Thursday, January 2, 2014

Deadly Possession (1987)

... aka: Coda
... aka: Symphony of Evil

Directed by:
Craig Lahiff

Music student Anna (Vivienne Greaves) returns to her flat from a date and starts getting ready for a shower when there's a knock on the door. Blindly answering (remember ladies, use that peephole or at least ask who it is before opening!), a creep barges in, there's a struggle and he throws her out the second story window. Outside, a man steals a key she's clutching in her hand before some of the neighbors chase him off. The killer didn't quite finish the job, though, as Anna survives the attack and is rushed to the hospital. Her next door neighbor, Kate Martin (Penny Cook), who studies at the same music conservatory, returns home to all the chaos. She's taken to the police station, where she's questioned by Sgt. Turner (Olivia Hamnett, from Peter Weir's excellent THE LAST WAVE [1977]) about her friend, and makes a startling discovery when she takes a glance at what the sketch artist has come up with. The man witnesses saw outside with Anna's body bears a striking resembles to her ex-husband, Mike (Patrick Frost)... and that's because the man was her ex-husband Mike.

After leaving the police station, Kate and her glamorous, wealthy lesbian professor, Dr. Leslie Steiner (Arna-Maria Winchester), who's been having a secret affair with the victim that she lies to the police about, swing by the hospital to visit the critically injured and unconscious Anna before Kate's dropped back off at her apartment. Mike soon turns up proclaiming his innocence. He claims that he was indeed there, did take the key from Anna (which he accidentally later dropped down a storm drain) and was then chased off, but that he wasn't the one who attacked her and tossed her out the window. She lets him use her car, he goes to the hospital and, immediately after the real killer has snuck in to murder Anna before she can squeal, then is arrested by the police and thrown into jail. Though Kate may not like Mike enough to stay married to him, she does know him well enough to know he isn't capable of killing and sets out to prove his innocence, simply because there's a small part of her that still cares.

Kate finds the storm drain and the old, distinctive key Mike was talking about but she accidentally loses it while trying to retrieve it. Soon after, she begins to suspect Dr. Steiner may somehow be involved when she sees an identical key (which is revealed to be a hundred-year-old padlock key) on Steiner's key chain. She manages to steal it and then sets about trying to find out just what it opens... While she's trying to solve the mystery, someone wearing a clear plastic mask and wig begins stalking her, steals her car and kills several other people. With the police being of very little help, Kate finds an ally in eccentric geology student Sally Reid (Liddy Clark), who's taken up the vacancy in Kate's building after Anna's murder.

I often see Deadly Possession (originally released to Australian TV as Coda) included on lists of 80s slasher movies, but it really has little business being there. Sure, there's a masked killer and a few sequences which clearly owe a debt of gratitude to Carpenter's Halloween, but this has a low body count, no real gore, no nudity or sex, no moralizing and very little offensive language. It's actually more in tune with Hitchcock in both its style and its execution. There's the poor man caught up in a web of circumstantial evidence he needs to be freed from, personable characters, dry humor, slow-building suspense sequences and some fairly elaborate camerawork, including numerous tracking, crane, pan and POV shots. The opening attack sequence is shot from outside the apartment building voyeuristically passing by and returning to three different windows in one take. Another shot goes from inside a bedroom to outside through the window. The scene transitions are smooth and fluid and many of the suspense sequences are very nicely directed, edited and shot. All of the lead roles are played by women, which is a neat touch made even more novel by the fact the actresses cast in these parts look like real, everyday women instead of your usual model types. It's not all good news, though...

After admirably managing to build up a good bit of suspense and intrigue for well over an hour, the final fifteen-minutes somewhat betray what has come before it. The cat-and-mouse finale - with our heroine trying to elude the psycho in a dimly-lit building - is somewhat sloppy and almost chaotic in its attempt to provide jump scares in a rapid succession. By the time the killer's identity and his / her motivation is revealed, it almost seems like an afterthought. Until then, this is quite enjoyable; more enjoyable than it has been given credit for actually. This is yet another case of inappropriate ad art and misleading packaging roping in the wrong kind of audience and pissing people off by setting up certain expectations. I'm going to cut this a little slack on the rating since the horribly dark transfer on the Vestron VHS tape I viewed hampered many of the scenes (including a lot of what goes on during the finale).

Notice the original poster honestly and accurately sells this on its suspense...

And here's what became of it on home video to rope in (and ultimately piss off) slasher fans.

Interestingly, there are a few moments in here that directly recall Dario Argento's OPERA, which was released four months later. In fact, there's a scene in both that's striking similar, with the musically-inclined heroine lying in bed at night listening to the Vincenzo Bellini-composed "Norma" from "Costa Diva" while the curtains by an open window blow in the wind and the black-gloved mystery killer stalks around outside. Hey, you never know, right?

Kaidan Honsho nanafushigi (1957)

... aka: Ghost Stories of Wanderer of Honjo
... aka: Ghost Story of the Seven Wonders of Honsho
... aka: Ghost Story of the Wanderer of Honsho
... aka: Kaidan Honjo nanafushigi
... aka: Seven Mysteries
... aka: Seven Wonders of Honjo, The

Directed by:
Gorô Kadono

One of many familiar tales of wronged samurai and avenging ghosts to follow the widely-acclaimed Ugetsu (1953), this is given some minor distinction by the inclusion of some extremely weird ghosts and by working various Japanese folk stories into the plot; namely The Seven Wonders of Honjo. Back in the Edo era, the village of Honjo was a barely-populated land with vast, quiet fields, which visitors found to be somewhat eerie. Numerous ghost legends are attributed to the area and these include (1) a voice calling out from a pond demanding fishers leave their catch behind (2) a human head being pulled out of a well (3) the sounds of drums being heard but the source being unable to be located (4) lanterns that float on their own through the woods or refuse to go out even when blown on, and several others. Seven Wonders opens by briefly explaining those ghost legends and then proceeds to work each into its story line. It begins with the fish story, where two men hear a disembodied voice telling them to "Leave the fish!" They ignore it and then are faced with a bunch of strange mutant ghosts. After seeing a faceless woman, a hulking man with three glowing eyes, a Cyclops, a girl with an extremely long, elastic neck and an umbrella with a human leg bouncing around, the guys run off and forget about their fish. Things then settle into a more routine revenge plot.

Upon becoming a man, Yuminosuke (Jûzaburô Akechi) is off to try to make his way in the world; leaving behind his father Sazen (Hiroshi Hayashi), his stepmother Sawa (Akiko Yamashita), not-so-loyal servant Gosuke (Saburô Sawai) and Yae (Namiji Matsuura), a young maid who's in love with him, in the process. While he's away, his wicked cousin Gonkurô (Shigeru Amachi), who's been disowned by the entire family, returns. Though he claims he's there to pay respect to his deceased Aunt on the anniversary of her death, Gonkurô actually is there for one reason and one reason only: to get his hands on some money. He and Sawa used to be lovers before she remarried and the two start getting together behind Sazen's back; finally hatching a plan to murder him for the inheritance. Gonkurô and a group of his thugs slay Sazen and one of the servants; taking control of the house soon after. Not content with just that, he also attempts to rape Yae but Yuminosuke returns just in time to save her. Gonkurô then decides to do away with his cousin, so he pays off Gosuke to do the dirty work. After stabbing him in the back, Gosuke is shocked that his master's body immediately disappears afterward. Yuminosuke then returns to the home as if nothing has happened. Just what's going on?

The strange events are all attributed to a Tanuki, which the subtitles tell us is a "were-badger" that occupies the Sumida River Valley. Though I'm not so sure how a "were-badger" differs from a regular badger, the mythology here says the animals are pests that trick people out of food but can also be helpful critters with supernatural abilities if you somehow win their loyalty. The Father happened to save one of them before being killed, and the animal vowed to spend the rest of its life protecting him and his family. The Tanuki takes human form as a woman named Tebeydanuki (Michiko Tachibana), and since she was busy doing some dance while the murders were taking place, she now has a few deaths to avenge. As it turns out, the Yuminosuke who has show up at the house and managed to miraculously survive a stabbing isn't actually the real Yuminosuke (who's fallen ill and hasn't even returned yet), but Tebeydanuki impersonating him. Eventually, a monk is called in to perform an exorcism, the real Yuminosuke returns to the home and discovers what's been going on and some of the weird ghost things from the opening scene make a return visit.

This is well-made, doesn't wear out its welcome at just 55 minutes and though the midsection is extremely familiar, the opening and closing scenes partially make up for it, though the weird-looking ghosts are underutilized. The only cast member I recognized was Amachi, who seemed to corner the market on bad guy roles in Nobuo Nakagawa films like THE LADY VAMPIRE (1959), The Ghost of Yotsuya (1959) and Jigoku (1960). In 1983, he even co-starred in the Paul Naschy vehicle The Beast with the Magic Sword, which was shot in Japan with partial Japanese backing. Director Kadono also made the kaidan THE MOTHER TREE (1958) and Ghost of the Girl Diver (1960).


Malabimba (1979)

... aka: Malabimba, the Malicious Whore
... aka: Malicious Whore, The
... aka: Possession of a Teenager
... aka: Sublime Sensation

Directed by:
"Andrew White" (Andrea Bianchi)

Meet the Karoli family. Despite severe financial problems, the elderly matriarch of the clan (Pupita Lea Scuderoni) insists they hang on to their massive castle home, which has been in the family for three centuries and at one time was used as a monastery. Son Andrea (Enzo Fisichella), who lost his wife Daniela years earlier, wants to sell the castle so they can get out from under their debt, but he's broke and powerless. Brother Adolfo (Giuseppe Marrocco), who also lives there, has plenty of money, but he's unfortunately suffered some kind of brain injury that's left him crippled and unable to speak. As a result, all of his finances have fallen into his wife Nais' (Patrizia Webley) hands and Nais isn't a very nice woman. She is, however, fully aware that she's a huge whore and seems to take great pride in that fact. Mama Karoli wants Andrea to seduce and marry his brother's wife so that they can get their hands on the money. Still pining for Daniela and believing Nais is a "low-grade slut" anyway, Andrea refuses... at least at first. And that leaves poor Bimba (Katell Laennec), Andrea's 16-year-old daughter, who has lived her entire life in the home completely isolated from the outside world. In fact, she's not once left the castle grounds and the repression and naivety leave her quite open to malicious and evil influences that happen to be lying dormant inside the castle just waiting to strike out.

The family hold a séance in an effort to call forth Daniela's spirit. Instead, the medium (Elisa Mainardi) accidentally dredges up the vengeful spirit of Lucrezia, who was a "malicious whore" and the shame of the entire family. She also died under mysterious circumstances. Lucrezia lashes out at the family, calling them all perverts, hypocrites, sluts and "domesticated swine." She then exits the medium's body, briefly harasses nun Sister Sofia (Mariangela Giordano), who's there to take care of Adolfo and serve as a tutor and companion to the girl, and finally makes a b-line for Bimba's bedroom to possess her. Bimba sees snakes and lapses in and out of Lucrezia's personality, complete with a husky middle-aged woman's voice. At dinner, she tells her granny, "When you were my age, you were already fucking all of your father's friends!" and squeezes the butler's crotch. She then tries to grope the nun and calls her a whore, before sneaking outside dressed in a sheer nightie to spy on various bedroom activities, which center primarily around the large-breasted Nais. After unsuccessfully trying to seduce Andrea, Nais decides to screw her lawyer Giorgio (Giancarlo Del Luca) instead after he gets her in the mood by slapping her around and calling her "The best whore in the world."

So what else does Bimba do? Well, she embarrasses her uptight family by lifting up her dress and exhibiting herself in the nude in front of party guests. And then she tries to make out with her own father and rubs his cock. And then she stabs a hole in her teddy bear's crotch, inserts a candle and uses it to get off on. She also 69s with a stuffed elf doll, manages to fog up a mirror in two different spots and becomes quite the little peeping Thomasina. Some moments are extremely tasteless, including her watching her dad have sex while she rubs her crotch, and then trying to coerce the adult nun into sex. Then sleaziest bit, however, is when she sneaks downstairs where her crippled uncle is sleeping, strips off her clothes in front of him and then sucks him off until he keels over from a heart attack! As if the constant voyeurism, masturbation and full frontal nudity weren't enough, the sleaze factor is upped even more by the addition of some hardcore sex inserts added later on by someone else. There actually aren't a whole lot of these, but they're briefly used during three different scenes.

Malabimba basically falls into the sub-category of Euro exploitation clearly influenced by The Exorcist; a cycle that also includes THE ANTICHRIST (1974), Beyond the Door (1974), EXORCISMO (1975), The Possessor (1975) and numerous others. It combines two popular themes of the 70s; the corruption of minors / innocents / virgins and the corruption of nuns, but its only really horror content is in the possession theme. This was clearly made as a sex film as that's where nearly every scene ends up. There's not a drop of blood in this one, nor are there any special effects or makeups on the possessed teen. It was shot at a great, picturesque location, but under-utilizes the scenery at hand and ends up shooting nearly every scene indoors. The photography and music are both pretty good. I'd give it a 6 on the sex scale but only about a 3 as a horror film.

The Severin DVD comes with some decent extras, including both the cut and uncut versions. It's a good print, aside from numerous scenes clearly sourced from a damaged VHS print that have been edited back in. Giordano is one of the interview subjects on a documentary featurette and she states that this was the first film she ever did nudity in but then tries to downplay the sex angle. By this stage in her career she was already into her 40s, but how the Italian movie industry was going at the time, you either did the nude scenes or you didn't work. The floodgates now opened, she took on nude roles in a bunch of genre films that really pushed the boundaries of R / X ratings, like GIALLO IN VENICE (1979), Patrick Still Lives (1980) and Satan's Baby Doll (1982). To genre fans she's perhaps best known for playing the tough mama who gets her nipple bitten off by her creepy dwarf son in the zombie flick BURIAL GROUND (1980), which was also directed by Bianchi. All of those were made for her then-husband, producer Gabriele Cristani. She'd later go on to act in Michele Soavi's THE SECT (1991) and Jess Franco's Killer Barbys (1996). In the interview, Giordano has (mostly) nice things to say about the cast and crew, and claims she felt comfortable playing the role of a repressed nun because she was raised in a Catholic convent. Cinematographer Franco Villa is the second interview subject and also has nice things to say about the experience. Much hoopla is made of the fact that the film later had X inserts added to the mix so it could play in adult theaters.

Bianchi (billed as "Andrew White" here) also made the sleazy giallo Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975), the hard-to-find (though reputedly dull) Maniac Killer (1987) and the routine slasher flick MASSACRE (1989).

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