know was there despite being in the home for eight months).

Describing the plot or trying to make sense out of it, is pretty much fighting an uphill battle, but it's best to describe this one as the aforementioned Rosemary's Baby spiced up with odd, sometimes surreal flourishes. There's a cult at work here, and Curtis is the innocent target, and people she knows and trusts are actually conspiring against her and the birth of the Antichrist may be a chief objective of the bad guys and, yeah, you know the rest. The ending tries to tie it all together, but it's muddled and lacking in motivation. The film is devoid of the characterization, strong performances, suspense, increasing paranoia and claustrophobia of Polanski's movie, even though there's plenty to enjoy from a strictly visual standpoint. But at the end of the day, it did manage to keep me both interested and entertained throughout.

La Setta was written by Soavi, Dario Argento (also one of three producers) and some other chap and features supporting performances from Euro horror regulars Mariangela Giordano (Peter Bark's generous mama in Burial Ground) as Curtis' friend, Giovanni Lombardo Radice (aka John Morghen aka the guy who doesn't really like horror flicks but gets typecast in them anyway) as a guy who cuts out a woman's heart for some reason or another, Tomas Arana (star of Soavi's The Church) as a bearded cult leader, Donald O'Brien (Dr. Butcher, Medical Deviate) and more. Soavi appears in a cameo on a TV set and supposedly Daria Nicolodi is in it (at least according to IMDb), even though I don't recall seeing her anywhere.

A brief overview of the films of Michele Soavi:

Il mondo dell'orrore di Dario Argento (Dario Argento's World of Horror) (1985) - Ironically, this documentary about the films of that other popular Italian director (whom Soavi obviously is heavily inspired by and used to work for) is among my favorite of Soavi's work. It's very well done. ★★★

The Valley (1985) - A horror-ific 4-minute music video for Bill Wyman's piece from Argento's Phenomena, complete with a young Jennifer Connelly. Cheese-city baby, even for the 80s. ★1/2

Deliria (Stage Fright) (1987) - Sometimes visually interesting, but otherwise routine Italian slasher (or "giallo" if you think everything made in Italy involving a killer is a giallo). It's been awhile since I last saw this one, but it didn't wow me much when I did. I may give it a re-watch sometime. ★★1/2

La chiesa (The Church) (1989) - An excellent first half (including a great period-set prologue of Teutonic knights slaughtering villagers) becomes way too silly in the second as a bunch of annoying people become trapped in an ancient cathedral where demons take over. Strong visuals and score, but indifferent acting, leaden pacing and poor dialogue keep it from greatness. There's also a silly direct copy of a scene from ROSEMARY'S BABY. Does Soavi love that movie, or what? ★★1/2

La setta (The Sect) (1991) - Looking over my other ratings, apparently I saved the best of Soavi's horror flicks - which seems to be his least talked about, for last. Color my surprised.

Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetery Man) (1994) - I could write a thesis paper on the many ways this film simultaneously irritates me and leaves me colder than the corpses Rupert Everett keeps taking down, but I'll pass. ★★

*Mr. Soavi has seemed to turn his attention to Italian made-for-TV movies in recent years. I'm not sure if any of those qualify as "horror" or not.

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