Friday, February 5, 2010

El techo de cristal (1971)

...aka: Glass Ceiling, The

Directed by:
Eloy de la Iglesia

As it turns out, Roman Polanski isn't the only person with an apartment trilogy. Combine THE GLASS CEILING with CANNIBAL MAN (1972; originally and more aptly titled WEEK OF THE KILLER) and NO ONE HEARD THE SCREAM (1973) - all of which prominently feature apartment house backdrops - and overlooked Spanish director Eloy de la Iglesia has one as well. Though his films are quieter and less showy than Polanski's horror masterpieces, all three films in de la Iglesia's series are certainly strong enough to merit another look. Specifically I should say they're strong enough to merit a look since not many people outside of Spain have been able to actually see these movies. Two of the three have never been released on video or DVD here in the U.S. and, to further complicate matters, the one that actually has been released is the recipient of a very misleading English-language title that has resulted in some backlash. You know, people who were expecting gore and cannibalism running around claiming it's "boring" and feeling cheated by the title. In reality, none of these movies were made to cater to the exploitation/gore crowd regardless of how they're packaged. Instead, they'll appeal more to viewers who like slow-building suspense and a more psychological horror grounded in reality.
Ceiling is set in a small, rural apartment house and details the deceptively normal everyday activities of around a half dozen characters. Because her husband Charles (Fernando Cebrián) is always out of town on business, housewife Martha (Carmen Sevilla) spends most of her time alone with only her pet cat to keep her company. Already prone to fantacizing away her boredom and lonliness, Martha begins to suspect that her upstairs neighbor Julie (Patty Shepard) - who she's caught telling several lies - may have murdered her husband. Their landlord Richard (Dean Selmier), a sculptor and artist, has picqued the interest of farmer's daughter Rosa (Emma Cohen), who delivers milk there every morning, but finds himself being drawn to Martha instead. Pete (Javier De Campos), a grocery delivery man, also seems to have a thing for Martha and may be having an affair with Julie. Meanwhile, someone's spying on and taking provocative pictures of all three of the women. Sounds pretty simple, and in a way it is, but the good stuff comes in the details.

You'd be hard pressed to even consider this a genre film until around the final half-hour, but the fact the director doesn't play by the rules is part of the beauty of his work. By the time the terror finally does hit, you feel interested in and invested enough in all of the principal characters he's created that the horror content has that much more of an impact. de la Iglesia also does an excellent job slowly ratcheting up the suspense here. Once you've settled into the film's quiet pacing and the seemingly innocuous everyday events of the characters (though we're still kept a bit uneasy throughout by the women constantly being photographed) that's when he decides to knock you out of your comfort zone. The apartment setting, where one is generally surrounded by people they sort-of know but not that well, is naturally an ideal location when you're dealing with themes of voyeurism and paranoia. It's exploited here the same effective way Polanski exploited it in his apartment-set films.

All of the performances are very good. Sevilla (also the lead in NO ONE HEARD THE SCREAM) is outstanding playing a woman who's either very clever and observant or one who's becoming increasingly unhinged. She won a major award in her home country (the Cinema Writers Circle Award) for this performance. Shepard, who's probably best known for appearing alongside Paul Naschy in several films (including THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN), is also effective as the mysterious upstairs neighbor.

The version I saw (a British VHS release on the EKO Video Films label) was English-dubbed. A restored, subtitled release would certainly be welcome, but I don't expect one anytime soon.


Bijo no harawata (1986)

...aka: Entrails of a Beautiful Woman
...aka: Entrails of a Beauty
...aka: Guts of a Beauty
...aka: Guts of a Virgin 2

Directed by:
Kazuo 'Gaira' Komizu

A sadistic, impotent crime lord, his sick-o girlfriend and a handful of brutal yakuza thugs keep busy peddling their highly-addictive street drug/ aphrodisiac, "Angel Rain." Young Yoshimi tries to infiltrate their group to find out what happened to her sister (who was sold into slavery) and ends up getting gang raped and shot up with the drug. She later commits suicide by leaping off the roof of a building. A female psychiatrist who was the last person to see Yoshimi alive decides to try to find out what happened and is herself kidnapped, gang raped and injected. She ends up overdosing and her body, as well as the body of a yakuza traitor they've recently hacked to pieces, are disposed of in an open grave. Somehow the two bodies end up melding together to form a big, red, slimy hermaphroditic monster equipped with a killer tool. And by killer tool I mean a killer penis. And not just a killer penis, but a killer penis that can fold inside to reveal a killer vagina. Now there's some sleaze movie ingenuity for you. The monster then goes around killing all the bad folks in sexualized ways best not spoiled by me.

It's an immediate, unrelated follow-up to the same director's ENTRAILS OF A VIRGIN (1986) and some minor improvements have been made here. Unlike the first, there's something of a plot. It's not much, but it's enough to center all the sex-and-violence action around while not getting in the way of the sex-and-violence. And believe me, this film exists solely to showcase sex and violence, particularly the former (a third of its 68 minute run time is set aside just for rape scenes). Another improvement is that the women being sexually assaulted actually act like it's more than just a mild inconvenience for them. Add a motive for the killings and characters who could be seen as protagonists (two other things the first movie lacks) and you have a film that's slightly better thought out than its predecesor.

Still, I wouldn't call this a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. It's cheap, poorly made and, if you're not a fan of prolonged rape scenes, pretty tedious. Not only that, but it probably seemed way more outrageous and shocking back in 1986 than it does now. Since then, we've had all manner of killer vagina/penis movies to sink out teeth into, so there's little - if any - novelty shock value left remaining here. If you want to see an intriguing body horror film there's always early Cronenberg and if you want something a little seedier dealing with the effects of drugs and featuring a phallic parasitic monster, I'd recommend Frank Henenlotter's BRAIN DAMAGE (1987) any day of the week over this one. Hell, even Henelotter's highly uneven recent release BAD BIOLOGY (2007), which also features killer genitalia, is far better than anything you'll see in this one.

The DVD is from Synapse, who also released the first film. The third (and final?) film in the series is RUSTED BODY: GUTS OF A VIRGIN III (1987).

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