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.

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.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Anyab (1981)

... aka: انياب
... aka: Aniab
... aka: Anyaab
... aka: Fangs
... aka: Tusks

Directed by:
Mohammed Shebl

A bunch of men in leotards and capes do loops around a white circle while chanting. And then we see a close-up of the bottom half of a man's face that's painted black but with bright red lips. And then those lips reveal some vampire fangs and start singing, the men around the circle start dancing and singing and then a chicken (really) has its throat cut, twitches around and bleeds to death (!!) Well, at least the song ("Fangs! Fangs everywhere! Fangs!") is pretty catchy. We then meet a guy standing by his car tapping his fingers. A bunch of teenagers in workout clothes walk up the road nearby and they start dancing and clapping. And then the man starts singing a love song. A woman steps out on her balcony and starts singing with him ("Really?") as he promises to buy her a TV and phone while an animated heart with wings flutters above his car (!!) Wait, so this is a musical? Why yes, yes it is. An Egyptian vampire musical to be exact. This outta be interesting.

After the first two numbers, we then sit down with a stern looking older man (Hassan Al Imam) who breaks the fourth wall and explains to us that today's youth "think that life is really colored pink." In other words, they're idealistic. As he yaps on, we're treated to animated blood dripping down the screen, a flash of white and some other hazy pixel effect applied over his face. He then introduces the young couple we met on the street. He is Ali Mostafa Mohamed (Ali El-Haggar), a college graduate with a history degree and a dreamer who's looking for an apartment. She is Mona Magdi Kabi ("Mounna Gbbr" / Mona Gabr), a college graduate with a literature degree who's ambitious and hopes to have a happy life with fiance Ali. The narrator then decides to crush their simple hopes and dreams by reminding us in a threatening voice that life isn't so simple.

While heading to a party during a rain storm, Ali and Mona take a back road. They get a flat tire and he doesn't have a spare so they decide to walk to the nearest home. On the way, Ali breaks into another song as they pass a skeleton-faced grim reaper holding a scythe. Upon reaching the castle-like home, they're greeted by a hunchback named Shalaf (Haddey Saddekk) and then find out they're just in time for a masquerade party at the "Palace of the Count Dracula." We then immediately cut back to the narrator as he reads from a book explaining the character. He notes Dracula has been "over-used" in British, U.S. and Italian films (ha!) but is also present in Far East and Middle Eastern cinema. The movies are then described as "commercial meaningless films" (!!)

Back in the palace, the hunchback repeats "Dracula! Dracula! Dracula!" while spinning around on the floor. Because they're stuck there and the phone isn't working, Ali and Mona are invited to join the masquerade and reluctantly agree. A bunch of dancers in demon masks do a routine in front of white face statues as Dracula's part dragon / part snake casket opens. The Count (Ahmed Adawiyya) then shows up to sing a song while spinning Mona around in a circle. The young couple are walked down a foggy hallway to a staircase as "Pomp and Circumstance" plays (!!) After a change of wardrobe, it's off to a lavish candlelit banquet of rabbit and "tomato juice." There, the Count shows off his ability to pause and mute his followers and can't keep his eyes off of Mona's neck. After the vampires drink from each other, they run outside, turn into bats and fly off.

We jump to a series of bizarre fantasy vignettes with the narrator chirping in (mostly laughing) every once in awhile. In these, the young couple are married and have kids and encounter all kinds of problems in the adult world. They're taken to the cleaners by virtually everyone they meet, including a plumber, a butcher, a car mechanic, a shop owner, a taxi driver, a tutor, a landlord and a doctor... all the way up until the wife is on her death bed. Yep, sounds about like real life! The narrator points out vampires do indeed exist in human form and that there are plenty of people out there more than willing to re-direct all of your resources and money their way and suck away your will to live. Egyptian culture falling prey to the ills of unbridled capitalism and obsession with social stature are just two of the numerous topics this film tries comments upon.

Returning to the main story, Dracula gives Ali and Mona a tour of the rest of the palace. He shows them portraits of his ancestors like Vlad the Impaler, Duke Nosferatu and even Christopher Lee's Count Dracula ("He is a drop out from school. He became an actor.") and then they sit down to watch a boring art film featuring clips of Hitler and discussions of the British occupation of Egypt and how self-interested Americans are. The Count shouts "I want a film I can understand!" and shuts it off. Ultimately he wants to turn Mona into his vampire bride (she resembles a descendant) but he faces opposition from a dissenter among his followers (played by Tal'tt Zean) as well as the mistreated and much-abused hunchback.

While heavily inspired by The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), this is the kind of film that doesn't hesitate to wear its inspirations on its sleeve... literally in this case with a character even wearing a Rocky Horror t-shirt at one point. There's brief use of animation, title cards, hand-drawn bits edited in and even thought bubbles, plus flashes of comic book action like "Boom!" and "Bam!" during a fight scene. The visual approach here is best described as pop culture kitchen sink. That also extends to the soundtrack with bits of music swiped from sources as wide ranging as The Pink Panther, James Bond, The Omen, Jaws, A Clockwork Orange and The Munsters. However, the original music and songs (from the El-Eman Brothers) are pretty good, as well.

Sets and make-up are fairly well-done but what's most surprising is that much of the satirical humor is pointed, intelligent, clever and very, very funny. The only thing that really drags this down a notch is just how relentlessly overdone the whole thing is. Half of the narrator scenes could have been cut with nothing lost in the process and the painfully over-long fantasy interlude that breaks up the vampire palace story could have made its point in less than 2 minutes but for some reason drags on for over 15. Though not a deal breaker, a faint air of self-importance also creeps into a few of the scenes and feels a bit out of place. That said, this wacky but well-made film really deserves some kind of cult following.

Director Shebl, who passed away in 1996, was the son of a Ambassador and partially grew up in Japan. He was Egypt's foremost expert on The Beatles and worked as a journalist, film and music critic and a radio show host. He sunk his life savings and a large hunk of his family's money into Fangs, which ended up being a financial bomb and left him broke. Even the casting of popular singers Adawiyya (who had a number of hits in Egypt in the 70s) and El-Haggar didn't help matters. Still, that didn't discourage Shebl from making a few other horror films like Al Ta'awitha (1987; "The Talisman"), Kaboos (1989; aka "Nightmare") and Gharam Wa-Intiqam... Bis-Satur (1992; aka "Love and Revenge... with a Cleaver"). None of these were released in America and I'm not even sure if they're officially available on home video anywhere. The version of Fangs I watched was recorded off of the Canadian Arabic-language specialty channel Melody Aflam.

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