Sunday, December 30, 2012

And never brought to mind ...

This year’s Winter of Discontent has been a blast. We’ve had sex, violence and bad language; hard-nosed crims, seductive women, and a hobo with a shotgun. We’ve had vampires, cannibals and zombies. We’ve had “based on a true story” and “you couldn’t make this shit up”.

But now this third annual festival of filmic feculence is over and I find myself at a crossroads. Although I’m posting this at year’s end, I’m writing it on a spectacularly rainy evening in late November. I’ve spent October and November stockpiling material for the Winter of Discontent. The idea is that, throughout December, the blog will run itself and I’ll be able to concentration on other writing projects.

As regards The Agitation of the Mind in 2013 … well …

There seems to have been a diminution of interest in Agitation during the last year, with demonstrably fewer comments and page views. I’ve been tempted, on more than one occasion, to lock up the store, pull down the shutters and scrawl “CLOSED” in spray-can lettering over the home page. But then I get stuck into something like 13 For Halloween or the Winter of Discontent and I find myself having a good time with it, to the point where it wouldn’t matter if the blog only had one reader and that was my mum – although she’d probably bollock me for the language.

So, stats and comments notwithstanding, I’ll keep Agitation going while I still enjoy writing about film. And right now, I feel the best thing I can do is take a break for a couple of months until I’m suitably enthusiastic about it again.

In the meantime, I’d be happy to open Agitation to contributors. Any form, any style, any length. A list of your favourite movies and why you love them. The first film star you feel rapturously in love with and why they still beguile you. Your memories of movie-going: the picture palaces of your youth, be they arthouse or grindhouse. Or, y’know, just a straightforward review. Emails to slainte[at]inbox[dot]com.

The stage, my friends, is yours.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

WINTER OF DISCONTENT: Hobo with a Shotgun

Come listen to the story of a hobo who turned sour,
Dude got no name but he’s played by Rutger Hauer,
Rode into town on a freight train belchin’ steam*
But life on the streets is where it’s really unclean.

In a town called Hope, where actually there’s none
And the sign’s been repainted so the name’s now Scum,
Our hobo hero dude who ain’t go no name
Goes beggin’ on the sidewalk for a handful of change.

Ragged and dirty, ignored and overlooked,
All our guy wants to do is scrape up fifty bucks
To a buy a lawnmower from a pawn shop downtown,
Do yard work for cash, try to turn his life around.

But the seedy town of Scum (used to be called Hope)
Is ruled with fear by this crazy psycho bloke
Who wears a white suit though his deeds are deadly dark
And his psycho sons who are chips off the block.**

Then our hero meets a girl – a blameless innocent
(Or so he believes; she turns tricks to pay the rent).
When white suit psycho’s son starts jonesing for her bad
Cue hobo as a shotgun-wielding surrogate dad.

In a town that’s lawless, that’s morally destitute,
Where a paedophile cruises dressed in Santa suit,
Where the cops are corrupt and robberies are rife,
Death is dirt cheap but the cheapest thing is life.

In a place where the only career choice is crime,
Our hero cleans up the town, one deadbeat at a time,
Each pitiful pederast, each misogynistic male,
A join-the-dots corpse-strewn spent cartridge trail.

It’s a crusade that puts white suit and sonny-boy on edge;
Their empire crumbling, they call in The Pledge.
At this point a movie that’s already kind of mental
Buys a first class ticket to What The Fuck Central.

The Pledge are two bikers full-on dressed in armour,
Either they’re inhuman or they personify karma;
They’ve bumped off bishops and slaughtered men of state,
They keep a kraken in the cellar, a pet they love to bait.

‘Hobo with a Shotgun’ is one weird fucked-up flick:
Half of it is funny and the other half’s plain sick.
Viewed through alcoholic fug or substances proscribed
It’s an out-and-out cult classic, a trash fan’s wild ride.

But watch the thing cold sober and, buddy, you will find
It will (to quote Cartman) warp your fragile little mind;
It’ll leave your brain scrambled and your senses desiccated
And maroon you at a certain blog whose content’s agitated.

*All right, it’s a diesel. But I’m writing this mo’ fo’ in verse so I claim poetic licence. 

**Epic fail on the rhyming in this stanza.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


It was a few months ago that I watched ‘Lifeforce’, already with a mind to writing it up for the Winter of Discontent. Reviewing my notes, I realise there’s no other way of engaging with the movie than to present, unedited and without contextualizing footnotes, the 500 words of appalled scribbling I produced during the two hours of this holy-fucking-awful excuse for a moving picture:

Five minutes in; first question: when Henry Mancini wrote the score, did he get really fucked up on peyote and hallucinate that he was Hindemith?

Okay, I can live with the shuttle being called the HMS Churchill, but does the alien planet have to look like a giant vulva?

So ... the alien planet: bats, a Nosferatu-like claw and naked chicks in crystal pods. And this was written by the same dude who scripted 'Alien'? Fuck my life!

“I’ve been in space for six months and she looks perfect to me.” No disrespect, bro, but a Tiffany album cover probably would after six months in zero g.

“Stand by for soft-dock.” Somehow I doubt this is a real astronautical term.

Somebody actually said: “Houston, we have a problem.” Please tell me this wasn’t scripted. Please tell me the actor was just taking the piss and it somehow made the final cut.

Interplanetary spaceflight is the norm and the ship’s log is recorded on BETAMAX???

“We were just talking about how to get it open and it popped open of its own accord.” They PAID someone to write this???

Mrs F has just called me “a pervert” for watching this film. It’s very difficult to mount a defence. 

The nudity-to-tedious-exposition ratio is so far swinging heavily in favour of tedious exposition.

Oooh, interesting. Naked alien DUDES. Being shot in phallocentric fashion by army guys. I do believe we’ve rendezvoused with a homoerotic subtext.

OMG! That is THE worst reanimated corpse in the history of cinema.

The hot-alien-brunette nudity to dead-leathery-person nudity ratio is also considerably out of whack.

For an exploitation movie based on the precept “hot naked alien chick wreaks havoc”, ‘Lifeforce’ sure as hell has some boring passages.

“How exactly did he die, Colonel?” “The life just drained out of him.” Yeah, same for the audience.

Jess Franco should have directed this. ‘Lifeforce’ is ‘Female Vampire’ is space, with Mathilda May standing in for Lina Romay.

Telepathy … Volvos … oh dear God in Heaven, Patrick Stewart’s in this POS. I am beginning to doubt my sanity.

Patrick Stewart is screaming fit to wake the dead. He must have got a look at the script.

In terms of production values, this can best be described as ‘Blake’s 7’ with boobs. Not that there have been any boobs for the last half hour. Tobe Hooper, you frickin’ owe me!

“Sterilization by thermonuclear device has been approved.” Whoa! Wait a minute! I work in healthcare and that goes waaaaayyy beyond sterilization. Like seriously, dudes.

15 minutes to go, London’s in the grip of a vampire/zombie invasion, the promised nudity has disappeared, and the level of cinematic craftsmanship on display is making your average Bruno Mattei quickie look like un film de Carl Dreyer.

Swords … bat creatures … columns of blue light. I just don’t have the words …

Peter Firth prevents Steve Railsback from getting it on with Mathilda May and THAT’S a happy ending? I must have missed something.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Rod Serling

It's not just Jesus's birthday today, it's Rod Serling's too. He would have been 88. Dude created 'The Twilight Zone', a show that plugged itself directly into my imagination and threw the switch. Here's to you, sir!

Sunday, December 23, 2012


I’d been told that Aldo Lado’s ‘Late Night Trains’ was a pretty damn nasty movie. I’d been told it was ugly, brutal, squalid and cynical. That it was cold, hard and unflinching. That it made for uneasy viewing. That I’d come away from it feeling battered and soiled. And I’m glad I was given those warnings. But I didn’t realize how truly sickening its most horrible, most repulsive moment would be: four entire minutes in which my sense of aesthetics was viciously and incessantly abused. I refer, of course, to the opening credits sequence which plays out to Demis Roussos singing ‘A Flower is All You Need’.

It’s one thing making a rape/revenge exploitation which lifts set-pieces and plot points wholesale from ‘Last House on the Left’ (which itself happily rips off Ingmar Bergman’s ‘The Virgin Spring’); it’s quite another to assault the viewer with the tonsil-quivering falsetto of Demis fuckin’ Roussos. I call everyone involved a sick bastard of the highest order.

Of course, it’s easy to see what Lado’s up to in his use of ‘A Flower is All You Need’. It provides, at first, a mawkish accompaniment to scenes of shoppers making their purchases at a German Christmas market. And not a chintzy false one like we have in Nottingham every year. This is the real deal, since the film opens in Germany. During this montage we catch our first glimpse of our soon-to-be-very-beleaguered heroines Margaret (Irene Miracle) and Lisa (Laura D’Angelo), as well as a rather aloof middle-class blonde woman, who gets no appellation, in the film itself or the end credits, beyond The Lady on the Train (Macha Meril). We also get introduced to Blackie (Flavio Bucci) – so called for the colour of his hair – and Curly (Gianfranco Di Grassi) – also monikered for follicle-inspired reasons – who, it is swiftly revealed, are a pair of unlikeable thugs. Their first act? Beating up a stallholder dressed as Santa for a few lousy coins. Their second? Taking a knife to a rich woman’s fur coat. It’s at this point that Demis fuckin’ Rossous’s wailings cease being mawkish accompaniment and instead get pressganged into ironic counterpoint duties.

It’s from the fur-coated slicing incident that Blackie and Curly, pursued by the authorities, flee into a station and jump on a train just as it’s pulling out. The same train, as if none of us saw this one coming, that Margaret and Lisa are travelling on. They’re going to Verona to spend Christmas with Lisa’s well-to-do father, Professor Guilio Stradi (Enrico Maria Salerno), a consultant at a metropolitan hospital), and step-mother Laura (Marina Berti). Once onboard, Blackie encounters The Lady on the Train (hereafter TLotT), promptly sexually assaulting her. She responds to the rough treatment and is soon manipulating Blackie and Curly as they menace and inevitably assault the two girls.

Actually, scratch that; the word “soon” has no business in that last sentence. ‘Late Night Trains’ boasts the slowest first half in the history of exploitation cinema. There are endless vignettes sketching in the other passengers on the train – including a delegation from the Catholic church, and a compartment full of ex-Nazis – the end result being that the train is so overcrowded that Lado and his four screenwriters contrive to have Margaret and Lisa, Blackie and Curly, and TLotT change trains (this second one, by contrast, is almost deserted) just so the nasty stuff can take place without interruption. Also during these long, narratively encumbered 40 minutes or so, we’re treated to one of the least realistic operations ever performed on film (it basically consists of Stradi slicing into a piece of foam rubber while saying, more or less, “Scalpel … swab … keep swabbing … okay, we done”); Stradi talking about society’s problems during a hoity-toity dinner party and identifying himself as a peace-loving liberal; and Margaret and Lisa endlessly giggling about boys, the former having done the deed with a spotty fellow student while Lisa remains uninitiated into the global cult of snu-snu.

These moments are so unsubtle that Lado might as well have got the writers to stand in background holding up placards reading “HE’S A DOCTOR, THAT MEANS HE’S SWORN TO PROTECT LIFE, BUT LET’S SEE HOW LONG THAT LASTS WHEN HIS DAUGHTER GETS VIOLATED AND KILLED … IRONY, HUH?” and “SHE’S A VIRGIN. LIKE ‘THE VIRGIN SPRING’. DO YOU SEE WHAT WE DID THERE?” On the subject of the multiplicity of contributors to the screenplay, I’m not sure what depresses me the most – the fact that it took four people to rip off ‘Last House on the Left’, or that anyone wanted to rip off ‘Last House on the Left’ in the first place.

Lado ups the ante during the protracted middle section, though. The manipulation of lower class Blackie and Curly (muscle; no brains) by middle-class TLotT (elegant, seductive; amoral) contrasts effectively with the opulent but empty Christmas celebrations hosted by Stradi and his trophy girlfriend (tellingly, Guilio and Laura are on the precipice of a relationship-destroying argument when their guests arrive and things settle back into a brittle status quo). There’s a conceptually horrible and utterly unexpected payoff to the Blackie and Curly/Margaret and Lisa dynamic, and Lado conjures a shot of a corpse being hurled off a railway bridge that somehow achieves a weird visual poetry.

So: from dull as ditchwater to brutally effective … only for things to go south in the finale. This, folks, is the section in which the scripters might as well have turned up with another placard, this one reading “È L’ULTIMA CASA A SINISTRA … MA CON UN TRENO DEL CAZZO, VA BENE?” For this is, indeed, ‘The Last House on the Left’ … but with a fucking train, all right?

Trundling as I am towards the 1,000 word mark, I won’t belabour the suspension-of-disbelief-severing circumstances that land the killers at chez Stradi, or the unrealistic means by which relatives receive the bad news (because, yeah, you’d hear the victim’s name on the radio before the police had even commenced an investigation), or the utterly pointless scene, on Christmas morning, where a witness makes an anonymous tip off from a petrol station at which a truck driver is filling up. (Where the fuck is a truck driver delivering to on Christmas morning? Does Santa subcontract on the continent?) Suffice it to say that the last twenty minutes steer unambiguously into distraught-(formerly-peace-loving)-relatives-go-apeshit territory.

It’s to the detriment of ‘Late Night Trains’ that Lado and co. draw so slavishly on ‘Last House on the Left’. With its attempt at a genuine social commentary (class differences and exploitation), and its unsubtle but effective shifts between the girls’ ordeal on the train and the facile artifice of Christmas at the Stradis’, Lado’s film is certainly a more effective outing than Craven’s notorious-but-actually-not-very-good shocker. Wasn’t it Stephen King who described the film as “Abbott and Costello meet the rapists”? ‘Late Night Trains’ wants to be a much better film, wants to instigate social, political and ideological debate. But it homages, evokes and outright copies an inferior piece of work in frame after frame to the point where you wish it had simply done its own thing with the material.

‘Late Night Trains’, frustratingly, could have been so much more. More focused, more intelligent, more provocative. Nastier.

Friday, December 21, 2012

WINTER OF DISCONTENT: Inglorious Bastards

It was probably just as well for Quentin Tarantino that some enterprising distributor decided that Enzo G. Castellari’s ‘Quel Maledetto Treno Blindato’ would clean up in the English-speaking territories if it was retitled ‘Inglorious Bastards’. Somehow, Tarantino’s epic wouldn’t have benefited from borrowing the title ‘That Damned Armoured Train’. For a start, there’s no train in the Tarantino film.

There’s most definitely a train in Castellari’s warsploitation opus. And it’s most definitely armoured. Damned? Given the amount of people who are shot, stabbed or blown up on or around it, that’s pretty much a definite as well. There’s no accusing ‘Quel Maledetto Treno Blindato’ of not delivering on its title.

Although it was made eleven years after ‘The Dirty Dozen’ – a rare example of an Italian exploitation director taking his sweet time in jumping on a bandwagon – Robert Aldrich’s cynical classic is unequivocally the primary source of inspiration in a film that also happily pilfers from John Frankenheimer’s ‘The Train’, John Sturges’s ‘The Great Escape’ and, uh, Umberto Lenzi’s ‘Battle of the Commandos’.

If ‘The Dirty Dozen’ is basically bunch-of-crims-cajoled-into-a-suicide-mission, then ‘Inglorious Bastards’ (I’ll stick with the English title for purposes of this review, though I much prefer ‘Quel Maledetto Treno Blindato’) is bunch-of-deserters-compromised-into-accepted-suicide-mission. How they become compromised, with only a moderate spoiler along the way, is like this:

It’s 1944 in the Ardennes and a truck containing a dozen or so military prisoners leaves an American base under the command of a prissy sergeant played by John Loffredo who’s not important enough to have a name. He’s got a moustache that’s trimmed to within an inch of its life and a side parting you could use as a slide-rule, so let’s call him Sgt Wellgroomed. The truck sets off but a blow-out strands them out in the open and easy pickings for a passing German fighter plane. Sgt Wellgroomed and his fellow guards pile out and take cover, ordering the prisoners to remain in the truck. Some are killed when the fighter strafes them, others when they pile out of the truck and Sgt Wellgroomed opens fire on them. Once the attack is over and a righteously indignant Private Fred Canfield (Fred Williamson) has throttled Sgt Wellgroomed, the numbers have been reduced to five: the aforementioned Canfield, Lt Robert Yeager (Bo Svenson), and three others who, to the best of my recollection, are only outfitted with forenames: wisecracking asshole Tony (Peter Hooten), thief and forger Nick (Michael Pergolani) and the youthful and perpetually terrified Berle (Jackie Basehart). Together, under the nominal leadership of Yaeger, they decide to take their chances crossing Nazi-occupied territory in the direction of the Swiss border. Meeting up with a fellow deserter – if from the opposite side – Adolf Sachs (Raimund Harmstorf), he briefly becomes part of their merry band even if Tony doesn’t trust him. Mind you, Tony doesn’t much like Fred either on account of him being black. So really Tony’s an asshole is what it all comes down to. Anyway, with Adolf tagging along they have various adventures and narrow escapes until a misunderstanding of brobdingnagian proportions results in a firefight with a group of American commandos disguised as Germans en route to a rendezvous with their French Resistance contacts. Net result: dead commandos, extremely pissed off commanding officer Colonel Tom Buckner (Ian Bannen), and a Resistance cell still in need of assistance to accomplish one of those archetypal could-change-the-course-of-the-war missions.

Said mission involves a train. An armoured one.

Which is where we came in. 

Enzo G. Castellari is one of the minor poets of trash cinema (his second division giallo ‘Cold Eyes of Fear’ has already been part of the Winter of Discontent); by the time he directed ‘Inglorious Bastards’, had chalked up spaghetti western classic ‘Keoma: The Violent Breed’ (another title that’s more than justified by the content) and the cracking crime thriller ‘The Heroin Busters’. Later, he’d helm the ‘Bronx Warriors’ trilogy, a mash-up of John Carpenter’s ‘Escape from New York’ and the expected tropes of the post-apocalypse subgenre that became its own epic saga. Castellari knows what makes genre cinema work: pace, story and incident. Plenty of it. 

Barely ten minutes goes by without an explosion, an exchange of gunfire or a hair’s breadth escape. Exposition is slotted in as and when. There’s a hint of character dynamics, but not so much that it would slow things down. Castellari keeps the pedal to the metal – or, this being a movie prominently featuring a train, the firebox stoked and the regulator wide open – and gives the B-movie audience what they want: dangerous guys armed to the teeth cutting a swathe through the Hun, a perilous mission with no guarantee of survival and a token scene of nudity just so no-one can complain that the flick didn’t tick all of the boxes.

‘Inglorious Bastards’ gives us a terrific action movie cast (seriously, when Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson get tooled up you just know it’s know it’s going to be spent cartridges a-go-go) with the unexpected inclusion of Bannen giving things a bit of class. But only a bit, mind. ‘Inglorious Bastards’ doesn’t want to be an actor’s movie; it just wants to entertain you. And it certainly fulfils its remit. You’ll cheer through your beer and popcorn when that model railway blows up at the end.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The eye candy at the end of the world

Just in case the Mayans got it right, this is The Agitation of the Mind signing off in the company of 13 favourite femmes fatale. It's been a pleasure.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


The phrase “London-set giallo” conjures some classics of the genre. Sergio Martino’s ‘All the Colours of the Dark’, Lucio Fulci’s ‘A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin’ and Massimo Dallamano’s ‘What Have You Done to Solange?’ spring immediately to mind, not to mention the latter half of Luciano Ercoli’s ‘Death Walks in High Heels’.

Enzo G. Castellari’s ‘Cold Eyes of Fear’ is set in London. And it’s kind of a giallo. That’s about all.

The opening credits sequence has a car driving through a foggy London during the evening. There is scant regard for geography, but I’m not holding that against the film. ‘A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin’ is a bona fide giallo classic and it has the Old Bailey across on the opposite side of the road to the Royal Albert Hall, so fuck the map.

We then immediately leap into obvious genre territory as a sexy blonde (Karin Schubert) is menaced by a man wielding a knife. Castellari spins the scene out for all its worth, and the sexualized threat of violence is about as politically incorrect as it gets. Cue the rug pull: this is just a performance piece in a sleazy club.

In the audience: Peter Flower (Gianni Garko), a solicitor with a taste for the lowbrow, and Anna (Giovanna Ralli), the original good-time girl had by all. They click, this mismatched pair, and Peter decides to “borrow” his uncle’s palatial house for the evening. The uncle (Fernando Rey) – a high court judge trying a big case, won’t be home till the early hours and a phone call is all it takes to persuade his butler Hawkins (Leonardo Scavino) to absent himself for the night. Only things don’t go according to plan and instead of getting his end away, Peter finds himself at the less than tender mercies of sexually ambiguous thug Quill (Julian Mateos). Then Arthur (Frank Wolff) joins the party and ulterior motives come to the surface.

‘Cold Eyes of Fear’ quickly segues from giallo to home invasion exploitationer, and gradually to political thriller. A third act debate on corruption in high places, the inviolate status of the upper classes and their manipulation of less privileged members of the social hierarchy takes things into interesting territory, albeit with a heavy reliance on cack-handed surrealism.

Castellari keeps things tense, directing with enough energy to distract from the script’s inherent staginess (with the exception of only a handful of exteriors, things delineate between the house and Peter’s uncle’s office). Exposition is trickled out sparingly and for much of the running time there’s a genuine mystery about Quill and Arthur’s objectives. The dynamics between hostages and villains shift in a variety of ways, with Anna proving the wild card. The Arthur/Peter antagonism is slow burn.

Where things fall down is in the filmmakers’ absolute rejection of continuity. ‘Cold Eyes of Fear’ plays out over a single night; the exact timeframe is ambiguous but I reckoned it as roughly early evening till about midnight. Shots vary between twilight, full dark and broad daylight, with weather conditions alternating between a pea-souper fog and cloudless night sky. Lighting levels in the house vacillate from soft and diffuse to harshly lit. A scene where a blown fuse renders everything pitch black, characters stumbling around and disoriented, forgets that there’s a blazing log fire and moonlight streaming through the windows. Moreover, various arrivals at the house necessitate the ornate wrought-iron gates at the end of the driveway repeatedly opening and closing themselves during the course of the night.

Continuity flubs happen in even the best produced movies (‘Goodfellas’ has more than its fair share) and often slip by unnoticed. In ‘Cold Eyes of Fear’, errors dance a conga-line across the screen, announcing themselves shamelessly. Already flawed, the movie doesn’t have any favours done for it by the Redemption DVD print that I watched; it looks like someone recorded it off the TV on a camera phone, while the soundtrack crackles and hisses like an old gramophone record.

Still, clocking in at less than an hour and a half, it doesn’t overstay its welcome; Castellari achieves a real sense of the unexpected as the narrative twists and turns its way towards the denouement; and Rey and Wolff – who died in his early forties just a couple of years after making this film – provide a welcome degree of gravitas.

London-set: yes. Giallo: partially. Exploitation status: minor league. ’Nuff said.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Against a backdrop of flames brightening a shoreline by night, their faces superimposed as if in oval picture frames, Jean Rollin introduces us to the dramatis personae of ‘Les Demoniaques’. It would be appallingly cutesy if the flames weren’t the burning wreck of a ship and the characters in question a villainous bunch of wreckers. Meet the Captain (John Rico):

And meet the Captain’s lady, Tina (Joelle Coeur) – although “lady” might be pushing it a bit:

Rounding out this crude and cruel crew are Bosco (Willy Braque) and Paul (Paul Bisciglia). Voiceover sketches in a power struggle between the Captain and Bosco while casting aspersions on Paul’s loyalty. Quite to what purpose I have no idea, since none of this is ever revisited.

The story – I’m using the word loosely since, as ever in the Rollin filmography, narrative counts for sweet f.a. – starts on that same dark shoreline as the wreckers haul some washed-up chests onto the beach and go through their contents. There’s no glimpse of a sinking ship, but then again budgets aren’t a staple of Rollin’s work either. Everything’s going swimmingly (drowningly?) and the Captain’s trading off some jewelry for sexual favours from Tina …

… when the night is pierced by cries for help, and out of the sea come two orphan girls. Anyone with Jean Rollin scorecard in front of them can tick off “beach” and “two orphan girls” immediately and get their pen ready for “gratuitous nudity” and “ridiculously protracted sex scene” in just a minute. Anyway, these two waifs (they’re not named, spend the virtually the whole film mute, and it’s chiefly thanks to IMDb that I can identify them as being played by Lieva Lone and Patricia Hermenier) don’t get any help from the wreckers whatsoever. Quite the contrary. They’re raped and left for dead, an ordeal that get’s Tina so hot under the collar that she peels off her duds, dances naked on a promontory and has awkward looking sex with the Captain on a rock.

This venal business occupies almost twenty minutes. Then we cut to a tavern at which El Captaino and his less-than-merry bunch are drinking, carousing with saloon girls, and generally blowing their ill-gotten gains. Louise (Louise Dhour), the madame of this establishment, baits the Captain with knowledge of his activities. He denies being a wrecker, but starts experiencing hallucinations of the dead girls.

Louise has the gift of second sight and intuits that something preternatural is going to happen. Eventually – and I do mean eventually: the tavern sequence drags on almost as long as the first scene – a terrified local runs in and announces that the dead are walking the streets. Guessing that what he’s seen is the pale and injured orphans who weren’t quite as left-for-dead as they thought, the wreckers set out to hunt them down and finish the job.

After a tense bit of cat and mouse amongst the wrecks of old ships that line the beach (easily the film’s best sequence, Rollin’s camera painting with shadows), the girls escape to some ruins on the outskirts of town which are said to be haunted; the reputation is enough to dissuade the Captain from pursuing, even though Tina, crazed with bloodlust, is well up for tackling the girls on her own.

We’re at the halfway mark now and ‘Les Demoniaques’ is about to go full-tilt into WTF territory. Still got that Jean Rollin scorecard handy? We’re about to tick off “ruined abbey”, “dark ritual (involving nudity)” and “outright surrealism”. The girls arrive at the ruins where they’re met by a strange woman dressed as a clown (Mireille Dargent) …

… who seems to live at the abbey with a guy who dresses a priest (albeit a somewhat new age-y one) and another guy who’s locked in a cell (the ruins are barely standing, but hey there’s perfectly secure cell) and can only be freed, apparently, by someone coming to him of their own accord. It seems to help if said someone is female. And naked. IMDb pegs these gentlemen as, respectively, the exorcist (Ben Zimet) and the devil (Miletic Zivomir). Specious descriptions at best.

The girls, seeking vengeance, agree to a ritual in which the devil transfers his powers to them. This involves having sex among the ruins …

… and only lasts till dawn. The powers, that is, not the sex. Although the devil probably has the stamina for it. Anyway, the girls make a right hash of their revenge and as dawn approaches the wreckers, unaware that they are soon to meet their own fate, have one last but extremely nasty surprise left in store for them.

As the 800 odd words above indicate, ‘Les Demoniaques’ has more of a plot than your average Rollin film, and the imagery (for the most part) works in the service of said plot. As opposed to many other Rollin films where ethereal women – often vampires, mostly naked – wander round old houses and other women (unclothed, natch) pop out of grandfather clocks and there’s generally no reason for any of it beyond (a) it looks cool and (b) it pads out the running time. Not that ‘Les Demoniaques’ doesn’t have its longueurs, certainly in the first half.

Nonetheless, this lip service to storytelling makes this one of the most entertaining of Rollin’s output, despite the grim commitment to being resolutely downbeat that characterizes the last twenty minutes or so. As ever, atmosphere is everything and there are some genuinely haunting moments. Also as is Rollin’s wont, these moments sit cheek-by-jowl with rampant what-the-fuckery. And that’s what makes his work infinitely watchable. That and the naked ladies.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


In which Kevin Smith pulls the rug out from under his audience’s feet. And then the floorboards. And then the foundations. And then what you were kind of hoping was some semblance of solid ground. ‘Red State’, in short, is a film that sets out to fuck with you.

It fucks with you via its title and the way it’s advertised. ‘Red State’. The DVD cover art shows an attractive young woman clutching a fuck-off big semi-automatic rifle. Hmmmm, political thriller, you might well think. Patty Hearst type shenanigans, mayhap. Something of a change of pace for Smith.

Then you slide the DVD in and the film gets ready for its first rug-pull.

We’re in small town America and three high-school losers are looking to get laid via the internet. Our testosterone-addled triumvirate – Jarod (Kyle Gallner), Travis (Michael Angarano) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) – have hooked up with trailer park milf Sara (Melissa Leo), but when they fetch up at her trailer it’s not the older woman fantasy made flesh that they get but a mickey finn in their beer and they wake up bound and caged and at the mercy of bigoted preacher Abin Cooper (Michael Parks). Cooper has some very intractable ideas about sin and how to deal with sinners. Shooting them in the head seems to be a favourite. And he really has a beef about sins involving carnality.

Hmmmmm, you think, torture porn mise en scene ahoy. What we have here is a horror movie that takes some satirical broadsides at fundamentalist Christianity.

At which point another rug pull occurs as ATF agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman) and his right hand man ASAC Brooks (Kevin Pollak) enter the picture. Keenan’s politically motivated boss has given the order, following an altercation with local law enforcement officers at Cooper’s compound that leaves a deputy dead, to go in with all guns blazing. And just in case there’s any negative publicity or hesitation over the order, Keenan and his men are instructed to regard Cooper and co. not as First Amendment protected citizens practising their right to freedom of religion but as a dangerous terrorist cell every man jack of whom should be shot on site. And by “every man jack”, that means the women and children who are also gathered at the compound.

Right, got it, you say to yourself. Took a while, but what Smith’s doing here is laying down an early John Carpenter siege movie vibe, making a scathing comment about America’s obsession with gun culture and getting into a debate on post-9/11 political heavy-handedness. You might also, at this point, resign yourself to the fact that Jay and Silent Bob aren’t going to be showing up in this one.

Then … well, whaddaya fuckin’ know … there’s another dang rug-pull. And all of a sudden we’re into some very weird territory. How weird? Imagine the conceptual ending of ‘Breaking the Waves’ spliced into a John Woo stylee shoot-out. Or ‘The Rapture’ if Sam Peckinpah had got hold of the script and decided that what all this metaphysical god-boy stuff needed to kick it up a notch was plenty of spent cartridges.

This particular rug-pull happens a smidgin before the hour mark; and for all that the end credits start rolling at one hour seventeen minutes, the Kevster has a couple more “fuck yous” to narrative consistency and thematic considerations before we get to check out who the head chef or accounting manager were.

In fact, it’s not till those selfsame credits that Smith finally plays his hand. The cast are divided into three camps, dependant on what their character represents: sex, religion or politics. It speaks for itself: as a cross-section of America, if not of humanity in general, most people are motivated by at least one of them. And a hell of a lot of people do some seriously fucking dumbass things as a result.