Friday, September 10, 2021

Kostnice (1970)

... aka: Костница
... aka: Ossuary, The

Directed by:
Jan Svankmajer

In the late 1200s, an abbot was sent to The Holy Land and returned with some earth taken from the exact location where it's reputed that Jesus was crucified. The earth was then scattered at a burial site located next to a monastery located in Kutná Hora, Sedlec in what is now Czechia. Because of that notoriety, it became the desired final resting place for many. Seeing how both a major war and the Black Death were both right around the corner, that many really was many. We're talking tens and tens of thousands; enough to where the cemetery had to be greatly expanded to accommodate all of the corpses coming in. Over a century later, a large Gothic church was build in the center of the cemetery and a lot of skeletons that had to be exhumed in the process. The bones were initially just collected and stacked. In 1870, woodcarver and carpenter František Rint was given the task of doing something with these bones. Instead of re-burying them, he decided to construct elaborate statues out of them, which were then put on display in the basement chapel ossuary of the church. It is said that the bones of at least 40,000 people or as many as 70,000 people were used in these creations!

Though this sounds (and looks) like something right out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, some see this as a beautiful, even calming, place to visit. As a result, the Sedlec Ossuary has become a top tourist destination in the Czech Republic. It attracts both thrill-seekers with morbid curiosity and the very devout and religious and both of these groups get an entirely different experience out of the place.

As we get a good look at the place, we hear the voice of a cranky and bizarrely money-centered female tour guide throughout as she gives a lecture of the place to young students, and learn a bit about the place's history. The guide claims that 70,000 skeletons were used and 30,000 people were buried there in just one year due to the plague and Hussite / Bohemian Wars. And we learn that Rint, his wife and his two children spent a whopping 10 years down there boring holes in bones and stringing them together to create their, as-she-calls-them "horrific art" sculptures... which sounds like a horror story all its own. I'd be interested in knowing  more about how those kids turned out!

The guide also repeatedly threatens the students and lets them know they will be fined 50 crown apiece for touching any of the bones. Apparently, some poorly-behaved schoolchildren took it upon themselves to write their names and other messages in ballpoint pen on the skulls when no one was looking. She also claims that college students had come there and stolen bones as souvenirs.

Since some things never change, just a few years ago the chapel had to institute a new rule that selfies and other photographs could no longer be taken there without permission. According to a 2019 article on Kafkadesk, "The Sedlec Ossuary has unsurprisingly become one of the most Instagrammable places in the Czech Republic, a fame with rather unsavory consequences: tourists removing bones from their display, touching them despite obvious signs forbidding them to, or even putting sunglasses or hats on skulls for their quick snapshots."

Naturally, the main draw of this 10-minute piece is the ossuary itself, which is a truly fascinating place with a fascinating history. The bone sculptures, including a giant chandelier and a coat of arms, really are impressive pieces of macabre, ornate art. The constructor was even kind enough to leave his own "signature" behind plus the date of construction... all spelled out in bones! Svankmajer, who's best-known for his later (usually very good) stop-motion films, could have just let the place do the talking for him but decides to liven things up with lots of jerky camera movements, pans, pivots, out of focus shots, zooms and flash editing. Though that may annoy viewers just wanting to take a long lingering look at the place, he does smartly use both medium and close-up shots so we can get both a good look at the pieces as a whole and closer inspection so we can see just how intricate the designs actually are.

There are several versions of the film out there; one with the tour guide voice-over (which is available subtitled in English), another featuring a man reciting a poem but with only music added once we enter the chapel of bones and yet another with just music and nothing else. This is available on a number of Svankmajer box sets, including "Jan Svankmajer: The Complete Short Films" from BFI and "Jan Svankmajer: The Ossuary and Other Tales" from Kimstim.


Fright Night of the Living Dead (1986)

Directed by:
Josh Eliot

Gary (director / editor / co-writer Eliot), Alvonne (Alvonne Robinson) and Brian (Brian Wayne, who also wrote) are three roommates living in a large white house in the small New England town of New Bedford. Brian goes to take the trash out, which for some reason involves him first going into the basement. Something that we never see then attacks him off-screen and he emerges with puncture wounds on his neck before transforming into some pasty-faced cannibal-vampire-zombie thing (hence the title intentionally bringing to mind two popular horror flicks from the previous year). When his two roommates return home, he attacks and partially eats them and transforms both of them into creatures, as well. Despite being monsters, the trio continue to talk and bicker with one another, smoke cigarettes and whine about where their next meal will be coming from. Since he's the "leader," Brian can exert mind control over the other two.

We then meet a few other characters, starting with a bride-to-be (Mary Bolanos) waking up in a panic about her bridesmaid possibly not showing up to her wedding. That ends up not mattering so much when the vampire-zombies burst into her bedroom, stab her to death with hedge clippers, cut off her arm and eat her. Another girl named Lana (Katiuska Bolanos) then starts panicking because she hears a news broadcast about zombies. She calls up her neighbor Tracy (Tracy Ousdahl) to warn her there are "Three living dead killing people" on the loose, to which her friend responds: "What ah ya talkin about? No way! Living dead walkin' around? What? You've been reading too many... What are... You've been watching too many movies Lana!"

Tracy soon comes to regret her flippant attitude when the monsters come after her. They chase her around her house and through the woods and then kill her neighbor. Tracy bumps into news reporter Paul (Paul Madden), who's been bitten one of the ghouls, and has sex with him about two minutes later. The two then go to the home where the outbreak started to kill off the vampires. As for how they know who the vampires are, where they live or to go directly into the basement, well, your guess is as good as mine. There are a few heart stakings and a (non-)surprise transformation for the reporter, plus a "one year later" final scene featuring a Realtor and a prospective buyer getting slaughtered, including an ice pick to the head.

Shot on video for 300 dollars and filmed over the course of several years, this 46-minute, made-it-up-as-they-went-along amateur film played at the San Francisco Video Festival in 1986 but never received a home video release. In fact, it wasn't seen again until late 2020 when the director re-edited it, re-scored it to remove copyrighted music and added new credits and video effects (mostly terrible CGI blood splatter to "enhance" the murders when they would have looked much better without that) to it. He then uploaded it to his Youtube channel. Because of the degradation of the colors over the years, it's been turned into a black-and-white movie.

I had no clue who Eliot was prior to viewing this but apparently he's best known as a very prolific (over 150+ movies per iafd) maker of gay and bisexual adult films, usually for the company Catalina Video. Seems he stopped making films altogether in the mid-2000s. He also made the genre short Behind Blue Eyes (1980) while a student at the San Francisco Art Institute.

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