Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Piège (1970)

... aka: Die Falle
... aka: Trap

Directed by:
Jacques Baratier

Bloody Pit of Horror readers should already be well versed on my love-hate relationship with surrealism and experimental films, so it goes without saying that this 55-minute French effort wasn't really to my liking. If you'd actually like to see elements of surrealism well-integrated into a wonderful film, let me now direct you to my write-up of LITAN (1982). Piège / Trap unfortunately falls into the "surreal film that doesn't make sense to anyone aside from the person who made it" category. A man (Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée) goes to a "Vermin Shop," which has dozens of dead mice hanging on display in the window, in search of a really big, really dangerous trap for a really big animal. He won't go into further detail. The clerk (future director [Fernando] Arrabal) shows him a mouse trap, an egg trap, a fly swatter ("Flies are the devil!") and finally a large steel "tiger trap" more to the customer's liking, which he decides to purchase. The clerk then goes on a long, seemingly improvised, nonsensical rant (all shot in one take that lasts about four minutes) where he drills the customer with questions about whether he's afraid of being robbed, whether or not he's a virgin, what his astrological sign is, etc. He ends by telling the guy he has a pink pig inside of him (?) and that "I see you will be attacked with a straw; they'll make a hole in your head and then drink." Sure, why not?

Two nuns ride bicycles and discuss a problematic young blonde woman named Bulle (Bulle Ogier) who's about to be released from a reformatory. Once she is, Bulle meets up with a dark-haired biker chick (Bernadette Lafont) and both encounter the guy who bought the trap, who's outside a prison blowing bubbles. He insists both come visit him. The man goes home, sets up the trap in the courtyard and then lots of weird shit happens. A spotlight turns on by itself. Something explodes in the front yard. When the ladies show up (presumably to rob the place), eyes on a portrait light up and Bulle becomes smashed against a glass door and whines about it hurting. She then takes off her dress. The women tear apart furniture and bust out windows. A blowtorch appears in the biker lady's hands, she cracks open a safe and pulls out a human thumb. The guy watches the women pace around in circles while moving a mirror back and forth while one compliments the other on her hair, skin and beauty, and they discuss vomit and having to "poo." After discovering a sarcophagus downstairs, they find they're trapped inside. Bulle falls down a hole in the floor and ends up in a room with S&M photos where the man watches her through a two-way mirror.

Bottles of booze explode when they're thrown and the women (now suddenly in new wardrobe and morbid makeup) obnoxiously laugh, wail, cry, act retarded, break eggs, eat apples and canned goods, spit out wine and behave like disgusting pigs in the kitchen while various images are projected onto them and the walls. They start breaking down cupboards with an axe and destroy dishes, more crazy images are projected onto sheets, Bulle chases the guy around the house and through a room full of mannequins, the ladies put him on some kind of operating table and then in an electric chair while they dance around him and things end with everyone being dead and the house getting torn down. The Vermin Shop keeper (clearly looking off to the side to read cue cards the entire time) shows up once more to explain what we've just seen in an epilogue that only succeeds in confusing us further. "You would think it ended badly. He tried to know and he was burned alive. It reminds us of Sodom imprisoned in his castle like Kafka, and the fire arrives. Whereas, he believed it was water, he thought he could fight the fire. It has not been possible. The pig that was in him died with the acolytes who had women's heads. Me, I consider this story as a premonitory dream. Although I know nothing of it since I never saw it nor filmed it nor told it." Alrighty then.

Visually, there's occasionally some cool stuff going on in this one. Sometimes the stark black-and-white cinematography is great and many of the effects - done with simple film overlapping / image projection / lighting - are pretty neat. The rest is basically a bunch of irritating nonsense. The soundtrack - full of screams, moans, metal clanging, glass shattering, echoes and various other loud and grating noises, is positively headache-inducing, and some of the scenes go on for what feels like an eternity. How long can you stand to see people behaving brain-damaged and sitting around breaking stuff? I imagine if the director had put some of his effects to work in a film that had a coherent plot he'd have perhaps made something worth watching, but this certainly isn't it.

Both lead actresses went on to esteemed careers in France; Lafont was a regular in Claude Chabrol and Francois Truffaut films, and Ogier appeared in Luis Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), which won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar that year, and many films for Jacques Rivette. IMDb lists this as having been released in 1970, though the copyright says it's from 1968. I'm not aware of any kind of American release for this minimal-appeal film and the print I viewed was recorded off of French TV.

Peter Cushing: A One-Way Ticket to Hollywood (1989)

Directed by:
Alan Bell

For Peter Cushing (sitting down here to discuss his career with [the off-screen] Dick Vosburgh) acting was always in his blood and it's all he ever recalls wanting to do since childhood. To help him realize his dream, his father purchased him a ticket from England to California. The kicker was the ticket was only one-way. He'd pretty much have to make a living at it or else he'd be stuck. Upon arriving in America, Cushing walked 5 miles from Los Angeles to Hollywood, put up his watch for collateral at the local YMCA for a place to stay and soon after lucked out running across director James Whale, who was about to start production on The Man in the Iron Mask (1939). Whale allowed Cushing to play opposite star Louis Hayward... except since Hayward was playing twins and split-screen would later be used to complete the effect, Cushing was merely filling in to help Hayward along in his dual characterization. Whale did however allow him to play a second tiny role, where Cushing had just one line and had to do some fencing. The film would begin of a long and distinguished career.

Baby Cushing.

Cushing struck up a close friendship with Hayward, and went with him to the set of High Sierra (1941) where he'd nervously meet such A List stars as Humphrey Bogart and Hayward's then-wife Ida Lupino. Cushing went to Hayward and Lupino's for dinner one evening and ended living with them for two years. After working alongside Carole Lombard in Vigil in the Night (1940) and taking on a few other small roles, Cushing (with financial help from Hayward) went to New York City to try his luck there. Unsuccessful, he went up to Canada where he eventually landed a job in the art department at a movie studio in Montreal. He worked making swastika's for the war movie The Invaders (1941) and other jobs, all the while saving up money. Cushing had become extremely worried about his family and homeland as World War II raged across Europe and eventually headed back home after his short stint in North America. He joined an acting troupe, honed his craft on stage for many years and met his future wife Helen along the way, whom Cushing credits owing everything to. From there it was a comedic supporting part in Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948) and - with his wife's help - employ at BBC TV, where he worked his way up the ranks as one of their top talents in various filmed stage plays (many of them aired live) such as Gaslight, Home at Seven and Julius Caesar. He also starred in a then-controversial adaptation of Nineteen Eighty Four and won three major awards for his TV work; even earning the nickname "Mr. Television" by the press.

With buddy Louis Hayward.

With Ida Lupino.

With wife Helen.

Cushing would not become an internationally known name until taking on the role of Victor Frankenstein in Hammer Film Productions' THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), which was a huge hit all over the globe, particularly in the U.S. and Japan. The film made back its entire budget in just one week and immediately after Cushing became a worldwide star. We then get to see clips from other Cushing films, such as HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), The Mummy (1959), The Fury at Smuggler's Bay (1961), She (1965), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed! (1969), Legend of the Werewolf (1975), Star Wars (1977) and Sherlock Holmes and the Masks of Death (1984) as well as his work on the TV series Sherlock Holmes and even a funny commercial for Holsten Pils.

Cushing sings, does accents, dishes some behind-the-scenes dirt, talks about some of his costars and goes into detail about overcoming a death sentence (he was given a year to live in 1982) after being diagnosed with cancer. He says fake smoking a pipe while playing Holmes made him feel nauseous and discusses suggestions he made that were used to enhance some of his films, having to shoot an entire scene backwards for the comedy Top Secret! (1984), disapproving of the poster art for The Mummy and his two best-selling autobiographies, which he says he wrote as a form of therapy after his wife passed away. Cushing's love for both film and his wife really shines through and both are simultaneously illustrated by a poignant clip from TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972).

Since there's much less material on Cushing than there is on his contemporaries Vincent Price and Christopher Lee, this 76-minute documentary is a treasure trove for fans of the star. It's filled with film and TV clips, movie stills and personal photos, all well-edited together with a long and casual discussion with the actor about his life and career (shot by Freddie Francis). The end credits tell us that in total Cushing appeared in 97 stage plays, 91 feature films and 117 television programs over the course of his 51-year career.

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