Tuesday, July 17, 2012

La nuit des traquées (1980)

... aka: Night of the Cruel Sacrifice
... aka: Night of the Hunted
... aka: Night of the Hunted, The
... aka: Ragazza in amore

Directed by:
Jean Rollin

Driving alone at night in the country, Robert ("Vincent Gardere" / Alain Duclos) is surprised by a hysterical, nightgown-clad woman (Brigitte Lahaie) who jumps out of the woods and starts running down the road in a panic. She's seems to be a partial amnesiac, but at least remembers her name: Elysabeth. She claims she doesn't want to go... back there, and pleads the guy to take her with him... wherever he may be going. She doesn't seem to know much, but she does know she wants to get away from wherever she was... and it turns out she has very good reason not to want to. Robert decides to give her a lift to Paris. Once there, Elysabeth doesn't know where to go or even where she lives and says her mind is "completely blank." That's not exactly the case. She still has fragmented memories, which seem to come and go: one minute she'll recall something from the past and the next she's forgotten her own name all over again. Intrigued by the troubled young beauty, Robert brings her back to his apartment and the two make love. She ensures him she won't forget him but when he returns from work later that day she is gone.

Dr. Francis (Bernard Papineau) and his assistant Solange (Rachel Mhas), who claim to be Elysabeth's caregivers, have shown up to take Elysabeth back "home." Her "home" is an apartment in a tower block building where she lives with another woman named Catherine ("Catherine Greiner" / Cathy Stewart), who suffers from the same memory loss she does. Unlike normal apartments, the environment is mostly-white, clean and incredibly sterile, just like a hospital. The rooms lack any kind of individual touch or personality, just like their inhabitants. And someone brings food to their rooms, just like hotel room service. The place actually seems to be like a cross between a mental asylum (doctors are sometimes around and none of the "tenants" are quite right in the head) and a prison (armed guards occupy the ground floor and forbid anyone to leave). What it actually is is a place to quarantine and hide people poisoned by radiation who are slowly losing all of their brain cells, with leads to confusion, memory loss, madness and eventually death. Some patients are worse off than others. Catherine's disease is more advanced than Elysabeth's and she can't even coordinate a spoon going into her own mouth. Another man has no sense of balance and stumbles around in the hallways. Some of the patients have constant headaches. In the hallways, zombie-like people stand or sit around; some trying desperately to remember their pasts, while others "create memories" to temporarily pacify them.

After unsuccessfully making a pass at Elysabeth, Catherine gouges her eyes out with a pair of scissors. Then some of the others really start losing it and get violent. One of the guys who lives there is faking his illness and uses the convenience of everyone constantly forgetting everything to have his way with the women. While he's raping one of them, a man sneaks up behind them and beats him to death with a hammer. Another guy strangles his lover to death in the sauna during sex. Elysabeth attempts to escape again with her friend Véronique (Dominique Journet), who was with her the first time she broke out but got separated from her. She guns down several guards and an unhinged patient, is recaptured again and put in a straight jacket. Robert shows up with a gun but Solange greets him with a see-through dress and makes him dance with her (?) Noticing they're about to be exposed, Dr. Francis clears out the building and transports the patients to a train depot where he has his assistants inject them with poison and then burn the bodies in the oven. Robert tries to get there in time to save Elysabeth, but is he already too late?

Can't say I cared much for the director's meandering "arty" erotic vampire films I saw prior to this one. Both THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE (1967) and REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE (1973) were well-photographed but hollow, and pretty much left me feeling cold. Night of the Hunted on the other hand I liked. Quite a bit actually. Like almost all of Rollin's other films, this has a lot of nudity and sex, but unlike some of his others, that's not all it has. The premise (which appears to have been partially influenced by Cronenberg's SHIVERS) is quite intriguing and pulls you in right at the beginning. It slowly unveils aspects of the story, which provides a slight - albeit predictable - mystery aspect. Rollin and several of the actors have even managed to create a few interesting, oddly compelling characters, which is strange considering we're talking about "blank" slates with faulty memories here. Somehow these "walking vegetables" seem far more human than most of the director's other "normal" characters, likely because they're fighting a losing battle to feel human again.

Hunted certainly isn't perfect. Lahaie is very good in the central role, but some of the supporting actors (most of whom - like the leading lady - are French porno actors) are weak. The film also gets pretty sloppy at times in regards to the editing and continuity. Some viewers have complained that the film lacks atmosphere, but the same viewers probably don't realize that there's more to "atmosphere" than fog and crumbling castles. Sure, Rollin appears to have rented out a vacant floor of a high rise office building to shoot all of the apartment footage in, but it's actually sterile and vacant enough to work perfectly in this context. Good use is also made of a train depot and various outdoor locations.

Image and Redemption are the two most common DVD distributors of this one. Like many of the director's other films, it was never released theatrically in America.


Fire Down Below (1974)

... aka: Perverted Passion

Directed by:
"Cindy Lou Sutters" (Ray Dennis Steckler)

I'm starting to think my priorities are a little mixed up. I've yet to see THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES, THE THRILL KILLERS, BLOOD SHACK or any of Steckler's other R-rated horror flicks, but I can now claim to have seen three of his horror pornos. Fire Down Below (originally and aptly titled Perverted Passion) can now join the ranks of THE HORNY VAMPIRE and SACRILEGE in having me hopin' and prayin' that Steckler's more "mainstream" work beats his adult films. Interestingly, the same idea behind this seldom-seen movie would later be reworked for THE HOLLYWOOD STRANGLER MEETS THE SKID ROW SLASHER (1979); one of the director's most famous films (if by title only). Things begins with a man driving along as the narrator (the man's former probation officer) informs us he's just an "ordinary man" who happens to have just spent several years locked away in a state asylum. The narrator then berates the audience by informing us it's all our fault this sicko is roaming free because we demanded cuts in government spending. "You did it. Now you live with it!" Interestingly, mention of a certain proposition that had apparently just passed is bleeped out of the film, making me wonder if this is some kind of hardcore political statement (?!)

The voyeuristic, misogynistic, Bruce Lee obsessed (!) mental home reject (called just "Mr. Ordinary" by the narrator) spies on a couple having sex from their window while clenching his fists, then spies on a red-headed hooker picking up a guy, wondering "What's she doing with that old son-of-a-gun?" In front of a mirror, he fantasizes about the blonde he'd spied having sex earlier then goes to a trailer park and attacks and strangles a woman to death. Back at his apartment, he listens to his neighbors having sex and then goes to a street fair because he wants to meet a "Mexican broad." He calls up a hooker and we learn the true reason he's so angry and has so much pent-up sexual frustration. Nope, it's not because he's short, pot-bellied and has one of the smallest cocks ever seen in a porno, but because he's impotent. When the hooker he hires can't get him up, he decides to strangle her instead. In between all the sex scenes (which are pretty brief), the nutjob stalks the street hooker. Meanwhile, a biker (who has been sprung from prison due to - you guessed it! - budget cuts) is keeping busy robbing everyone he comes into contact with. He holds a man at gunpoint and steals his wallet, snatches a purse, picks a man's pocket and finally ends up trying to rob the psycho's over-sexed neighbors. While he's fleeing, Mr. Ordinary opens his door and the thief shoots him dead. Upon finding his body, his neighbor turns to her boyfriend and says, "Come on baby, let's go fuck. He was nothing but a bum. A nobody!" The narrator then chimes in: "Well citizens you were lucky this time... One problem cancelled out another."

The absolute weirdest moment in this already weird movie is when a nerdy guy visits a whorehouse. The hooker he pays for is pissed that he tried to beat her up on a previous visit. She berates him for being odd ("Nobody is as weird as you are! You're got to get that through your head right now!") not being able to get an erection ("If you can't get your prick up, then don't come to a cathouse!") and tells him, "Personally, I can't stand you, but I need the money. Is that cool?" Then after an unsuccessful attempt at sex, he starts sobbing and sucks on her breast while calling her "Mommy," while she lays there rolling her eyes

Steckler used the alias "Cindy Lou Sutters" as writer, director and producer and may also the "Hans B. Andersen" who shot and edited it. The entire cast uses fake names and are probably all amateurs, but I'm pretty sure the red-headed hooker seen throughout this movie is Steckler's wife Carolyn Brandt, who had appeared in most of her hubby's films. Brandt does not - nor did she ever - appear in any sex scenes and I don't believe she so much as appeared nude in anything. Here, she is seen in the shower but it's an above-the-shoulders shot, which is an odd occurrence for a hardcore film.

The distributed print of this film is heavily damaged and in terrible shape (note the crease on about half of the screen caps) but I doubt anyone's going to bother remastering something like this. It's pretty stupid, but it's also much more entertaining, tasteless and amusing than the two other X titles I've seen from Mr. Steckler. All of the dialogue - including such gems as "In your eye, bitch!," "It's all these fuckin' cunts think about. The fuckin' money." and my personal favorite while watching "Red" water her garden: "I like a chick who keeps house." - was obviously dubbed in later. There are shots of a theater marquee playing a DEEP THROAT / THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES double feature, lots of adult theatre signs in passing and shots of the Hollywood sign and the Hollywood Blvd. street sign (this may have been filmed in California instead of RDS's usual stomping grounds; Las Vegas).

1/2 SBIG

Thing from Another World, The (1951)

... aka: Thing, The

Directed by:
Howard Hawks (uncredited)
Christian Nyby

Clearly one of the key genre titles of its decade, The Thing's influence and importance should never be underestimated. It, along with the same year's THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, are the two hit titles that helped shepherd in a huge boom in horror and sci-fi flicks throughout the decade. By the middle of the 1940s, the horror genre was on its last leg. The impressive Val Lewton-produced psychological terror series was winding down, Universal exhausted its genre franchises with a series of inferior (though often still enjoyable) sequels featuring their signature Dracula / Frankenstein / Mummy / The Invisible Man monsters, the Poverty Row studios were chugging along (usually just shadowing what Universal was up to) and Sherlock Holmes had a good run, but it was time to hang up the deerstalker after several lackluster entries. Likely because of the real-life atrocities that occurred during World War II, horror films gradually fell out of favor with audiences. People were wanting more uplifting and escapist entertainment. Comedies were popular and musicals were starting to make a comeback, but terror was out. Almost no horror films were produced from 1947 to 1951 in America (or actually anywhere else for that matter) and those that were usually made light of the horror content, such as the Abbott and Costello comedies (ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, 1948; ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER, BORIS KARLOFF, 1949, etc.) That all changed in 1951 with the release of The Thing, which pumped new life into a genre which hasn't sagged much since.

Based on the classic story "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell Jr. (adapted by Charles Lederer), The Thing begins at a military outpost in Anchorage, Alaska. A scientific expedition at the North Pole has just sent in a telegram stating that an unidentified flying object has just crash landed near them and they want some men sent up. Air Force pilot Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey), a handful of other militarymen and newspaper reporter Scott (Douglas Spencer), who's desperate for an exciting story, take a plane up to investigate. Upon arriving, Captain Hendry meets up with Dr. Arthur Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite), who tells him whatever landed had enough weight ("20 thousand tons of steel") behind it to set off their seismogram from upwards of fifty miles away. Whatever it is also hurtled toward Earth in a pattern similar to that of an aircraft, not a meteor. And whatever it is is causing radio static interference and electrical equipment to malfunction.

Hendry, Carrington and the rest of the team fly on over to where the UFO is thought to have landed and discover a huge patch of ice that was once melted but has since refrozen. Underneath the ice is something completely circular and it appears to be made from some unknown metallic substance. Using thermite bombs to quickly thaw the ice turns out to be a huge mistake and blows up the spacecraft instead. However, an alien being about 8 feet tall frozen underneath the ice is salvagable. They use pick axes to cut away a large block of ice with the alien inside and take it back to their camp. Team members have a disagreement over what to do with it. Carrington wants to thaw it out immediately to begin examining it, but level-headed Hendry feels its best to leave it frozen until he gets orders from his superior about what to do. Since all communication to civilization is sketchy at best because of static interference and a bad storm, that might be awhile. The ice block is kept in a cold storage room in the meantime.

In 2 hours shifts, the men take turns watching over their discovery. One of the guys ends up throwing an electric blanket over the ice block, which melts it just enough so that the alien can escape. It seems unharmed by numerous shots, runs outside and immediately gets into a scuttle with some huskies; killing two before getting its arm ripped off. The arm is brought inside for examination, which unveils they've got an intellegent and unique creature on their hands. The alien - an unfeeling, blood-drinking being with a blockhead and thorned claws - seems to be made up of almost entirely of vegetable matter. "An intellectual carrot? The mind boggles." Seed pods are removed and, when fed blood plasma, grow rapidly and threaten to spawn even more beasts. The discovery splits the group into two factions; Carrington and his fellow scientists want to study the alien and try to find a way to communicate with it but Hendry and his fellow soldiers believe the creature needs to be immediately destroyed by any means necessary. After several deaths, the military gets its way.

John Carpenter's hugely popular 1982 REMAKE has sparked an ongoing online debate about which film version is better. Personally, I can't really take one side or the other. This original concerns itself more with ideas and concepts (mostly delivered via dialogue instead of being visualized) while the remake is a more visceral horror film that puts emphasis on action and special effects. Despite having identical settings and almost identical plots, these are two very different types of films from two completely different eras. Which one viewers prefer depends solely on personal taste. Historically speaking, the original is clearly the more impactful of the two and more crucial in the development of the genre as a whole. There's more humor and the protagonists seem to have more character to them. The remake is more exciting, much more violent and actually sticks closer to the Campbell story. The majority of viewers seems to side with Carpenter's film, but that's not surprising considering the higher budget and updated effects. Both movies do a good job capturing the feel of complete isolation in a remote area and both movies have some memorable jolts. The first clear sighting of The Thing in this original film is on par with the famous blood test scene from the remake if you ask me.

Margaret Sheridan "stars" as Nikki, Carrington's assistant and Hendry's love interest. Despite being given top billing, she doesn't have much to do aside from jotting down the doctor's notes and serving the men coffee. Tobey has stated in interviews that Hawks actually directed the film while James Arness, who plays The Thing, claims Nyby did. Hawks disapproved of the many looks of the creature offered up by the fx man and instead opted for a Frankenstein's Monster-look. All close-ups of it were removed from the finished film because he was unsatisfied with it. The cast also includes James Young, Dewey Martin, Eduard Franz, John Dierkes and Paul Frees.

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