Thursday, October 2, 2008

horror onscreen and off...

I'm sitting here, thinking about writing a few horror movies reviews while I watch the Vice Presidental debate.  Unsurprisingly, barely fifteen minutes into the debate, Palin was already lying about Obama and Biden's (and McCain's) voting records in the senate.  Fortunately, Biden called her out on it, but it still amazes me when I encounter the Republican candidates' capacity for outright dishonesty, and the media and Democratic candidates' unwillingness to show up these people for just how corrupt and untruthful they are.  I can't deal with it.  Sarah Palin is a fucking idiot, too.  That's one of the things that amazes me the most.  She's a vice presidential candidate, I can't even find a job.  I'm not a fucking idiot.  I have my problems, but I'm not an idiot.  What the fuck?  What the holy motherfucking fuck?  There's something seriously wrong with our country, our political system, our media...

Anyway, back to Halloween, last week I finally got around to watching "Love Me Deadly," the recently-released-to-DVD 1973 exploitation film about necrophilia.  Yeah, this flick opens with pretty Lindsay (played by Mary Wilcox) gate-crashing a stranger's funeral in order to make a little time frenching the corpse.  Linsday has her eye on manly art dealer Alex (tv staple Lyle Waggoner), because, despite being alive, he reminds her of her dad, but she takes up with manly not art dealer Wade (Wade Farrow, to be exact, a great movie name for sure, and he's played by Christopher Stone from "the Howling"), though she remains sexuall frigid in the presence of living flesh.

Much to her frustration, Lindsay doesn't seem to actually ever get a chance to go "all the way" with her undead paramours.  She's forever being interrupted, which I suppose is a factor you're just going to have to deal with when your sex life involves breaking and entering at funeral homes.  A creepy mortician figures out what Lindsay's game is and invites her to join his coven of quasi-Satanic perverts who meet at the mortuary, doing a little chanting, some prostitute murders (including the occasional embalming of the not-quite-dead), some corpse mutilation, y'know, pretty much the usual, and who claim they can facilitate Lindsay's need for fresh, sexable corpses.  Along the way, after the swingin' double-date at Benihana, Lindsay breaks up with Wade and shacks up with Alex, eventually marrying him, despite her psychological inability to connsumate the thing.

Can you tell this going to end badly?  Can you imagine a scenario where it ends well?  When Lindsay submits to the coven's influence, Alex eventually catches her (finally) having her way with a dead body.  The coven kills him.  Lindsay freaks out so they dope her up.  When the coven's leader starts preparing the body for, well...it seems like he's cutting a finger off, presumably to put it in place of the dick?  So I'm guessing this is before Lindsay's benefit.  Anyway, she kills the coven leader and cozies up to her husbands corpse.  We finally get a full inkling of her past damage (accidentally killed her dad) in flashback.  The end.

All things considered, this is a really competently made, good-looking film.  Writer-director Jacques Lacerte never made another film, which is surprising, because by all indications, he was an above average b-filmmaker.  "Love Me Deadly" is of at least a made-for-TV quality, something alot of drive-in fare of the era cannot boast (Waggoner and Stone were mainly TV actors at the time, so the look kind of makes sense).  Mary Charlotte Wilcox makes an egaging lead.  Surprisingly, after a few more b-movies (including "Willie Dynamite" with Thalmus Rasulala, "Pyschic Killer" with Neville Brand, "The Big Bus," and "Black Oak Conspiracy" with Jesse Vint and Seymour Cassel), she segued into a career in comedy, becoming a writer and supporting player for SCTV (and the movie spin-off "Strange Brew"), making her completely and totally super awesome.  To me, she kind of looked like actress Kelli Garner, from "Thumbsucker" and "Lars and the Real Doll" (adequate but not great movies, I still totally have a cruch on her).  Wilcox's performance isn't perfect, some of the more hysterical scenes are a little hokey, but she brings some depth to her role, someone who's conflicted in a number of different ways.

Content wise, the film is moderately explicit, both in terms of violence and sex, but not excessive.  In think at the time that this came out, the subject matter was enough to provide a serious shock factor.  I mean, you still don't seem that many movies about necrophilia, but this one came out a year before even "the Texas Chainsaw Massacre."  I think there is a definite political aspect to the subject matter as well.  "Love Me Deadly" came out in the midst of the sexual revolution.  It was the first time culturally that there had ever really been a public dialogue on female sexuality.  Here we see a hysterical vision, a parody of the idea of a woman's sexual desire as something monstrous and frightening.  Lindsay's supposedly abberant sexuality is only accepted by a fringe, counterculture group- all the the stereotyped males of the picture can't handle it.  And it's only when the patriarchal authority of Lindsay's father-substitute is ursurped that Lindsay can find the full of expression of her self, not just her sexuality, but her sense of being- it is only after this happens that the audience is given her full backstory, that we are given the chance to really know her, because she finally really knows herself.  All in all, I gotta say, good flick.  Best movie about necrophilia I've seen all week...

Also peeped recently was the 2-for-1 MGM Midnite Movies disc of "A Blueprint for Murder" and "the Man in the Attic."  "A Blueprint for Murder," written and directed by Andrew Stone, is a fairly standard non-noir 1950s mystery thriller.  Joseph Cotton, in a turn that plays a bit on his Uncle Charlie role from Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt" a decade earlier, plays the brother-in-law of seemingly lovely Jean Peters (Sam Fuller's "Pickup on South Street"), who has already lost a husband and suddenly loses her daughter at the outset of the film.  Has she been poisoning her kin with strychnine in order to get at an inheritance?  Is her young son next?  Or is uncle Cotton to blame?  Things get a bit twisty-turvey towards the end, but this is by no means anything much more than a solid b-picture.  Cotton and Peters are great, even if the mystery is fairly predictable...

"Man in the Attic" is something more, though, the fourth adaptation of Marie Belloc Lowndes speculative novel on Jack the Ripper "The Lodger," first filmed by Hitchcock in 1927.  Jack Palance plays shy pathologist Mr. Slade, who takes a room in the house of Frances Bavier (that's Aunt Bea from "Andy Griffith" and veteran character actor Rhys Williams.  Palance's odd ways raise some suspicion that he may in fact be the Ripper, even as he shyly romances the old couple's neice, professional dancer Constance Smith.  Of course there really can be no resolution without defying history, that the identity of Jack the Ripper was never revealed, so it's interesting to see how things play out.  Fortuntately, the film chooses not to cheat history for an easy resolution, and keeps things open ended.

"Man in the Attic" is a prime example of everything that used to be totally wonderful about Hollywood.  Aside from the beautiful, crisp black and white cinematography by Leo Tover (who also shot "Blueprint for Murder," as well as "Day the Earth Stood Still," "the Snake Pit," and "Journey to the Center of the Earth"), we've got some nice characters touches from the old couple and some supporting players, including a couple of well-meaning Whitechapel policemen.  The filmmakers don't mind breaking with reality for a couple of musical numbers- one very elaborate one with Constance Smith in the dancehall, and another, more "naturalistic" one, with one of the victims in her home.

Best of all here is Jack Palance.  His sensistive, likable portrayal of a man who may or may not be a dangerous, psychotic killer is totally a blueprint for Anthony Perkins in Hitchcock's "Psycho" a few years later.  Palance, who went on to more tough guy roles in European film in the 1970s, then on TV's "Ripley's Believe it or Not," and later in films like "Batman" and "City Slickers," doesn't really get the credit he's due as a nuanced performer.  Up until recently, I tended to think of him as a real scenery chewer, but after seeing him in films like this and "House of Numbers," I find him much more interesting than I ever did before.  Palance did have a capacity for subtlety, and could play the soft-spoken and sympathetic just as well as the crazy killers he did in flicks like "Panic in the Streets."  And again, as a film in which the potential killer is viewed as somewhat sympathetic, I think this was definitely a precursor to, and perhaps an influence on, "Psycho."

Halloween is coming, watch horror movies!  Up next, some slasher flicks, including the shot-on-video oddity "Boardinghouse," and "Home Sweet Home," starring by "Body by Jake" lunatic Jake Steinfeld...

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