Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mais ne nous délivrez pas du mal (1971)

... aka: But Don't Deliver Us from Evil
... aka: Don't Deliver Us from Evil

Directed by:
Joël Séria

Going into this blindly, I expected Satanic schoolgirls in a convent but instead, much to my surprise, got an early telling of the real-life Pauline Parker / Juliet Hulme murder case that scandalized New Zealand in the 1950s; a story later brilliantly told again by Peter Jackson in his breakthrough film Heavenly Creatures (1994). While Deliver may have beaten Jackson's movie to the punch by over two decades, Creatures is clearly the superior film of the two. For starters, it's factually more accurate in regards to the real case; even frequently utilizing direct excerpts from Pauline's diary in telling the story. Second, it attempts to actually flesh out the characters and make sense of both the brutal crime and the girls' odd, unhealthy and obsessive relationship. Finally, it's more visually inventive, better-paced, directed, written, shot and acted. Comparing both films side by side, Deliver seems downright primitive by comparison with numerous scenes dragged out endlessly for no reason whatsoever and all of the insight, intelligence and depth of the later film stripped away. In other words, there's a good reason Creatures is famous and this film is not. However, it's hardly fair to penalize Deliver because another film came along later and did the same thing better, so I'll be judging it on its own terms.

Things center around Anne de Boissy (Jeanne Goupil) and Lore Fournier (Catherine Wagener), a pair of rebellious teen sociopaths who get a kick out of doing various evil things. As Anne writes in her diary (which is used to narrate portions of the movie): "To sin has become our chief aim. Let the other idiots live their lives doing good." The girls entertain themselves at St. Mary's Catholic boarding school confessing fake sins just to give themselves a thrill, ratting out lesbian nuns they watch through keyholes, envisioning the priest (who amusingly refers to cinema as a "vehicle for depravity and degradation") giving a sermon in the nude and stealing lesbian erotica to read under the blanket with a flashlight when they should be sleeping. Right before summer break, the girls steal wine, robes, a goblet and other things, which they plan on using for a Satanic blood ceremony where they will wed themselves to the Devil (and symbolically to one another).

As summer rolls around, Anne's parents go out of town for 2 months and leave her in the care of their handyman Gustave (René Berthier), who oddly seems to disappear from most of the rest of the film. The two girls begin spending every waking moment together; gleefully laughing as they do and say all kinds of horrible things. They mockingly seduce an uneducated farmer's son (Gérard Darrieu), which almost gets Lore raped, and later make jokes about his family being poor before setting their barn and hay ablaze. They make the half-wit gardener (Michel Robin) assist them in their Satanic ceremony, which also ends in Lore almost getting raped, and then they poison his beloved pet birds. To cap off their wonderful summer, they pick up an older married man (Bernard Dhéran) whose car has broken down, take him back to Anne's house, strip down to their underwear and ask him all kinds of invasive questions about his sex life. Not surprisingly, Lore is almost raped a third time until Anne beats him over the head with a piece of firewood and kills him. The girls sink the body in the lake and return to school, where paranoia begins to chip away at them and they decide to go out in a blaze of glory in front of their parents and the entire school.

Director / writer Joël Séria seems content to cherry pick from the real case here and there as it suit him. He never bothers attempting to characterize the girls nor does he attempt to understand them, their motivations or even their environment. Because the supporting characters are thinly drawn and often shown as buffoons, there's no palpable, believable sense of oppression from authority / religious figures for the girls to rebel from. They are simply sadistic and evil young women who do sadistic and evil things just because they want to. The movie really has nothing much to say outside of trying to shock and provoke Catholics with its rampant blasphemy. Not that there's a problem with that per se, but something a bit more substantive could have made this far more disturbing and compelling. The only thing I personally found difficult to watch was Anne's cruel treatment of her kitten and some birds. Supposedly, the bird scene (including a moment where Anne crushes one in her hand) were accomplished by sedating the birds, so at least they weren't harmed making this.

Putting my mild disappointment aside about what this could have been, it's still entertaining enough as a piece of Euro-trash if you keep your expectations low. To pretend like it's high art because there are subtitles and angelic voices going "la la la" on the soundtrack every once in awhile is to be kidding oneself. The acting is OK (though the characters are all extremely unlikable and unsympathetic), it's a nice looking film, a few moments are genuinely disturbing, there's some decent sick humor and the grim ending is pretty memorable and surprising.

Because of the subject matter, this was banned in several countries (including in its home country for a short time after a debut at the Cannes Film Festival) and was never made available in America until the 2006 "director's cut" DVD release from Mondo Macabro. In the UK, a theatrical release was "presented" by Antony Balch in 1971, which boasted it was "The French film banned in France!"


Goodbye Gemini (1970)

... aka: Ask Agamemnon
... aka: Extraños gemelos (Strange Twins)
... aka: Mon frère... mon assassin (My Brother... My Killer)
... aka: Twinsanity

Directed by:
Alan Gibson

Blonde-haired, blue-eyed twins Jacki (Judy Geeson) and Julian (Martin Potter) have more than just clean-cut good looks in common. They're both also extremely immature, childish, naive, spoiled and really need to grow up. They're also so clingy, affectionate and dependent on one another they turn suspicious eyes wherever they go because everyone assumes they're lovers. When we first meet the duo, they're on their way to London via bus to take up residence in a posh new flat. We're never given insight into how they got their money, where they come from, what kind of upbringing they had or how their life was before this London trip, but we can assume something wasn't quite right. After all, one of the first things they do upon arrival is trip their grumpy landlady down a long flight of stairs with a strategically-placed teddy bear! Of the two twins, it's Jacki who seems to want to live a normal life. However, they soon discover "normal" is anything but when they begin hobnobbing with some rather unsavory types.

Unemployed bisexual hustler Clive (Alexis Kanner) becomes their first acquaintance after he actively seeks them out at a club and, along with his more level-headed female friend Denise (Marian Diamond), the quartet begin indulging in drink, drugs, parties and sex. But the fun times don't last. For starters, Julian can't seem to move past his unhealthy obsession with his sister. In fact, his unrequited sexual desires for her are driving him a bit mad and he can't help but to paw at her, kiss her and spy on her changing clothes. He also becomes extremely jealous when other men show any interest in his sibling. Clive's been showing interest but he has bigger fish to fry: He's gambled away all his money and is indebted to a violent goon (Mike Pratt). In order to get some quick cash he decides to ply his new pal with booze and drugs and then lure him to a hotel room where he takes photos of him having sex with a pair of drag queens (!!) Blackmail, murder and a police investigation follow.

This is an unsuccessful and pointless but sometimes interesting little film that's more entertaining as a time capsule look at Swingin' London than it is a drama or a thriller. Some part of me seriously doubts sexual mores were so loose even in the underground during the early 70s (observers of the brother's incestuous behavior behave like it's no big deal and every guy seems to be into what one character hilariously refers to as "the queer boy circus"), but it's a unique angle to take nonetheless. Unfortunately, the director drops the ball after the first half of hedonistic weirdness when he settles for a routine 'killer on the lam' story line, resulting in a film that is neither compelling as a drama nor thrilling as a thriller. As a huge genre fan I think it says a lot about the potency of the 'thrilling' scenes that I found myself more entertained watching a transvestite do a strip routine at a bar than I was whether "whoever did it" will get away with murder or not.

Director Gibson isn't very well-regarded in horror circles and movies like this and his two Hammer Dracula films (which are arguably the two worst in the entire series) show why. His direction here is flavorless, completely devoid of an individual signature style and he shows no attention whatsoever to visuals or detail. I guess if he does anything right it's getting solid work from his lead actors, which actually is a pretty big accomplishment considering the script they had to work with. The known names in the supporting cast - like Michael Redgrave and Freddie Jones - are given nothing of interest to do. This is still somewhat notable for containing the first score by Christopher Gunning, who'd go on to win multiple BAFTA Awards, and also has a pretty good theme song in "Tell the World We're Not In" by The Peddlers.

Shot under the title Ask Agamemnon (also the title of the novel by Jenni Hall it was [loosely] based upon), this was released theatrically by Cinerama Releasing both in the UK and the US in 1970. It received a VHS release here in America in 1988 on the Prism label under the title Twinsanity, which boasted some rather misleading cover art. In 2010, Scorpion Releasing put out a DVD, which contains a commentary track from producer Peter Snell and Geeson.

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