Movie Reviews 475 – Gun Crazy (1950)

April 16, 2021

I knew nothing of this Film Noir other than the fact that I liked the seductive artwork on the DVD. While not the best artwork, I could not ignore the scrumptious esthetic of a pulp mystery. None of the actors, writers, producers or the director were familiar to me and researching them afterwards it seems that Gun Crazy was the pinnacle of their respective careers. Digging a bit deeper I did discover that one of the writers, Millard Kaufman, was in fact the late, great Dalton Trumbo, on the infamous Hollywood blacklist at the time and either using a nom-de-plume or a ‘front’. With that being the only notable characteristic I wondered if I was going to enjoy this feature from one of the Poverty Row studios as much as I enjoy big budget Noir classics.

As one can imagine, the “Gun Crazy” sobriquet is indicative of a gangster tale and in that sense this film delivers the criminal elements it advertises. But the title is more apropos than one would imagine as the two main characters have very unique psychological rapports with guns and are literally ‘gun crazy’ but each in their own way.

We begin with Bart (John Dall) who was an otherwise good child but with a fixation for guns which gets him into trouble with the law. A spur of the moment attempt to steal a gun earns him a stint in reform school but he becomes a model citizen thereafter, even going so far as enlisting in the army to be a shooting instructor as he has become a master marksman.

Returning to his home town to visit his sister and boyhood friends, one now a sheriff, the other a newspaper reporter, his world changes the night the reunited men hit the local carny and take in the ‘crack shot’ show on the midway. The ‘star’ is Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) who ends the spectacle with an audience challenge at the end of the act. Bart not only takes the challenge but falls for her and ends up joining the travelling show.

When the couple later face some hard times Annie convinces Bart to engage in some petty crimes which of course later leads them to becoming a notorious headline grabbing couple with the FBI hot on their tails. The ever escalating crime spree and near escapes brings Bart back to his hometown and an ultimate showdown with his friends, family and the hand of the law.

The driving narrative is Bart’s hesitancy to use guns against any living thing, much less innocent lives, a lesson he learned early in life. On the other hand Annie’s reaction with a gun in hand is to shoot first and ask questions later. Their shared fascination for guns is diametrically opposite when it comes to endangerment of others.

I thought that the story was going to go down well worn the path of a callous and greedy woman coaxing her man to obtain the luxuries she desires and on the surface it seems that way for much of the film. But there is another layer, one of genuine love and affection that nicely complicates the plot and elevates this from being just a cheap action film. I like how it addresses how friends and family deal with a loved one falling into a life of crime and is not just about the main characters. Call it a proto Bonnie and Clyde without the blood and color.

Movie Reviews 474 – Soylent Green (1973)

April 9, 2021

“Soylent Green is….”

I won’t spoil the answer to that question but unless you’ve been living under a rock all your life you probably know the answer. It is of course the iconic climactic revelation of1973’s Soylent Green. So stunning was the epiphany – all the more memorable with Charlton Heston‘s anguished cry –  that it became a universal cultural reference that boasts its own IMDB page to list the hundreds of times it has been appropriated.

Based on the novel “Make Room, Make Room” by Harry Harrison, this is one of a trio of memorable science fiction movies Heston made in the latter part of his career along with The Omega Man, and the original Planet of the Apes, which of course had and even more prominent momentous ending.

You may think things are pretty bad now with a pandemic niggling everyone’s nerves and climate change to worry once the first, well ‘pans’ out. But if you were around in the 70’s things seemed just as bleak. There was an energy crisis that caused long lineups at fuel pumps. Famine was rampant in a number of African countries as we began to question the reliability of our own food supplies. Smog hung over every city as the comeuppance wastes of the industrial revolution gave rise to air pollution. All of these ailments seemed to point to a common cause: human overpopulation.

With that backdrop of urban sprawl and decay Soylent Green posits a future New York city whose inhabitants are mostly shoulder to shoulder, living in shared, squalid miniscule apartments for the lucky. Those less fortunate sleep in the corridors and stairways. Electricity is erratic and supplemented by residents pedalling to recharge batteries when needed. It is a future where most people have long forgotten the vast swathes of forests, fresh vegetables, the taste of meat and the luxury of running water, much less baths or showers.Food, like everything else, is strictly rationed and comes in the form of varied colored crackerlike wafers, processed and distributed by Soylent Industries. 

Even in such a dreary city there is a separate world. One in which the ultra rich are sheltered and cleansed from the ugliness that surrounds them. They live in sumptuous apartments with all the amenities one could desire, including lovely women considered as ‘furniture’ that go along with the building accommodations.

The assassination of a tenant in one of those affluent apartments has detective Thorn (Heston) investigating the crime. Helping him is his colleague and roommate Sol (Edward G. Robinson), a human ‘book’ also working for the NYPD. Thorn, availing himself of some of the luxuries at the crime scene passes along some physical books to Sol, a rarity in and of themselves, but in this case containing information that will eventually have a life crushing impact to all who learn of the secrets therein.

While there are elements of espionage, a crooked politician, and a few other throwaway characters, it’s the dystopian world that is front and center. Having read the novel a very long time ago all I can remember was that the two are very different, which was a bit of a disappointment but only because I was expecting the same basic plot.

This film is one of those timeless classics that everyone should watch at some point. While there are a few aspects that border on implausible, the stark world presented leaves viewers with many lasting impressions beyond the movie poster’s riot control human garbage trucks. The dichotomy of the views, Sol lamenting the past and trying to expound what has been lost to Thorn is as heartbreaking as is Sol’s eventual fate, made all the more poignant and fitting as it was to be Robinson’s last film. The paramount scene where the truth is revealed later became even more significant, foreshadowing to a degree Heston’s infamous ‘cold dead hands’ speech which has become a slogan for the NRA.

Set in the supposed future year 2022, less than a year from now, the film postulates a worldwide population of an unimaginable 7 billion people, a number we’ve long ago surpassed. While things are not great, especially now, at least we are not eating Soylent buffets.

Iceworld – Hal Clement (1953)

April 1, 2021

Those who know me are well aware of my abject disdain for cold weather, most notably the frigid temperatures of the Canadian winters I must endure. It is therefore surprising that I would even have a passing interest in a novel titled Iceworld. What made me pick up and read this novel was that it was written by Hal Clement , or “Harry Stubbs” for those who prefer to sidestep the late science fiction grandmaster’s more familiar nom-de-plume.

Anyone who’s ever read any of Clement’s books knows that he excelled at alien worldbuilding, not only by taking physics to extremes in creating viable (for the contemporary science at the time) bodies of matter, but also the underlying chemistry and meteorological implications of those worlds. Not surprising then that his most notable work, Mission of Gravity, which takes place on an oblate planet (think pancake!) is considered the grandfather of macrocosmic worldbuilding stories. His second most acclaimed book is Needle, the story of immersive symbiosis of a stranded alien taking refuge within the body of a young boy.

I mentioned these other works because Iceworld straddles these two novels thematically, and coincidentally chronologically, all three being published between 1950 and 1954. While Mission of Gravity is a tale featuring adults, Needle’s youthful human adopted accommodation by the alien was directed at a younger reading audience making it what we used to call a ‘juvie’ as the term YA (Young Audience) had not been adopted then. Once again Iceworld can be categorized as something in between as there are a number of kids, one featuring more prominently than the others.

Context is everything. The “Iceworld” here is in fact our own Earth – I don’t consider this a spoiler given to cover art of the book as shown here – but to an alien species coming from a scorching arid planet, our familiar and comfortable planet can be considered a harsh and even deadly environment.

The plot is about alien drug smugglers from a planet called Sarr that have been getting some unknown but highly addictive narcotic from Earth. Our protagonist “Ken” is a schoolteacher that has been recruited by Sarrian authorities to infiltrate the drug ring, find out exactly what this new drug is, and where they are getting it from. On Earthside, a landowner and his family have been secretly ‘trading’ with unknown aliens who drop regularly scheduled automated ‘torpedoes’ near a beacon they found on their land for the last twenty years.

The novel begins with chapters that alternate between the Earthling and Sarrian points of view, each dealing with mysterious counterparts and trying to learn more. Both species are essentially performing black box experiments while maintaining a highly beneficial trade. While I really enjoyed that back and forth, the narrative soon focuses on Ken’s dealing with his counterparts for a good part of the book. Part of the mystery there is not only to ‘blend in’ with his superior who is a key ring member but also gauge another aide that works closely with Ken as he tries to learn as much as he can about the source of the narcotic and decipher our planetary system at the same time. As you can see, Ken has his hands full, or tentacles to be more accurate. On Earth thirteen year old Don is the one that takes the keenest interest in the alien exchanges that his father conducts and those passages are the ones that give this book the ‘juvie’ feel.

As I eluded, this book is cram full of science and chemistry talk as the aliens try to determine the constituents of Earth’s atmosphere and terrain, and given the thermal readings the concept of oceans as flowing liquids is so foreign they mistake it for “flat land”. Clement’s academic background allows him to delve deep into chemistry and leverage that knowledge to devise clever experiments for the aliens to conduct as part of their research. I have to say that while this was enjoyable at first the excess “Chemistry-101” course did slow down the story at some points. The book does pose a few other problems in logic such as an otherwise benevolent and well meaning family completely disregarding the significance of mankind’s first alien contact.

One of the biggest mysteries is the revelation of exactly what it is exactly that the humans are trading that is such a hard drug to the alien physiology. Clement gets good mileage from this and it is something of a gag.

I’m can’t rate this one a classic given some of the issues I mentioned but it remains a notable work that won’t leave you completely cold.

Movie Reviews 474 – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966)

March 26, 2021

Zero Mostel was one of the many unfortunate actors caught up in the McCarthy era House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) Hollywood blacklists, which is such a shame as it robbed everyone of enjoying his talents for ten years. While many will remember him for his roles in The Producers or Fiddler on the Roof, for myself it will always be for his portrayal of Pseudolus, a Roman slave who will stop at nothing to gain his freedom in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Pseudolus is what you would call an ungovernable slave, always slacking off his duties, a swindler and cheat when it comes dealing with bar patrons and market merchants and always one step away from being lashed (or worse) by his masters, the henpecked Senex (Michael Hordern) and his overbearing ashen faced wife Domina (Patricia Jessel). Caught in the middle is the family slave overseer Hysterium (Jack Gilford) whose own neck is in jeopardy every time Pseudolus gets out of line.

The real trouble begins when Lycus (Phil Silvers), a merchant of sultry women, for leisure or marriage, opens up shop in the palace next door. Senex and Domina’s naive son Hero (Michael Crawford) falls in love with one of Lycus’ girls, Philia (Annette Andre), surreptitiously drooling over her from his balcony view. With a promise from Hero to be given his freedom if he can get him the girl, Pseudolus embarks yet another scheme. But even when they manage to briefly extricate Philia, Pseudolus must deal with a roman captain (Leon Greene) who has been promised to the girl as his bride.

The convoluted shenanigans include another elderly and very shortsighted neighbor (Buster Keaton) who has been searching high and low for his long lost children, a batch of Passion Potion that makes the rounds, a funeral procession, a long winded search for mare sweat, Cretian jokes (the rampant plague you know) and the mandatory chariot chases one would expect in any respectable sword and sandal flick.

The cast of golden age comedians should be enough to warrant a view. Keen eyed observers  (or those who pay close attention to the credits) will note the brief participation of Doctor Who Jon Pertwee, Hammer Horror goddess Ingid Pitt and the buxom Inga Neilsen to literally round things out. I was not as impressed with the music but the Comedy Tonight theme song more than makes up for the others.

I think the Jack Davis poster art once again speaks for itself and gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect.

Movie Reviews 473 – The Car (1977)

March 19, 2021

There is something to be said about sentient vehicles in cinema and TV as they seem to be around every street corner. Most are the tame, kid friendly varieties such as Herbie the Love Bug, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and for those of us even a little bit older, My Mother the Car. Then there is the class of more adventure ‘driven’ ones like KITT from Knight Rider or the alien Transformers which though basically a toy franchise, can just as easily be labelled juvenile fodder as well. And finally there are the horror conveyances.

Stephen King not only created the demonic1958 Plymouth Fury in Christine but had an entire army of rebellious vehicles and machinery in his story Trucks from his collection Night Shift which was adapted to film twice, the most notably in Maximum Overdrive. But even before King took to the road there was The Car, the first horror to feature a fully sentient evil car.

To be sure, these movies rely on their human characters for audience engagement while the vehicles in question merely ‘drive’ the narrative. In the case of The Car the protagonist is a small town sheriff (James Brolin) who suddenly finds himself facing a terror that came out of nowhere, begins mercilessly killing any bystanders who happen to be within reach, and after dealing with the sheriff’s feeble attempts to stop the carnage, begins to specifically taunt him.

If the narrative here sounds a bit familiar once you hear the eerily familiar thumping “Dum..dum…”, two-note ostinato whenever the car appears, everything becomes crystal clear. Substitute the expanse of the ocean with tarred and lined pavement and The Car is essentially Jaws on wheels.

The all black body devoid of standout attributes other than a chrome grill and headlights arrives at the outskirts of the desert town of Santa Ynez one sunny day and begins the bloodshed by mauling two young bike riders on the highway. Only when a second victim is annihilated, a hitchhiker clearly targeted by the car and leaving witnesses, do the authorities believe that they have a murdering motorist in the vicinity. But the question of whether there is even anyone behind the wheel raises a spectre of something much more sinister. Soon the car is chasing down an entire class of parading school children and deprived of those victims, sets it’s autopilot on the sheriff and his family.

While laughable at times such as seeing the car lunging and spinning like a mad bull, this film delivers the high octane thrills in chases, fender benders and other demolition derby delights. But the attempt to induce empathy for the humans falls flatter than a tire. The sheriff, a single dad having an affair with one of his daughter’s school teachers is no Brody and can barely outwit his mechanical nemesis. The few plot other threads in the film including an alcoholic deputy and a pugnacious wife beating farmer seem to lose their way before the climactic Jaws inspired ending. The only credit I do give the script is that there were a few surprise, audacious kills of characters that appeared destined for more. The car does have an Achilles heel (axle?), but it’s so ludicrous I guarantee you (or your engine) will groan when you hear it.

Not since the Edsel has a car been so vilified.

There’s enough juice in this tank to go from point A to point B, just don’t expect too many other roadside attractions along the way.

Movie Reviews 472 – Mr. Majestyk (1974)

March 12, 2021

Nobody is going to argue that Charles Bronson will always be synonymous with his role as the vigilante killer in Death Wish and it’s sequels. Bronson made a career of playing the tough ‘quiet guy’ and does not stray from that characterization here in Mr. Majestyk, a film by Richard Fleischer (better known for his Science Fiction and Fantasy films such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) and from an Elmore Leonard original screenplay.

Bronson is Vince Majestyk, a divorced Vietnam veteran who did a short stint in Folsom prison after a bar brawl. Having recently taken up farming to put that muddled past behind him he wants nothing more than to get his crop of watermelons harvested to stay afloat. But that requires the use of migrant Mexican labourers to help him get the job done and his first obstacle is a tenacious union busting twit who thinks he can tell Majestyk who will be tending his fields.

While Vince takes care of that little problem in short order, it does earn him a little time in a local prison and it’s there that he first rankles mobster hitman Frank Renda (Al Lettieri). Renda is no small time assassin though, he’s one of those few highly reliable executioners for hire with a crew of his own. When a prisoner bus transport trip is interrupted by Renda’s rescuer’s in a shootout, Vince finds himself driving the bus away from the scene with only himself and Renda. But Vince’s flight for freedom is not just a plan to run away. Instead he tries to use Renda as collateral to bargain for dismissal of his own charges.

The irate Renda manages to escape and instead of fleeing to Mexico as his mistress and entourage advises, he wants insists on getting revenge. He wants Majestyk dead and by his own hands. This results in a multiple pronged story with Renda hunting Majestyk, cops observing everything, and Vince still just trying to get that crop harvested before it rots.

While the script is not as polished as it should be, it is action packed with shootouts, explosions and airborne car chases. Given Majestyk’s choice of wheels it sometimes feels like one long  Ford pickup television commercial. The film even has a bit of comic relief as Renda deals with the inept union buster who got Vince into trouble in the first place, doing more damage than good  while helping Renda and hoping to get another crack at Majestyk on his own.

While a loner at heart, Majestyk is supported by a loyal labourer (Alejandro Rey) and a sympathetic union supporter (Linda Cristal) who comes to his aid and for his heart. Vince is not only a crack shot and daredevil driver, but cunning and determined to take Renda down despite him being hunted one.

While not on par with Death Wish the film that Bronson would make right after this one, it still packs a punch and I’m not even talking about the great “Melon Massacre” scene which you have to see to believe.

Movie Reviews 471 – The Big Sleep (1946)

March 5, 2021

While The Big Sleep was not their first movie together, it can easily be said that this is the film that cemented one of Hollywood’s more famed May-December romances, and at the same time gave us one of the most endearing Film Noirs of the era. Adapting the role of famed pulp detective Philip Marlowe, Humphrey Bogart swept Lauren Bacall off her feet both onscreen and offscreen, and by the time the convoluted production was complete, the two were married.

Much like Bogart’s other celebrated Film Noir classic The Maltese Falcon, you really have to hold onto your hat as you ride this one out as it has more twists, turns and branches than the notoriously labyrinthine freeways in  Los Angeles where the story is set. But unlike it’s brethren there are no MacGuffins like the titular Falcon statuette as the threads are all relevant and once pieced together solve a mystery that was inconsequential at the beginning.

Marlowe is called in by one of his old friends who is being blackmailed for some bounced checks by his youngest daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers). The checks were issued to a local antiquarian bookstore but it doesn’t take long for Marlowe to determine that neither the reclusive owner of the shop or the woman attendant there know anything about books. Tailing the shop owner to his home, Marlowe spies Carmen arriving at the house and in a short time hears shots firing and two cars making a getaway. Inside, Marlowe finds a body, a drunken Carmen and evidence that photos were taken implicating the young girl in the murder.

Among the many impediments that Marlowe has to navigate the most troublesome is Carmen’s sister Vivian (Bacall). Vivian is as much concerned about prodding Marlowe regarding what he knows and what her dad told him as she is about helping her sister get out of the mess. The tangled tale to be sifted through includes a curious landlord, a former blackmailer that the girls father paid off long ago, a dead chauffeur, a sympathetic cop, disappearing bodies and various henchmen around every corner.

Based on pulp writer Raymond Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep was the first story featuring the celebrated detective.This movie is as much about the chemistry between Bogie and Bacall as it is about solving a crime. The movie was originally completed in 1945 but a number of circumstances held back it’s release, not the least of which was shooting a number of additional scenes with the two leads, greatly enhancing Bacall’s role. My 2006 Warner Brothers DVD not only had both versions of the film but also an in depth analysis documentary comparison of the two that also brought to light a number of fascinating details. Despite being an adaptation of a novel one can only admire that writers Leigh Bracket and William Faulkner knocked out a script in a mere eight days and without even being in contact with one another. Given the significant differences, what we have here is really two classic films. Regardless of which you watch, you will be sure to be entertained.

Under the Dome – Stephen King (2009)

February 26, 2021

I always approach books that are more than 1000 pages long with some trepidation. As someone who rarely quits on a book once started (I can count the number of times I’ve done that on two fingers), picking up such a brick is a huge commitment and for that the book better be good. In fact, it better be terrific. That usually means I know something about these hefty tomes beforehand, be that a fair idea of the contents or that it has near universal praise from other readers or reviewers. Now it really helped that two of the other 1000 pager ‘bricks’ that I’ve read over the years also happen to be by Stephen King, namely The Stand and more recently It. But even in those cases I had done my homework. But I took a bit of a chance with Under the Dome knowing nothing other than the fact it was written by King and the obvious subject matter given the title and cover art.

Anyone familiar with King’s novels will attest to his knack for creating amazing characters and putting those large books together just means more characters. I’ve whined in the past when novels introduce too many characters but that is when they are either not well defined or too similar to others within the same pages. When it comes to King the essence of the content are his characters. King somehow manages to not only make his characters stand out and thus not get lost in the shuffle, but to have just enough of a background to match their relevance. King does such a great job with characters that the plot and story are relegated to secondary importance, just something to keep the characters moving along. In the case of Under the Dome the big questions are not only secondary but in the end almost inconsequential, and at the risk of spoiling it, culminates in a rethread of a fairly well-known science fiction plot. But don’t let that deter you, as ..

The story is one in which the small New England town of Chester’s Mill suddenly finds itself enclosed within a near impermeable ‘dome’ (a bit of a misnomer in that it is not circular at all but roughly the ‘sock’ shaped outline of the town). The dome extends well into the sky and deep underground, isolating the inhabitants from the rest of mankind. This effectively  means that they are left to their own devices and, unfortunately for the citizenry, also means they are at the mercy of those who control the town. In this case, that role falls squarely into the hands of manipulative car salesman and second town selectman “Big Jim” Rennie. The position of ‘second’ selectman is indicative of his tactical heinousness, making sure that he is surrounded by fall persons, cronies and minions to perform the dirty work for him. Those minions include his equally evil, but dim-witted and psychotic son “Junior” Rennie. But the Rennie empire runs much deeper than just taking advantage of a few town resources. Both Rennies and their accomplices have much darker secrets.

The sudden arrival of the dome is seen as godsend to Big Jim who can now expand his control over the town unfettered by any law and order. With the tactical precision of a surgeon he quickly dispatches those few hindrances in his way and manages to exert control over the police force, reshaping and augmenting it to the equivalent of a personal Gestapo.

The only thing standing in the way of both Rennies is town outsider, Dale “Barbie” Barbara, a recent short order cook at the local dinner who was within minutes of leaving town when the dome dropped and Julia, the town newspaper publisher. With the help of a few meddling kids and a small group of their own recruits they slowly form a Rennie counter force while trying to solve the mystery itself.

Aside from slowly meting out the secret evil deeds of Jim and his son, the novel highlights the jarring effect of the presence of the dome, both with immediate casualties and the long term prospects. While those outside the dome, throw all they can at it, it is the internal turmoil that is at the forefront. Big Jim’s influence is vast given his pious facade and tentacled hold on many people who have been corralled to serve him over the years. That power results in a breakdown of societal norms like that in Lord of the Flies. On the other hand we see how Barbie’s predicament gets worse and worse. King really gives us political terror as the element of horror. The segregation scenario he creates provides a convenient petri dish in which the entire environment is isolated from any justice system, normally an integral part of any civilized society.

While I did not give the book much thought at first, I quickly realized it was an eerie selection to read during a pandemic given some of the similar circumstances, and doubly impacted as the delusional direction of Jim Rennie’s state of mind felt all to familiar with that of the recent POTUS. One character laments how the kindly folk rose up, a sight she had observed in other countries but never thought she would see in her own. I happened to read that section right after Washington capitol riots. If that does not qualify as shiver inducing horror I don’t know what does.

I’m aware of the recent Under the Dome television series but aside from hearing that there are quite a number of differences between the two, I can’t comment on it. I would be interested in hearing from others who’ve enjoyed the novel to provide some feedback on whether I should watch that as well.

Movie Reviews 470 – It Happened at Nightmare Inn (1973)

February 19, 2021

The Italian ‘giallo’ genre of thriller-horror (giallo all’italiana) films had spread to Spain by the ‘70s creating a mini cottage industry of its own with prolific stars like Paul Naschy and director Jess Franco to name a few. While few of these films can claim to be classics by any standard, many are none the less highly entertaining, It Happened at Nightmare Inn (natively titled Una vela para el diablo and perhaps better known as “A Candle for the Devil”) is a fine example of an absorbing giallo that hits all the right nostalgic notes.

Following the tradition of having one or two English speaking stars in these foreign language films, Judy Geeson arrives at a small Spanish villa in search of her sister who is supposed to be staying at one of the local hotels run by sisters Marta (Aurora Bautista) and Verónica (Esperanza Roy). Laura (Geeson), surprised to learn that her sister had left suddenly and without any message or forwarding address, begins a search that will have disturbing results.

Marta and Veronica are middle aged, bun haired spinsters that share a prudish attitude, especially when it comes to the young women tourists who come and stay with them. While Veronica shares her sister’s respectable outlook, it is Marta who cracks the whip and openly confronts those who do not meet with her highly critical eye.

As Laura continues to search for her sister another young tourist, a brazen hussy comes to town. Not only does Helen (Lone Fleming) have the audacity to wear skimpy hot pants, giving all the men in town an eyeful, but she purposefully flaunts her lifestyle in front of her puritan hostesses. Helen’s sudden surprising ‘departure’ adds to Laura’s suspicions that something is amiss. When yet a third , this time supposedly modest mother of a young child,  joins the list of unanticipated exits, Laura who by now has left the hotel, sets in motion a plan that will get her back in and solve the mystery once and for all.

Gorehounds will be disappointed as this film does not rely on flashy kills although there are a few onscreen deaths and one surprise ‘eyeful’ that will figure into the resolution. Neither is this a whodunit as the sisters divulge their complicity early on but without going in details or specifics. This film slowly hints at Marta and Veronica’s back history, surprising and unexpected, which cultivated their current motivations and actions.

Director Eugenio Martín (who also gave us Horror Express) metes out hints at just the right pace and portions to have viewers guessing what the big picture is going to be. And speaking of pictures we get treated to some ghoulish frescos from a Museum which Laura frequents as part of her investigation as well as some devilish artwork adorning Marta’s bedroom. I must confess that Bautista was the standout among the two sisters and I hoped she had many other such films to look forward to, but it seems that aside from one other major starring role in an acclaimed thriller (La Tía Tula) she never featured in any other giallo.

On the other hand in trying to find out more about this film I discovered that there are lots of other Spanish giallo out there that sound interesting and that I hope to catch at some point. Another reminder that some films that are not in the top echelons of fandom are still worthy of a watch.

 

Movie Reviews 469 – Rainy Dog (1997)

February 12, 2021

I’ve reviewed a number of films by director Takashi Miike, a favorite of mine known for his depiction of both extreme violence and the dizzying array of subject matter of his films. Not too many filmmakers can claim a filmography that includes a movie based on a kiddie TV show (Yatterman!), cybernetic yakuza (Full Metal Yakuza) and a Masters of Horror TV episode that was banned for being too extreme.

Rainy Dog is actually the second installment in the director’s Black Society trilogy (the others being Shinjuku Triad Society and Ley Lines), but I should point out right away that the films are only loosely linked and one does not need to have seen the first to watch this one. They each tell a separate tale of how the yakuza and triads are perceived and integrated within Japanese society.

In Rainy Dog a yakuza soldier finds himself ostracized from his crime syndicate and stranded in Taipei Taiwan, unable to return without a passport. Already down and out, Yuuji (Show Aikawa, also in Miike’s Gozu) is also trying to evade another assassin who has been ‘hunting’ him for 3 years for some unnamed conflict between the two. If that were not already too much to handle, a woman with whom Yuuji had a one night stand years before suddenly drops off his young son, incidentally a mute, who he never even knew about. At first, the boy Ah Chen is left to fend for himself outside Yuuji’s shanty, standing in the rain and foraging for food scraps. Eventually Yuuji lets him follow him around and allows him to enter his shack, barely accommodating him rather than fully accepting him.

Throughout the film Yuuji is earning his keep as an assassin for Mr Ke who also keeps promising him that he will get him a passport. After he completes an ordered hit on one of Mr. Ke’s competitors, Ku-Chiping, Yuuji also comes into the possession of a suitcase full of money. Yuuji then encounters Lily (Xianmei Chen), a prostitute that takes a shine to young Ah Chen. However Ku-Chiping’s brother has struck a deal with Ke, and now the trio, Yuuji, Lily and Ah Chen are on the run, chased by everyone it seems until they reach the end at the beachhead shoreline.

While some of Miike’s trademark violence is found here, it is not as gratuitous as in other films and does prove to be significant to the storyline. However the non-action scenes are very serene and emotional, with both Yuuji and Lily contemplating their lives and in search of peace and stability. As one can imagine, the ‘Rainy’ part of the title figures in many such scenes, ones that I can only assume are an homage to legendary director Akira Kurasawa and Seven Samurai in particular.

It’s hard for me not to recommend any Miike film, no matter how quirky and odd. But this is not on par with his most celebrated films so perhaps not for everyone. But another ‘must’ for Miike fans like myself.


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