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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Poslední lup (1987)

... aka: Last Theft, The

Directed by:
Jirí Barta

A thief (Ivan Vojtek) scales an iron fence, picks a lock and breaks into a large, seemingly empty country mansion. To his delight, the place is filled with all kinds of beautiful and expensive antiques. He starts stuffing his bag with coins, a golden clock, goblets, jewelry, pearls and whatever else strikes his fancy... but then things take a very strange turn. Sitting silently just feet from where he's snatching things is an entire family. There's an elderly woman (Frantisek Husák), an elderly man (Zdeněk Martínek), a young adult woman (Soňa Sladká), a young adult man (Martin Šafr) and a little girl (Nika Frouzová). They don't appear to be paying too much attention to him or what he's doing but the matriarch of the clan eventually invites him to join them at the table. Not sure what to make of these folks at first, he takes an apprehensive seat and then starts playing some kind of dice game that's sort of like Yahtzee but with a gambling element. And he keeps rolling high numbers over and over again, keeps winning over and over again and they keep handing over their cash. What luck! Eventually there's a mountain of money and jewelry in front of him. In fact, as the candles burn down, he soon realizes he's won all of their valuables. Perfect time for a celebratory drink, right?

The thief is poured a glass of wine. And then another. And then another. And then he's given a cigar. He's led away to the bathroom, where he's pampered and treated like a king. He's bathed and shaved and combed and gets a manicure. Fitted in a golden robe, he's led to his bedroom and fed grapes. But it all proves to be just a seductive ruse when the family reveal their true colors... and their intentions.









In a perfect world, horror anthologies would be filled with tales containing this high level of creativity and visual imagination instead of the derivative, flatly-presented and half-baked shorts that usually populate those films. I mean, when you're working in a limited time frame, why in the world would you even try to cram 90 minutes worth of narrative material into 20 or 30 minutes while completely ignoring the visual components? What Barta does here is take a rather simple premise (though it may be more along the lines of a deceptively simple allegory) and lets his creativity run wild when it comes to the aesthetics and atmosphere, resulting in a superlative, eerie Gothic mood piece packed with so much visual detail it's impossible to soak it all in in one viewing. In fact, after I viewed this, I immediately went back and watched it all over again.









One of the most striking things here is the unique and spellbinding use of color. Many shots are black-and-white or monochrome (shades of blue and green predominant), but then others are hand-colored like those creepy old faded / artificial-looking "enhanced" photos that were popular in the turn of the century. Certain single shots also start out colorless and then become colored to match what is occurring on screen.

It's no coincidence the color scheme is so varied as nearly everything about this film is calculated to feel just a little bit off. Superimposition and surrealistic elements are frequently employed, frame rates are playfully tinkered with, slowed down or sped up (which makes this live-action tale fit right in with the director's usual stop-motion work) and the editing is slowed down at times but frenzied at other moments. You can get a good idea just how intricate and carefully-crafted this is by pausing your way through the flash-edited gambling sequence, which reveals a great amount of detail in each individual shot.









Barta is best known for Krysař / The Pied Piper (1986), which tells its story using Expressionistic designs, creepy-looking wood-carved figures and stop motion animation and is now considered a masterpiece of Czech cinema. It, as well as this one and most of Barta's early other shorts are included on the box set Jirí Barta: Labyrinth of Darkness from The Kimstim Collection.

★★1/2

Friday, September 17, 2021

Sentença de Deus (1972)


... aka: God's Sentence

Directed by:
Ivan Cardoso

As some kind of tribal-sounding music plays, a bearded hippie FREAK wearing pants so low his ass crack and pubes are showing does a crazy dance near a lake. Another guy dressed in a cape then walks up to him holding a knife and a chicken. Uh oh. The knife guy slashes the chicken's throat and dribbles blood and feathers all over the dancing guy's back in a sequence the director said in an interview "still impresses the audience." Nope. The film then reverts to black-and-white and we see a woman lying solemnly on a table. At first I thought she was sleeping but then I realized there are candles around her so I guess she's supposed to be dead. Chicken blood guy then walks into the room, looks her over, pushes up her dress, climbs on top and starts having sex with her.

We then cut to another dirty hippie with a fluffier, fuller beard carrying around a child's coffin. We shall refer to him as CBG (Coffin Bearded Guy) as not to confuse him with CBBG (Chicken Blood Bearded Guy). CBBG crawls around in the cemetery, peaks over some bushes and then gets into some kind of fight with CBG, which ends with him being strangled. Sitting in front of a Brazilian flag, CBG is then shown smelling a woman's foot and sucking on her toes as some kind of (I think) patriotic Brazilian song plays. It's kind of hard to tell since I don't speak Portuguese. Apparently not killed, CBBG rips off his shirt and walks around with a ball and chain fastened to his leg. Someone still needs to get this guy a belt.









CBG, TG (toe girl) and SRGWSNP (some random guy who serves no purpose) then go up to CBBG, pull down his pants and stick a lit cigar up his ass. CBG gets his hand on another chicken, cuts its throat with a razor and then strangles TG to death. In front of an apartment building, CBBG whips out a pair of scissors, starts trimming his pubic hair and then cuts his dick off. CBG picks his nose and then another topless woman seduces him onto a sheet lying on the ground, pulls out a pair of scissors and stabs him to death. Fin.









I'm sure this 20-minute short is a deep and profound statement about something or other. I just never gave a hoot what and have no interest in finding out either. A few scenes are pretty gross, I guess, but I was much more offended by the incompetence of the direction, blurry (Super 8) photography, lighting and editing, not to mention annoyed by the fact I could never tell if this was some kind of amateurish parody of pretentious, cheap-shock "art films" or the real deal. (The director himself seems to take it seriously, so I think I have my answer.) And I don't care what anyone says, it's entirely possible to make your artistic statement, whatever that statement may be, without torturing and killing animals in the process.

Cardoso, who'd go on to make the documentary short The Universe of Mojica Marins (1978) and a number of other features and shorts, randomly inserts a Coffin Joe poster at one point. I'm beginning to think his (very good) THE SCARLET SCORPION (1990) was some kind of fluke.

NO STARS!

La muerte ronda a Mónica (1976)

... aka: Death Haunts Monica
... aka: Il buio intorno a Monica (The Darkness Around Monica)

Directed by:
Ramón Fernández

At the age of 19, German-born beauty Roswicha Bertasha Smid Honczar emigrated to Spain, changed her name to Nadiuska and quickly rose to fame as Spain's #1 sex film star after the fall of Francoist censorship in the country. According to a 2016 article in Vanity Fair, during the height of her fame, Nadiuska was being represented by the most coveted talent agent in all of Spain, was living in a luxurious penthouse apartment, had her own entourage consisting of a personal secretary, chauffeur and trainer, graced the covers of countless newspapers and magazines (including doing a nude tribute to Sophia Loren [whom she resembles] in a 1977 issue of Italian Playboy) and was so popular she was the highest-paid actress in the entire country for a spell. Despite having starring roles in dozens of Spanish films, it was her small though memorable role as Conan's mother in Conan the Barbarian (1982) that she's best remembered for today. However, her career would unravel soon after appearing in that.

Helping to usher in her decline, tabloids reported that she had been having a years-long affair with her well-respected (married) agent. And then it was uncovered that she was involved in a sham wedding with a mentally-ill man just to gain Spanish citizenship. Hoping to invest her money into something else, Nadiuska sunk her savings into numerous businesses, but all ended up failing. An attempt at a career resurrection in the late 90s didn't net many further acting opportunities and next thing people knew she was being spotted among the homeless babbling incoherently. She was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and has since been residing in a psychiatric hospital. Likewise, Nadiuska's co-star here, Karin Schubert, also fell on very hard times after her stint as a sex film star concluded, though that's another story for another review.








Usually classified as a giallo, this is your standard tale of a bunch of rich, scheming, amoral people who apparently have far too much free time on their hands. At the center is Nadiuska's pouty Monica, a married housewife who's inherited a great deal of wealth, which, in the world of giallo, automatically put her in a world of trouble. Monica has sunk a substantial sum of her fortune into a business called Eurozona that her husband Federico (Jean Sorel) runs. Other partners in this company include middle-aged bachelor Arturo (Arturo Fernández), who has a string of disgruntled lovers all around the city and used to date Monica himself, and the fur-coated glamour puss Elena De Fuentes (Schubert), who's close friends with Monica. At least that's what she thinks. Trustworthy friends are also few and far between in giallo.

Because her husband is always so busy working his high-stress job and been neglecting her, Monica has sunk into a deep depression and become addicted to pills. She sleeps in late and doesn't do much aside from taking long baths and lounging around looking miserable. Elena comes to her with a confession: Her husband has been having an affair with a bitchy, husky-voiced model named Eva Schiller (Bárbara Rey). This not only has the potential of compromising the moral integrity of the company, but also bankrupting them as Elena claims he's also been spending an exorbitant amount of money putting his lover up in a fancy apartment and showering her with jewelry and other expensive gifts.








Monica immediately goes to a photography studio to confront hubby's mistress. While Eva readily admits to the affair, she refuses to give up their relationship and even refuses Monica's generous offer to pay her to go away. Eva, who's also involved in a "special relation" with Elena, tells her to leave and take it up with her husband instead. Meanwhile, Diego (Damián Velasco) has just been released from prison after a ten year stint. Turns out that before Federico hooked up with Monica, he was a criminal involved in contraband, drugs and kidnapping. Diego ended up holding the bag and going to prison for both of their crimes and he's not too happy about that. Sensing (probably correctly) that his former cohort is the one who tipped off authorities, Diego now wants "compensation" or else he's going to make Federico's life a living hell. However, Federico's finances are all tied to other people (wife, partners in the company), so getting him the amount of cash his blackmailer is demanding won't be easy.








After coming to the conclusion she should try to fix her marriage (not sure why considering they've only been married a year and he's already lying and cheating on her!), Monica is attacked late one night by a ski-masked intruder with a switchblade. She shoots at the person three times, but they punch her in face and knock her out. While she's unconscious, the intruder does a little corpse switcheroo and puts his disguise on another dead body and leaves it lying next to her so she'll think she killed him. The corpse left at the scene is extortionist Diego. When Federico arrives back home, he insists they not tell the police because the "scandal" would destroy their business and talks Monica into helping him dump the body into a lake.

Federico flies off to Barcelona for a business meeting the following day, leaving poor Monica all alone. She receives a threatening phone call that night from someone claiming to know what she's just done. The person then tells her to meet them at an old abandoned house... or else. When she arrives there, she finds several dead bodies. After fleeing home, she discovers yet another corpse in her bathtub. Just who is doing the killings and why?









A competently-made though middling "thriller;" this is very dialogue-heavy, slow-moving (though it picks up in an enjoyably ludicrous way at the very end) and not shot or directed with much style. Though called a giallo, it reminded me much more of a made-for-TV movie in its lack of visual flourish and theatrical qualities. The only thing here you may not find in a TV production is a generous helping of female nudity. All three of the main actresses chip in (Nadiuska and Rey more than once), as do a number of other ladies in smaller "disrobe-then-disappear" roles. However, it's also worth noting that the scenes themselves are far from erotic. There's no sex here; just a bunch of "Hey, since you'll be on the phone having this really mundane conversation in this scene, you may as well also be naked in the shower while you're doing it!" moments. Even a lesbian nightclub comes off as boring because it's filmed from a distance.


This was the only genre film for this director, who mostly made comedies. I will give him some credit for generating a little suspense at the end and one well-executed jump scare, though it's pretty obvious he's not very skilled at this particular genre. Some of the posters advertised this as an Agatha Christie adaptation, which it is not. The cast also includes Euro horror regulars Yelena Samarina and Luis Barboo as Monica's servants, Isabel Luque as one of Arturo's lovers and Sandra Alberti, who went on to star in the Spanish exploitation gem Satan's Blood (1978). There's never been an official U. S. release for this title, though a number of outlets like Sinister Cinema offer a washed-out (though widescreen) print with English subtitles.

★★
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