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, November 19, 2016

Olivia (1983) [filmed in 1981]

... aka: Beyond the Bridge
... aka: Double Jeopardy
... aka: Faces of Fear
... aka: Im Blutrausch des Wahnsinns (Murderous Frenzy of Madness)
... aka: Mad Night
... aka: Olivia: dulce asesina (Olivia: Sweet Killer)
... aka: Prozzie
... aka: Taste of Sin, A

Directed by:
Ulli Lommel

Built in the 1830s, the London Bridge once spanned the Thames River and was the talk of the whole city. However, by the 1960s it was slowly sinking into the riverbed and had to be removed. Instead of destroying the historic landmark, the city decided to put it up for auction. Missouri entrepreneur Robert Paxton McCulloch (best known for his chainsaws and oil company) ended up putting in the winning bid of 2.5 million dollars. The bridge was then dismantled and transported back to the United States. In his search for oil, McCulloch had previously purchased a bunch of land in northern Arizona and founded Lake Havasu City there. Now he wanted to invest big bucks into something to attract tourists. The bridge, a way to allow people to see a once important piece of architecture from a foreign country without having to actually go there, was perfect. Over a three year period and at a cost of over 7 million dollars, the bridge was carefully reconstructed stone by stone across the Colorado River. It was finally opened to the public in late 1971 and remains a popular destination to this day.

Not surprisingly, a number of filmmakers decided to take advantage of all the publicity. The first movie to ever be filmed there was the heist film The Day of the Wolves (1971). Later, two horror films were made using the bridge as its centerpiece: the made-for-TV Terror at London Bridge (1985) and this one. The former involved the spirit of Jack the Ripper being transported to the U.S.. Olivia is more of a psychological horror / drama with the bridge taking on a symbolic purpose. Lommel was inspired to make the film after a trip to Lake Havasu.

A London prostitute (Bibbe Hansen) with a sweet view of the bridge from her apartment window is entertaining an America soldier client (Nicholas Love). He seems nice and polite at first, even when he asks her to handcuff him, tease him and insult him (“You're the most disgusting man that I've ever met in my entire life!”), but instructs her not to untie him even if he begs her to. When he starts getting loud, she tells him she's had enough, asks him to leave and unlocks him. He then promptly beats her to death. Watching the whole sordid act play out from a hole in the wall is the hooker's young daughter, Olivia (Amy Robinson). The mother's body is dumped into the Thames and later fished out. A detective (played by the director) tries to break through to little Olivia but she's in too much shock to be of any help.

Jump ahead 15 or so years and we meet the now 20-year-old Olivia (Suzanna Love). Olivia is married to an older welder named Richard (Jeff Winchester) who, while perhaps not filmdom's most monstrous husband, is pretty damn bad. He's moody, insecure, insensitive and too prideful to even allow his wife to work a simple waitress job. Richard married her when she was only 16 and, to him, she's property whose purpose doesn't extend beyond cooking, cleaning and having sex with him whenever he wants it (whether or not she's in the mood being of no concern). Since he's usually gone late into the night, Olivia has had a lot of time alone to think, reflect and fantasize. After having to spend a depressing birthday alone, she starts hearing her mother's voice and finds herself being guided by her. She dresses up as a hooker in black leather boots, a miniskirt and sunglasses, goes down to the bridge where other hookers hang out and is soon picked up by a guy who takes her back to his mannequin-filled apartment. There, she ties him up and then beats him to death with a glass vase. (“Now you can show mommy how much you love her.”)

American engineer Michael Grant (Robert Walker Jr.), who's been flown over to England to help determine whether they should try to fix or demolish the bridge, starts spending a lot of time there. He spots Olivia several times; once in her normal attire walking her dog and another time dressed as a prostitute and becomes intrigued. The two end up going back to his hotel and, because he's kind and not into the kinkier stuff, they have “normal” sex and no one ends up dead. The two continue their passionate affair. After she returns home late on numerous occasions, Richard becomes suspicious. He catches Olivia and Michael kissing, there's a struggle and Richard falls over the side of the bridge. Olivia flees into the night.

Four years later, after the bridge has been moved over to America, Michael goes to Arizona to see it. Much to his shock, he hears a very familiar voice giving a boat tour. The woman, who goes by the name of Jenny, is a dead ringer for Olivia aside from her dark hair, glasses and more conservative attire. “Jenny” works there selling condos. Sometimes she behaves like she knows Mike, sometimes she doesn't. Either way, he gently pushes his way back into her life and soon notices she shares many things in common with the troubled woman he'd met in London years earlier, including the rather distinct habit of opening beer bottles with her teeth. That's because she is her. The romance starts up once again, but Olivia regresses to her old self. She dyes her hair back to blonde, dresses sexier and makes comments about how her mother may not approve of them getting back together. Like it or not, sometimes it's for the best just to let some people go... granted that's even possible.

Olivia seems like an attempt to bridge the gap between “respectable” Hitchcockian psychological thrillers of the previous decades and 80s exploitation / slasher flicks. The childhood flashbacks (complete with bedtime readings of classic fairy tales), the two different locations, the parallel / converging story lines, the dual personalities and the bridge used as the common link between the first half and the second mean there's subtext to spare here. Hell, the final sequence even features a quite literal disposal of baggage. At this point in his career, the director still had very good visual instinct, which was colorfully put front and center in his underrated The Boogeyman (1980) and is here in abundance, too. The interiors are lit with care in a noir style with central images neatly blending in with the darkness surrounding the edges of the frame. There are also some wonderfully filmed outdoor sequences, such as Michael encountering Olivia on the bridge as the sun sets behind them and the camera sometimes allows a peak of the light to enter and overwhelm the frame. The visual presentation wonderfully complements the plot and psychological content, as does an eerie piano and synth score from Joel Goldsmith.

Is the above enough to overcome a few rough patches, the occasional wonky editing cut and a bit of schlock like someone being murdered with an electric toothbrush? For me personally, yes, it was.

One can wonder what the hell happened to Lommel and his talent over time (I usually do after seeing a genuinely good effort out of him like this one or THE TENDERNESS OF WOLVES), but one could wonder the same about his then-wife Love. While not the world's best actress, she wasn't half bad either and certainly appealing, talented and beautiful enough to warrant a better career than what she actually had. I also can't think of another actress during this same time period who was co-writing and producing most of their own movies. After their divorce, Love bowed out of show business and now reportedly lives the quiet life in Maine with her daughter. She and Lommel also teamed up for the punk film Blank Generation (1978), the two Boogeyman movies, BrainWaves (1982) and The Devonsville Terror (1983). I'm looking forward to watching some of those.

This was released under a whole slew of alternate titles. Produced in 1981 as Faces of Fear and also called Beyond the Bridge at some point, this played theatrically in the U.S. and Canada under the title A Taste of Sin. It was called Mad Night in France and Double Jeopardy in Australia and several other countries. The UK release is called Prozzie (slang for prostitute).

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Devicanska svirka (1973) [TV]

... aka: Song of Virgins
... aka: Virgin's Music

Directed by:
Djordje Kadijevic

Passing through the country on his way to the city, a young man named Ivan (Goran Sultanovic) arrives in a small village. After a black carriage being driven by two white horses rolls across a dusty road in the distance, his own driver (Toma Kuruzovic) refuses to take him the rest of the way to his destination... not even if God himself asked him to. Ivan is then forced to go by foot. As he approaches a large castle, he can hear strange music playing. A young boy passing through warns him to stay away right before the black carriage speeds down the road and runs him down. The coachman, Bartolomeo (Ivan Jagodic), stops and his passenger, the mysterious, sexy and extremely voluptuous Sibila (Olivera Katarina) step out to check on the unconscious, bleeding boy. Sibila asks for Ivan's help and, perhaps mesmerized by her impressive cleavage, ignores the ample warning he's already had and agrees. Ivan gets into the coach and they all go to the castle, where the boy soon passes away. Claiming she doesn't know his parents or what to even do with the body, Sibila asks Ivan to stay. After all, her castle wasn't always so quiet and lonely and perhaps with him there now things will finally change. He agrees. Again, it's all about the cleavage.

Almost immediately entering the doors of her own home, Sibila wastes no time letting her crazy colors show. When Ivan tells her he'll stay as long as she wants him to, she bursts into laughter... and sometimes that laughter has a strange echo to it. She acts like a bird, says a lot of things that don't make any sense whatsoever, discusses cemeteries and other depressing things, warns him “If you only knew how cruel I am...” and then describes her relationship with her former husband and how she didn't exactly kill him but instead took all of his joy away until he finally did die. Amazing rack or no, the fact all of this doesn't have Ivan running for the nearest exit is pretty perplexing. The two even make get romantic in the same room where the child's corpses lies and then again on a shine dedicated to her dead hubby!

Still, Ivan has fallen in love. Didn't take long but it never did in the olden days. Sibila even dresses up in a white wedding gown after he declares his adoration for her. All the while, Bartolomeo is lurking around spying on them... and that strange organ music keeps playing. Sibila tells him it's the “Virgin's Music” and promises to show him where it's coming from “at the end.” While that has a certain uneasy finality to it, she assures him “The end is the beginning and the beginning is the end.” That hardly sounds much better! At one point Ivan does get freaked out and runs away, but he ends up going back. Sibila even offers him the chance to leave and Bartolomeo's coach services but he again refuses. The allure of the unknown is too great. Candelabra in hand, she eventually takes him up a winding staircase to show him her morbid surprise.

Despite the fact you'll want to grab the protagonist, shake him and tell him what an idiot he is at various points, this is still excellent as a Gothic mood piece. The photography, lighting, barren sets and strong use of shadow (which recall silent era films) all help to make this genuinely creepy. Music and sound are used sparingly to eerie effect and even the low quality print I had to view seemed to enhance the atmosphere. Helping to hold everything together, no short order considering the dialogue often feels empty and superfluous, is a good cast. It's especially nice seeing Katarina, best known for playing the female lead in the semi-famous witch torture film MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970), again. It's obvious the director had seen Mark himself because she's given the exact same wardrobe here to maximize her cleavage. I had no idea she was as good an actress as she is until I saw this.

The director made a number of other horror films, usually produced by Serbian public broadcaster Radiotelevizija Beograd (Radio Television of Serbia). Some of the others include Darovi moje rodjake Marije (1969), LEPTIRICA (1973), Sticenik (1973) and Zaklevta (1974). He received a bit of international attention with A Holy Place (1990) and now works as a college professor and art historian.

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