Coffy, Giallo and Gluttony

I've been super lazy since Christmas. I always over extend myself during the Holidays. Between parties, huge banquets I assign myself to prepare, working retail, not to mention my crafty endeavors, by the time everything is said and done my ass is busted. I had some time off of work but I'm completely broke for the next week or so, that really leaves nothing else to do but watch movies! I spent the day after Christmas having my much needed Holiday Horror marathon. Originally I was going to spend yesterday watching some of my gift-movies, but at the last minute I decided to save them for the new year so they can make it to my 2013 list. It's not as if I have any shortage of dvds, bootlegs, videos and downloads to raid. So I tackled a few dust collectors from the vault, which makes way more sense considering I've had them way longer.

First, I decided to watch Jack Hill's "Coffy". I caught up on a lot of Jack Hill this year, mostly his Filipino Women in Prison films, but again with Pam Grier. Seemed like a good Hill film to round off the year. The thing that makes these movies so great is getting to stare at Pam Grier who is a pillar of strength and a most bodacious babe. Seeing her blow the heads off drug peddlers with a shot gun is illuminating. She plays a nurse whose 11 year old sister has been hooked on heroin. Fed up with all the pushing going on in her town, she seeks out revenge by picking the gangsters off one by one. A lot of similarities to Foxy Brown. I'm not sure why, but I liked Coffy a little better. Just a personal preference. Maybe just because it's fresher on my mind, maybe it was the Roy Ayers score, or maybe the super saccharine psychedelic furniture, clothes and wallpaper (although as I recall, there was plenty of that in Foxy Brown too), but it was all good. Oh, also. Linda Haynes. I love her. She's so very lovely, appeared in a handful of exceptional cult movies in the 60's/70's (Rolling Thunder, Latitude Zero and my favorite, the Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones) and has just has great cadence and screen presence. She worked well opposite Pam Grier which is no easy feat. Grier is a whole lotta' woman.

Next up I watched what was truly one of the most revolting movies I've ever seen. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill. I've watched some grossies but having finally gotten around to the 1975 film "Criminally Insane" aka "Crazy Fat Ethel", I'm really reaching to think of something more disgusting at the moment. Ethel is an obese woman who lives with her Grandma and is undergoing shock treatment for her fits of rage. What causes these rages? Anything or anyone who comes in between her and her food. Food is a powerful tool in a film. Certain films revolving around food make me happy and hungry (Tampopo coming to mind). Food is kind of universal in the language of film and for that reason I love to see it used at a plot point. As comforting as it can be, it can also be extremely unappealing.

Once gluttony, fetishism and digestion is involved, this thing that gives us nourishment has been corrupted. I was less affected by the violence in Criminally Insane as Ethel's insatiable appetite. The fact that the two were related gave it a bigger impact. We constantly see Ethel cooking and eating huge amounts of food. Never having enough, KILLING people that interfere with her constant consumption. It's a really ugly subject, and considering I chose to watch it while I and had just sat down (not really knowing what it was about) with big plate of Christmas leftovers, it effected me even more so. I couldn't eat my food and in fact, I didn't eat again for the rest of the day. I've always prided myself in having an iron gut in regards to grotesqueries. You develop a tolerance when pizza and graphic horror movies are a reoccurring factor in your life. THIS MOVIE, set me off my food in a way few have. Some may consider it cheesy, but I thought it was genius. Elements of a John Waters movie directed by H.G. Lewis or Andy Milligan. I recently found out that it was remade this past year. I can't help but wonder what a modernized Crazy Fat Ethel would be like. The dvd also came with a sequel made in 1987, which I anticipate watching...on an empty stomach.

After this I tried to watch Lucio Fulci's Murder Rock from 1984, but I downloaded it and the copy was in Italian with no english subs. Which is weird, because this is like the third time I've tried to watch it and something has happened. The first time, I rented it from netflix and the disc was scratched, the second time I was at a friend's house and I got called into work within the first 20 minutes and now this. It's like I'm not meant to see this movie that I strongly suspect I will love. Dammit.

This poster is out of sight! 

Moving on, I decided to stick with the Italian theme and go the Giallo route, although I didn't realize it at the time, the film I picked was actually French, derp. 2009's "Amer", a French tribute to giallo. I was a little daunted by this one. Someone, I can't even remember who, told me that it sucked. That comment mind-ninja'd me out of making the leap for a while. With Murder Rock being a busta-rooni, it just seemed like the next best thing. And it was! Very minimal dialogue so the story is more of a collage of visuals. There are maybe ten lines in the whole movie. The film is mostly about psychosis, but you don't really know that at first...so that's a spoiler, sorry. It unfolds in three acts, all revolving around a pretty girl in three stages of her life. The first, her as a little girl living in what seems to be a haunted house. The second part, her as a teenager going to town with her mother. There are a lot of hormonal sexual overtones in this entire sequence (the whole film really, but it really comes out in this scene). Then, her as an adult going back to the house she grew up in, the "haunted" house. The film takes some unexpected twists and turns all the while using beautiful lighting and cinematography which has been greatly influenced by giallo films. The music is spectacular as well. Stelvio Cipriani, Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai and they even threw in a pop song by Adriano Celantano. Nicely done. The ambiance is bewitching. Reminiscent of Suspiria and the work of Carmelo Bene. Tinges of Svankmajer's Alice in the that first sequence as well. It's worth a look if you're a fan of anything I've mentioned. Throw Backs are difficult to master. Take Argento's own film "Giallo" for instance. What a mess. This film on the other hand is a nice addition to your giallo collection and the best revivals of the genre I've yet to experience. I recommend it.

Despite my ambivalence toward the film, I dig the poster. I kind of want it.

Lastly in this quadruple feature, I decided to go back to Fulci and watch another I had on hand. Sodoma's Ghost. Yeeesh. I'd heard bad things but, I'd heard bad things about Amer too. I hear bad things about a lot of movies, especially ones I end up loving. So I watched it anyway. Ehh, not so good. It's about this group of teens who get lost and end up at house haunted by Nazi ghosts. It sounds cool and all, but there's a whole lot of nothin' going on. There's some extended footage of Nazi's partying (which Fulci re-used in Cat in the Brain), confused teens, and one good scene involving Russian Roulette and monster tits.


It was watchable, barely, but very watered down for Fulci. I can say without hesitation it's my least favorite of his. The end of the movie felt very Scooby-Doo. No real consequences or death. I'm sad to say, it was just generally weak. Oh well...

Next time I post it will be 2013! yay! I may even post my top 12 of 2012.

See you next year!


Holiday Horror

With 2012 coming to an end in just a few short days, I've been trying to cram as many movies as I can in to this feeble little time slot. 2012 was really an off year for me movie-wise. It's kind of a bummer. I don't want to reflect on too much, but I'm rounding off at somewhere in the 220-230 movies-watched-this-year-range. Normally I come much closer to my goal of 365, or at very LEAST I make it to the 300's. I got some cool movies for Christmas and had the urge to have a little Holiday Horror marathon. I ended up watching the remake of Black Christmas. Now before you close your browser never to return, allow me to explain. Like many of you, watching the classic 1974 Bob Clark original is apart of my Christmas regime. It's genius on so many levels and needs no further explanation. I made up my mind to skip it this year and focus on a few others so that NEXT year it will be a more refreshing view. That being said, I saw the remake when it came out and really didn't think it was as bad as everyone else did. Sure, they took A LOT of really absurd creative liberties. It can't match the original, nor should anyone expect it to. But I do think it retains a certain camp value that should give it a bit more critical flexibility. Also, the casting was forgivable. Especially with Andrea Martin coming back to play the house mother. Ok, it's not a master piece, I'm not trying to overly defend it, BUT...it's not without it's charms. I enjoyed my first viewing and I enjoyed revisiting it this Christmas season.

On to the main event...

I watched Silent Night, Deadly Night for the first time this year. Which is a little embarassing, and I'm not really sure why. I've seen Silent Night Bloody Night (in all of it's suckery), which I always confused it with but somehow it just never worked out where the opportunity presented itself. So I watched it, and enjoyed it. I thought it drug out a little in between witnessing his parents being killed and him growing up to be the Santa Killer. Just a lot of filler, but it was a good solid slasher. A few laughs, a few "ewws", and Linnea Quigley's tits. Everything was as it should be. I'm glad I finally saw it.

THEN...immediately after, I popped in the second film. For those who don't know (which was me two days ago), the second film was meant to be an alternate version so literally half of the movie is footage from the first film. The other half, is the now dead Santa killer's little brother Ricky, in an asylum narrating the story to a psychiatrist. This film is of course infamous for the immortalized "Garbage Day" scene. That's pretty much all I knew about any of these films before a few days ago, other than that they exist. Having watched both, I wish I'd just skipped the first one completely. That way I'd have seen the highlights and all the good kills from the first and then the hilarious thespian stylings of Eric Freeman. Basically, the second totally trumps the first and I have no reason to ever watch it again. Sadly, the viewing was kind of ruined because I was annoyed that I had to rewatch it all back to back. c'est la vie.

And finally, to end my lackluster, half assed Holiday Horror marathon I ended with the third Silent Night Deadly Night "You Better Watch Out!". Which was, for the record, my favorite of the three! Not only does it have nothing to do with Christmas but it's also a veritable David Lynch casting call. First, we have Richard Beymer aka Benjamin Horn from Twin Peaks, then there's Eric DaRe who's also on Twin Peaks as Leo Johnson, and playing his girlfriend is none other than Laura Harring better known as Rita from Mulholland Drive. WOW. This revelation shocked me as one character after the next entered the screen. One actor, maybe even two could be a coincidence, but THREE? I dunno, man. There's gotta be something there. Maybe Lynch and Monte Hellman are good friends? I looked but couldn't find a definitive explanation for this phenomenon. At any rate, even the film felt Lynchian. More specifically, and just not because of the cast, Twin Peaks-ian. Filled with melodrama, soft lens long shots and an eerie performance from Bill Moseley (always a pleasure!) as the brain-exposed-garbage-day-guy Ricky. The dream sequences were very Black Lodge and the the ending was classic 'what-the-fuck-typical-asshole-lynch-fucking-my-world-up' shenanigans. Am I biased towards the film because of it's Lynch connections? Yes, probably. But I also think it's the most stylish and dream-like of  a the three films. Had it been marketed and approached a little differently it could have easily been a stand-alone film.

I didn't make it to #4 and #5, and I wanted to revisit Jack Frost and it's sequel. Not to mention Santa's Slay, Santa Claws and Satan Claus. But there's always next year! And I'm happy to have finally put a big dent in that Holiday Horror blind spot.



Chronopolis (1982)

I just recently discovered the phantasmagoric universe of Polish animator Piotr Kamler. After seeing his short One Ephemeral Mission, I wanted only to exist in that world. A world with clean lines, geometrical shapes and inventive robots. A world where time and space are irrelevant. I watched One Ephemeral Mission several times that day, studying every detail, every motion, every aspect of the Escher-like stratosphere. It's a lot like what I would imagine Heaven to be, in an idealistic world. Comfortable and captivating. I watched several other Kamler shorts, all wonderful. When I saw that he made only one feature, it became a moral imperative that I see it.

Chronopolis is set in a magnificent metropolis lost in space. Inhabited by deathless Pharoah-like Gods, the absence of time makes their immortal existence monotonous and dreary. To entertain themselves they create spheres of mass which we can only assume encapsulates the physical realms of time, space and logic.

Chronopolis says more in an hour with no dialogue than most films can with a run of the mill linear narrative. There's something about the textural and dream-like environment of a Kamler film that just makes sense. Like you've experienced it without knowing and you're just now being reminded. In a cultural sense, Chronopolis came at the perfect time. It's how I would imagine a version of Blade Runner made by Jan Svankmajer would be. It also reminds of the kind of surrealistic dreamscape you'd find in Roger Dean's artwork. In more contemporary aesthetics, I also found it reminscent of the dream world in the 2005 Henson Company film Mirrormask, which makes me wonder if the animators were influenced by Kamler's early CGI and slick use of claymation. 

It can't be denied that there's something very progressive about Chronopolis. Not only is it an imaginative addition to the animated science fiction cannon, I would even go as far to say that it's an unsung Cyber Punk masterpiece. Chronopolis is important film and should be more widely available. Thankfully with the advent of youtube, these obscure art films from around the world are more accessible. I was able to watch Chronopolis in six parts, all too brief segments and if you've yet to be indoctrinated into this particular world of cinema fantastique, I suggest you do the same!


The Canterbury Tales (1972)

I've been making my way through Pasolini's Trilogy of life since it's currently available streaming on Netflix. I've been curious about Arabian Nights for years and it only made sense to watch them in sequence. With Salo being the only Pasolini film I'd seen prior to this year when I watched the Decameron, I really didn't know what to expect. Salo a is voyeuristic opus of degradation and depravity. I was pleasantly surprised to find the Decameron to be, although still teetering on vulgarity, a breath of fresh air. It set the tone for what I could expect from the rest of the trilogy. So finally, a few months later I made the leap for Canterbury Tales.

In this anthology we're shown several stories from Geoffrey Chaucer's classic collection of bawdy tales. Ranging from the charming to the flat out raunchy, never has there been a fart joke more endearing than told by Pasolini. Set in medieval England, while on a journey a group of men are told to tell tales to pass the time. Reprising his role as the narrator/artist is none other than Pasolini himself who sits in his room collectively writing these stories. In his usual fashion, he makes a mockery of religion and bourgeoisie society. Amorously poking fun at the rich and the corrupt while putting the simplicity of sex and potty humor on pedestal, where it belongs!

The Canterbury Tales is like the Decameron 2.0. Just as silly and careless, but punctuated with an exclamation point. I especially loved seeing Ninetto Davoli return to play an equally playful and wide eyed rascall of a guy as he did in the Decameron. Davoli ended up being my favorite character in both films. I looked him up afterwards to discover that he was Pasolini's long time partner since he was 15 years old, and appeared in a handful of his films. He was delightful and I anticipate seeing him more in my journey through Pasolini's world of film.

The Canterbury tales matched the Decameron in a lot of ways, what really put it on the map for me was the outrageous finale. Like an absurd Goya painting come to life we witness a Jigoku-esque Hell sequence in which unspeakable obscenities are being committed. Demons raping women, demons raping men, demons raping each other and best of all Satan shitting out said demons to wreak their rape-y biddings. An amazing sight indeed! I'm a sucker for a good depiction of Hell and this one rivals some of the best.

There's no denying that Pasolini was a multi layered genius. A poet in every sense of the word. His political agenda mixed with his sly sense of humor and questionable morals has made him one of the most revered filmmakers of the 20th century. That being said, I can barely contain my anticipation for Arabian Nights. The last installment in his Trilogy of Life, on that note I'll leave you with the promise of a final review in the very near future!


The Demoniacs (1974)

I recently watched Jean Rollin’s film The Demoniacs. Another gorgeous entry into his dreamscape of a film cannon. This one is a nod to the adventure stories Rollin grew up with. Treacherous pirates chasing after nubile maidens. Of course it’s still a Rollins movie so it has a tendency to waver a bit on the bawdy side at times (and perhaps a bit rapey-er that I like them) but his incredible ability to tell a story through images and emotions is unmatched especially in the horror and sexploitation genres. 

In Demoniacs I noticed his wonderful use of color, and the fact that it would appear that he decked his cast and sets out with the contents of a Halloween costume shop. If you get around to seeing it, pay close attention to the wild decorations in the bar. 
Also, I must mention the lovely clown girl who guards the temple. I’ve always had a thing for female clowns and apparently so did Jean Rollin, as I've noticed it's reoccurring theme in his films.

There’s just something really special about the worlds Jean Rollin creates. It’s a really nice place to visit, despite the rape and slaying. As I mentioned before, there are quite a few of Rollin's films on netflix instant right now (including Demoniacs), so if you’re privy to that kind of thing, go take a gander and revel in the atmospheric nightmares that this one of a kind auteur created for us.


Deep End (1970)

I lost an almost-complete review I wrote for Deep End yesterday, so forgive me if this recap is a bit brief and unenthusiastic. Losing a review is one of my most loathed personal fuck ups. The second one is NEVER as good. So...enjoy :-(

I'd been wanting to see Deep End for quite some time. After years of it remaining on my ever growing wish list, I finally obtained a copy of this unreleased (in the states) rarity. The story follows a teenage boy named Mike who gets his first job at a bath house. At that time in London many people still didn't have bathtubs in their homes so it was still fairly common to have a membership to a public facility. Mike is shown the ropes by his co-worker Susan, played by the lovely Jane Asher. She explains to him that many of the customers have special "requests", and that if he goes along with it he'll be tipped handsomely. The most amusing of these events is when actress Diana Dors mauls him into submission while describing a football game. Mike is uncomfortable with the whole scenario, and appears sexually confused through out the whole movie. Susan is a sexually liberal young lady who enjoys the attention from just about anyone she can get it from. There are the patrons of the bath house, her apparently wealthy fiance and of course Mike who she's stringing along for the ride. He begins to develop feelings for Susan, who's ten years his senior. Although it's clear to the audience that her motives are selfish, Mike convinces himself that they're meant to be together turning an innocent crush into a dangerous obsession.

My biggest problem with the film was it's pacing. I can see that it's supposed to be a slow burn but the mid-section seems to drag out with an unnecessary amount of  filler. During one long stretch of the film Mike is wandering around the city looking for Susan. He appears to be lost, ends up in night clubs, strip joints, peep shows and even a prostitutes den. I get that this angle was meant to express his hormonal agitation, which eventually leads to the infamously explosive ending, but this sequence ended up eating into about 1/4 of the film's total length which struck me as a bit of a waste of time when the point was clearly taken.

I may have had the bar of expectations raised a bit too high based on my years of anticipation. Also, for whatever reason, I was expecting it to be similar to Twisted Nerve. The two films have a lot in common on paper. The basic premise of a disturbed young man obsessed with a girl, both made around the same time, both British psychological thrillers. Although this conjecture was completely self imagined, Deep End didn't meet those standards. For a sexy thriller I expected more sex and thrills.

In Deep End's favor I will say that the ending does not disappoint. Although over all the film may have fallen a little flat for my taste, it's tied up beautifully in the last ten minutes making for a well executed and cataclysmic conclusion. Also, the music is nice. CAN did the score and Cat Stevens does the opening and closing credits. That makes any film OK in my book.

I wouldn't recommend it to just any cinematic pedestrian, fans of British horror and mod cinema will probably have the most to gain. Also, if you have a region free player the restored version is apparently stunning. With that said, despite my ambivalence I'm glad I finally saw Deep End. It may not be making any top lists of mine any time soon but it's not without it's charms.

I loved the look of the prostitute's room. She and I have very similar taste :-)



I started a second movie blog. I know I can be flakey about updating this one, and I'm NOT abandoning it by any means. I just wanted a separate place for more casual movie related musings. Lists, passing thoughts and more importantly lots and lots of pictures. This will remain my primary review blog, although for the time being reviews will be posted on both. I need to feel the new one out to decide where I want to go with it. But mostly, it's going to satisfy my immediate urges to obsess over a poster or something retarded. You get me?

Also, it's on tumblr which is a completely different universe. If you do the Tumblr thing you should follow me :-)


also, while we're on the subject I did sort of abandon Unicorn Wizard. I've now graduated to Wizard Boobs...


The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974)

Meeting somewhere between Repulsion and Rosemary’s BabyThe Perfume of the Lady in Black is heavily saturated in conspiracy and paranoia. For both the the leading lady, played by Mimsy Farmer, and the audience.
 After suddenly being confronted with a traumatic event from her childhood, Silvia (Farmer) begins finding herself disoriented and being apparently stalked by her inner child. On top of that, everyone from her boyfriend to colleagues to the shop girl around the corner seems to be plotting against her. It’s difficult to decide whether or not everything happening on screen is apart of her delusions or if there’s something bigger at work here. Perfume keeps you guessing until the very end. I was pretty sure that the obvious conclusion would be that she’s just insane. Thankfully director Francesco Barilli didn’t sell the audience short with such a predictable ending. I won’t give it away, but it’s pretty bad ass.

I’m not sure if this would qualify as giallo. No black gloved killer in sight. It’s a little more complex and psychological than your run of the mill Italian slasher. Stylistically however, it fits the bill. It’s absolutely gorgeous in it’s design, lighting, costumes and score. Those are the four most important things in a “giallo” film. Which explains why Argento’s movies suck as of late. An Italian horror movie can get away with having mediocre plot (although of course a good one helps) and still win you over on aesthetics alone. Perfume is one of the loveliest I’ve seen. The building Mimsy Farmer lived in was out of control gorgeous. Every room, every piece of furniture, it was all spot on. 
Perfume of the Lady in Black was a delightfully depraved and stunning work of art. Lucky for us, it’s streaming on netflix! So you have no excuse not to revel in it. So get on that, wouldya?!


Fascination (1979)

Fascination, like most of Rollin’s films, took place in this dreamy/nightmarish atmosphere where extremely beautiful women partake in depraved sex and death games.It’s only my third film of his, the first being Grapes of Death which is my least favorite and the other being Night of the Hunted which I absolutely adored. Fascination fell somewhere in the middle. Although the pacing can be a little slow at times, the film builds suspense towards the impending climax that’s hinted at being rather dramatic only to somewhat disappoint with an uneven ending. The direction Rollin took Franca Mai’s character is lost on me. Minor critiques aside, it’s really a quite an elegant film. The emotion and sensuality in Brigitte Lahaie’s face is enough to carry out the entire film. The score by Phillipe d’Aram is also worth mentioning. It and a bunch of other Rollin scores have recently be released by Finders Keepers. Which I totally need them all.

Nothing spectacular in the way of my writing, this is just a little blurby review to get the ball rolling again. More to come!


The Golden Horns (1972)

I've been wanting to review this movie for a few years now. I'd developed a slight obsession with the Swedish Pippi Longstocking films, and I believe I reviewed the first of the series on my old Myspace page. A reader commented that if I liked that one I should check out a Russian film called "Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors". I did, and I just fell in love with it. All the elements I looked for in a children's fantasy film were there. It was beautifully made, gorgeous cinematography and costumes, strange creatures, cartoonish villains and it starred two little twin girls that were so cute I could die. It made Pippi Logstocking look unimpressive by comparison. Now, this isn't a review for Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors (maybe it should be, although sadly I don't own a copy and it' been quite a few years since I saw it) but the film struck me in such a way that it became a spring board for a new obsession; Russian Fairy Tales. I did some research and discovered that the director Aleksander Rou (or sometimes Alexander Row) had an extensive career spanning decades focusing on folklore and fantasy films. As I would later find out, it didn't stop with Rou's impressive filmography. There was a whole gang of Russian filmmakers who dabbled in this exotic and dreamy sub-genre of fantasy. Amidst all of this information I was absorbing, I happened upon a copy of "Zolotye Roga"  aka "The Golden Horns".

As all of these films tend to be, it's based on a Russian Folklore tale. The story begins as two twin girls (the same two from Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors), Masha and Dasha, are picking mushrooms in the forest. They've been told not to enter a dark forbidden area, but they know they can find plenty of delicious boletus mushrooms so they go against their better judgement and enter the proverbial Forest of No Return. The area is home to many mystical things including a majestic deer with golden antlers. It's understood that this deer has the omnipotent power to protect all living creatures in the forest. Despite this guardian in the wilderness, the dark part of the forest is still an unpredictable and dangerous place. A wicked witch, Baba Yaga dwells and rules many of it's strange beasties, including your garden variety goblins and trolls. As the two girls explore the forest the creatures who dwell in it begin to stir. Under the control of the evil Baba Yaga, they kidnap the girls and bring them to her. Angered by their presence, Baba turns them into littles fawns. How precious!

Personally, I'd rather have fawn than children :-/

When their mother discovers that Masha and Dasha have been abducted she immediately sets out to rescue them. In her journey she encounters much enchantment which aid her in her conquest...

  • The elements; the Sun, the Moon and the Wind
  • a magical bun of bread
  • Talking animals. Dogs, cats, bears, et cetera.
  • mushroom sprites (yay!)
  • and of course the Deer with the Golden Horns who seems to have a psychic connection to all things organic

The enchanted loaf of bread.

As I attempt to get into specifics delving into the whole fantastic story I find myself going into endless ellipses in my admittedly inadequate analysis of the Golden Horns. "And then, there's this magical thing and then this magical thing happens, and omg, it was so magical". There are only so many synonyms for MAGICAL. Golden Horns combines a charming handmade quality with an unobtainable magnetism that you long to be apart of. As if you've stepped right into a book of Russian fables. Everything's perfectly in place as if it were written by yourself in some other lifetime. I can't speak for it's original Russian audience, but seeing it with a fresh pair of eyes in modern day it feels so foreign and otherworldly as a fairy tale should. As I continue to discover more Russian Fanstasy films I find this unnameable quality but never so saturated with a warm and innocent charisma as the Golden Horns. Even in the moments of slapstick and childish antics it remains completely self aware. With it's hand painted sets and dramatic lighting it's reminiscent of a stage play, with shades of Georges Melies and Mario Bava. More expressive than realistic, setting the perfect atmosphere for a whimsical fable. I might also add that Arkadi Filipenko's beautiful score accompanies the visuals with an aria of excitement and fancy befitting to a classic ballet.

The film even has life size Matryoshka dolls. Is there no end to the charm??

Baba Yaga is quite a character herself. A common villain in many Russian Folklore tales. A hag-like witch who hates (and in some version EATS) small children. She lives in a house that (no joke) walks around on chicken legs. In the Golden Horns, she's played by male actor Georgi Millyar. Millyar also played Baba Yaga in the first Soviet fantasy film "Vasilissa Prekrasnaya" ("Vasilissa the Beautiful" 1939), which was also Aleksandr Rou's first film. He would go on to appears in many of Rou's fantasy films as a colorful villain. Every time I hear the name "Baba Yaga" I help but think of my earliest frame of reference, the Italian horror movie by the same name aka "Kiss Me, Kill Me" or "Baby Yaga, Devil Witch". I saw a poorly dubbed heavily cut version many years ago, now that I've become more familiar with the character I should re-visit it properly to see where it fits in within the realm of folklore and witchery.

One thing I've noticed about Rou's films, Golden Horns in particular, is his abundant use of live animals. In between scenes we see an ample footage of furry creatures in their natural habitats. Birds, squirrels, rabbits, bears (dancing bears, no less), more birds, cute badger-like creatures. A proverbial woodland wonderland! The happy ending is even sealed with a kiss by offering it's audience a montage of all the animals in the film dancing and being cute set to cheerful music.

love that guy.

 Aleksandr Rou passed away in 1973, which according to IMDB was 10 months before the release of The Golden Horns. However I've noticed other websites referencing the film as having been released in 1972. Either way, the Golden Horns is his very own swan song. Lyrically capping off an extraordinary career and serving as a lovely grand finale. I can only imagine how many young minds his films expanded in the Soviet Union during those politically wrought decades. I wish I could live in this worlds that Aleksandr Rou created! I also that wish I had discovered these films when I was a kid wondering why there weren't more dark and whimsical movies like Labyrinth and Return to Oz. It would be years later that I realized the only option is to go backwards. It's a shame that these films don't have a larger output here in America, but like everything else, they're out there somewhere. And for every wild movie there's an equally wild audience waiting to discover it. I'm putting serious effort into working my way through his entire filmography. You can be sure that I'll reviewing as many as I can right here. In fact, I plan on reviewing more offbeat children's and fantasy films in general in the upcoming months. The weirder and less accessible, the better!

Until next time, watch out for those Mushroom Sprites!


The Mafu Cage (1978)

I've been wanting to see the Mafu Cage since I first laid eyes on it's provocative poster art. I found it in the cult section at Amoeba and it's been beckoning me every time I've skimmed by in the past year. I ended up with some store credit so I decided to make the leap for a few curiosities, Mafu Cage was at the top of the list. It's a challenge to attempt compartmentalizing this bizarre film into any given category. It's often mis-classified as horror and although it definitely contains some terrifying themes, the film itself is about as erratic and unpredictable as the character it surrounds.

Carol Kane plays "Cissy", a delusional young woman who was never able to move on from her childhood in Africa and the death of her Anthropologist father. Her sister Ellen, played by Lee Grant, promised their late father to always take care of Cissy no matter how extreme her peculiar behavior may be. It was his belief that as long as Cissy could be kept busy in her natural environment that she'd be just fine. To accommodate her eccentricities they turned the living room into a jungle. Plants, tribal music, African decor and a giant cage for Cissy's "Mafu". Although it's never quite explained what a "Mafu" is, she uses it in reference to her pet monkeys. Perhaps it's a term she picked up from an African tribe. Her sister allows her to keep an ape around to illustrate as she did for her father's research. It's obvious that Ellen allows this, not for research, but to keep Cissy content.

The problem (or one of the many problems) with Cissy is that she's given to hysterical outbursts that end with a violent attack on her pet monkey. In a fit of childish rage, she suddenly becomes angry when it doesn't obey her. She throws a temper tantrum and inevitably ends up killing the poor creature when she can't have her way. Ellen doesn't know what to do, she tries cutting her off but Cissy's dramatic suicide attempts and meltdowns make Ellen give in every time. It's not until she actually witnesses the slaying of an orangutan that she finally refuses Cissy's request for yet another replacement Mafu. Unfortunately, Cissy's homicidal tendencies are taken beyond animals when a man Ellen is romantically interested in comes into the picture. This aspect of the film leads us into all kinds of demented incestuous lesbian overtones between Ellen and Cissy. Ellen seems to wants a chance at a normal life but based on her intimate relationship with her sister (perhaps being isolated in Africa during adolescence?) she knows she can never really have one. During one especially verbally graphic scene Cissy reminds Ellen that it's been a long time since shes made her "gush". Wow, gross. Cissy even insinuates in one scene that she's partaken in sexual activities with her Mafus. It's fairly obvious at any given moment in the film that there will be no happy ending for these two.

Although certain elements were a little hard to watch (animal killing is always a tough pill to swallow), I found the Mafu Cage to be a fascinating character study. I've always had a great affection for Carol Kane. Ever since I was 5 or so and saw her in Scrooged as "the Ghost of Christmas Present" where she channels some sort of nutzoid Glinda the Good Witch. She's cute, awkward and severely under used as a serious actress. She always struck me as this pixie-esque incarnation of Bette Davis. Sadly her unconventional looks and funny voice have had her typecast in mostly comedy, bit parts and character roles. After seeing the Mafu Cage I'm more convinced than ever that she's one of my favorite actresses. Lee Grant, although a fantastic actress, didn't interest me much in this film. The Mafu Cage is all about Carol Kane being exhaustingly fervorous, seductive and primal. The other characters are just there to set up Cissy's next catastrophe.

It's hard to judge whether or not anyone else would like this film. I can't see it appealing to many people. The elements I found compelling seem to walk a tight rope between whimsical and adverse. It's exotic and visually striking. Cissy's clothes and artistic style are so alluring and primitive. She's a sexy and appealing character who you desperately want to see cozily adapted to her element. Much like Lota in Island of Lost Souls, she's wild thing you want to study. I found it conflicting for such a stimulating character to participate in such reprehensible actions. Certain aspects of the film felt distinctly feminine, perhaps the pleasantries of having a female director? On the other hand, the confinement and pulsating atmosphere is so stifling that the feral nature of the main character takes center stage.

It's not difficult to see why this film has not quite found an audience. It's easy to classify the unclassifiable as "cult" when a film contains such convoluted algorithms. But what is it a cult film without a cult following? With such a unique vision and subversive material it's certainly deserving of a devoted flock of admirers. I'd love to hear some others' thoughts on the film. This one seems to have completely mis-fired to the point of abysmal obscurity. I can't promise you'll like it, but for fellow explorers who share my self-destructive curiosity, you may find yourself hypnotized by this feverish example of unrestrained captivity within the tightly wound barriers of psychopathia sexualis.