Movie Reviews 416 – My Name is Nobody (1973)

December 6, 2019

There are almost as many western films that ruminate on the final days of legendary crack shot gunmen as there are ones that have then merely going on killing sprees whether they be samaritan bounty hunters or charcoal wearing villains. My Name is Nobody is the former with Henry Fonda as the aged shooter who just wants to sail off into the sunset – literally in this case.

The plots of these movies basically have wannabe replacements hoping to earn their reputation by besting the veteran in a shootout. But Jack Beauregard (Fonda) has a slightly different problem. Sure he has more than a few eager guns hoping to take him on, but one particular fellow who doesn’t have a name (Terence Hill) isn’t inclined to have a shootout at all. Although he is clearly as good as, even better than Jack, he just turns up at every corner pestering Jack with a steady stream of advice and guidance, whether wanted or not.

As Jack makes his way towards New Orleans (and eventual passage to Europe) his voyage includes making a pit stop in search of his brother The Nevada Kid (an acknowledged scoundrel and outlaw) and shutting down the owner of a dry goldmine (Jean Martin) who is using stolen gold as a replacement for extract. The mine owner doesn’t take to kindly with Jack’s interference and assembles a small army of marauders to hunt him down. All this leads to a finale in which Jack is stranded next to train tracks in the middle of nowhere as the cavalcade of fifty armed horse riders descend on him.

The symbolism of the cherubic Nobody representing Jack’s guardian angel is as plain as the outline of wings projected by the saddle that he carries on his back throughout the film. Able to recite the day and foes of every gun battle Jack ever fought, his guidance proves to be divinely appropriate despite Jack’s reluctance to heed it at times.

If you haven’t picked it up yet there are plenty of homage references to Sam Peckinpaw and The Wild Bunch including that final battle.And just like it’s inspiration, there are plenty of battles and the blood that goes with it. But this is no mere oater bloodfest.

Il mio nome è Nessuno (original Italian title) was directed by Tonino Valerii (with a helping hand from Sergio Leone) and departs from the usual gritty Spaghetti Western in many other ways aside from the heavenly inferences. While maestro Ennio Morricone provided the score his theme is decidedly bubbly to go along with the story, even going so far as playfully adapting Wagner’s Ride Of The Valkyries. The script straddles the line of comedy and drama and is more like a collection of stringed skill shooting skits than a linear narrative. The comedy does go over the top at times with sped up sequences resembling Keystone Kops or even Stooge-like.

If you want your westerns to be pure spit and dust this is probably not what you’re looking for. To be sure, there is plenty of that but be prepared for a light hearted approach and little fantasy thrown in as well.

Movie Reviews 415 – Five Deadly Venoms (1978)

November 28, 2019

A dying martial arts teacher confides to his last remaining student Yang the tale of the five former students he once taught, now collectively called the Poison Clan. Knowing that these five students – the titular Five Deadly Venoms  (AKA The Five Venoms) – have been using their specialised Kung Fu skills for nefarious deeds, he asks his last student to track them down and end their ongoing evil exploits. But there is a catch. As these students trained under the master, they each wore a mask hiding their true identity. The master can offer but one equally mysterious lead. Yun, a former fellow teacher of the dying master has amassed a small fortune that the Poison Clan are scheming to get there hands on. By finding Yun, Yang can determine the identities of the Poison Clan and end their reign. Yang is told that he alone cannot win over the superior Poison Clan members should he take them on individually. But one among them is actually respectable and if Yang can determine which, their combined abilities can overcome those of the evil ones.

The five Poison Clan members have each specialized in a specific form of fighting technique.  Comprised of the Centipede, the Snake, the Scorpion, the Lizard, and the Toad, we get a glimpse of each masked fighter in flashbacks as the teacher tells his tale. The teacher also counsels Yang on a few bits of knowledge relating to the five members (actually often referred to as “Number 1”, “Number Two”, etc. during the film) that may help him find the Poison gang.  To wit, the first two knew each other, and four and five knew each other, while the third, the Scorpion, was a mystery to everyone.

Yang departs on his mission and begins to observe the ongoings in the nearest town. Sure enough, he begins to suspect a few people after observing some deft use of hands and odd interactions on the street. But before he can find him, members of the gang kill Yun and his family leaving Yang to figure out “Who’s Who” on his own. As Yang continues his mission, the clan members themselves are battling one another (often with the aid of corrupt officials) and try to figure out their respective identities among themselves.

Most of the intrigue is playing along with the guessing game as pieces of the puzzle are slowly sorted out until the final reveal of the most mysterious member, Number 3 as well as which of the five will come to Yang’s aide. But I confess that for a renowned wuxia film, the fighting, while admirable, does not live up to the sophistication of the best films of the era. I do have to admit that among some torture scenes the use of an actual Iron Maiden was both a surprise and a standout.

Released by the illustrious Shaw Brothers studios this classic was produced by Runme Shaw and ironically released the same year as The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, which I consider one of their finest. This is yet another one of those films often reference in media, most notably in Kill Bill as the five assassins of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.

Sadly, my DVD viewing experience from a dreadful Saturn Productions DVD left much to be desired. The godawful transfer looked like black and white at times, suffered from poor dubbing and I had the distinct feeling that this was an incomplete cut with missing and/or displaced scenes. I do recommend seeking this film out, but do so with one of the many remastered/restored versions available. I hope to get another copy myself to fully enjoy this next time I watch it.


Movie Reviews 414 – The Reptile (1966)

November 23, 2019

While not one of the best of the Hammer Studios Victorian horror films, The Reptile has always been one of my favorites. While the renown ‘studio that dripped blood’s fame was founded on the many Dracula and Frankenstein epics starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, every now and then it strayed from those horror staples and The Reptile was one of those gambles.

The sentimental appeal for myself can be attributed to a number of factors including being one of the earliest horror films I ever saw in a full sized theater screen back in the early seventies – in French no less. It has what was then a fairly new concept for a creature and blends in South Asian mystical folklore, also a rarity at the time. But the one reason above all others it made such an impact is that this was the first movie that really scared the living crap out of me! Not such much while I watched it – although I was one the edge of my seat and cringing to be sure – but later that night when I tried going to sleep and could not rid myself of image of “the monster” from my hyperactive nine year old mind.

Recently married Harry and Valerie Spalding (Ray Barrett and Jennifer Daniel) arrive in a Cornwall town to claim the cottage inherited from Harry’s recently deceased brother Charles. They immediately get the cold shoulder from the locals as word gets around that they intend to make the cottage their new home and trying to get specifics on the circumstances of Charles’ death. The town has been victim to a spate of mysterious deaths, coincidentally beginning around the return of the Spalding’s neighbor Dr. Franklyn (Noel Willman) and his daughter Anna (Jacqueline Pearce) from Bornean research trip. A theologian, Dr. Franklyn holds his daughter Anna on a tight leash while at the same time seeming to be under the control of his Malaysian butler who returned with them. The young couple have a tenuous relationship with their dysfunctional neighbors but befriend the local barkeep Tom (Michael Ripper) who has begun investigating the rash of deaths himself. While Harry and Tom know the Franklyn’s are at the core of the mystery, it takes the local town drunk’s ghastly death and a stray kitty to reveal the thru horror lurking in the doctors house.

The opening scene depicting Charles’ death throes after being attacked in the Franklyn mansion gives the audience a taste of the quickly spreading, eerie green skin discoloration and rabid-like frothing at the mouth of the victims. But that great and effect is nothing compared to the creature design of the reptilian morphing Anna. Sleek and serpentine except for one particularly glaring failing facet. The costume and makeup used separate plastic popping eyeballs that unfortunately are often misaligned from one another. Was it rushed shooting or a failed attempt at a chameleon-like independent eye direction, I do not know, but it is bothersome even in the many stills from the film. Another aspect that drives the slimy atmosphere is the steamy basement snake pit with a bubbling heat spring, the setting for the fitting film finale. Another fine touch is the effective and appropriate use of a catchy snake-charmer influenced music score. A particularly unsettling scene is one in which Anna entertains the her new neighbors playing a sitar while staring down her father and building the tempo to a crescendo until Dr. Franklyn loses it and does his own Pete Townsend guitar smashing routine.

Not counting films in which reptiles stood in for fake dinosaurs this can be considered as the first true horror where the creature in question was undoubtedly truly reptilian, and the beginning of a trend that continued into the seventies with films such as Sssssss, and Frogs.

For a long time this was one of those titles inexplicably hard to find for North American region media players without paying a king’s ransom. So when Scream Factory finally got around to issuing a new remastered Blu-ray this year I put in my order and anxiously awaited delivery. True Scream Factory reputation for putting out quality reissues is evident with this remastered print featuring vibrant colours in all but a few spots . The extra features go into detail how this film was one of four Hammer films that were basically shoot at the same time with reused sets and actors hoping to same on production costs.

While it was not as well received at the time, this is one of those films that I think even non Hammer fans can enjoy. Just skip the Popeye jokes, OK?

Bonhomme Sept-Heures – Evan May (2016)

November 15, 2019

My initial intrigue in reading Evan May’s Bonhomme Sept-Heures was my familiarity with the legend based on the horror movies The Bonesetter (2003) and The Bonesetter Returns (2005)  by Brett Kelly. After attending the premiere of the first film I thought that the character and story were original until I did a little more digging. It turns out that the legend of a stovepipe hatted entity who snatches children when they stay outdoors beyond seven o’clock at night is steeped in Quebec lore. Variations on the legend have this character going from town to town as travelling medical practitioner, hence “bone-setter”, which is phonetically close to “Bonhomme Sept-Heures” in French which, as a whole, loosely translates to “The seven o’clock man”.

That being said, what I expected here was a horror story, pure and simple, much like the movie presentations. However this novel ended up being more of a paranormal fantasy playing out largely as police/detective procedural rather than any real horror narrative.

Our story begins (well more on that later) with a convicted murderer, Adam Godwinson, who is not only a priest but an ex-bookseller. The background to his current incarceration is vaguely explained as an encounter with members of some secretive foundation under the influence of an evil entity – coined “The Infection” – which Adam and crew of youths managed to repress but at the cost of his own freedom. Suddenly out of nowhere David Prentiss, an official of some indeterminate (yet powerful) law enforcement agency visits Adam in prison and offers him immediate limited freedom if he joins the agent to help solve a case of a serial child killer currently on a killing spree in a remote Quebec town.

When Prentiss, Adam, and Jack – a chaperon of sorts to keep an eye out on Adam – arrive in Lac de Thé they are met with a reluctant Sûreté du Québec (provincial police force), distraught citizens, an oddly inquisitive school teacher, a local bigot drunkard, and a skeptical clergyman among others. Later joined by one of Adams former students, now a reporter, the team have to disseminate what little evidence they have to determine if they are dealing with a serial killer or if some mystic force is in play. And as time ticks away they dread that yet another young body may show up.

My one problem with the novel is that almost from the very beginning with the explanation of Adam’s incarceration flashback I sensed that what I was reading was in fact a sequel to a previous story. Sure enough when I checked I learned that May wrote King in Darkness which was published a year prior which described those events completely. Unfortunate as a number of the characters and events are fleetingly reference here which often left me confused without the proper context while adding little, if anything, to this story.  Nowhere in this book is the prequel even mentioned. Neither front or back covers, acknowledgements, or even the author bio make any mention of it which is a shame as I would have read that book first.

I do heartily recommend this book but do yourself a favour and get King in Darkness first to get the most out of this one.

Movie Reviews 413 – Sunset Boulevard (1950)

November 8, 2019

Hollywood. The place where dreams are made and just as quickly shattered. Where the mansions are enormous but are easily overshadowed by the cesspools they obscure. Marlon Brando once famously quoted “Most of the successful people in Hollywood are failures as human beings.” This damning assessment of Tinseltown is captured in Sunset Boulevard, a film noir that ends with one of the eras most iconic lines as the camera zooms in on a faded movie star.

Down to his last few dollars and without any hopeful prospects to sell any of his movie scripts, Joe Gillis (William Holden) dodges the repo men after his car by slipping into an empty garage of a run down mansion of the iconic Sunset strip. But what he initially mistakes for an abandoned abode is the home of former silent screen starlet Norma Desmod (Gloria Swanson) who at first mistakes him for the undertaker of her recently deceased pet monkey. Having clarified that idiotic notion Norma reluctantly shows the scribe a script she wrote that she hopes will be the stake for her return to the big screen.

Joe realizes the script is a disastrous mess but gives a calculated response that will ensure he can sponge off the eccentric but wealthy crone with a few days of script cleaning. Hoping for not much more that to get himself out of hock and back to a dreary, but steady job, his temporary one night stay in a room above the garage is soon a move into the plush boudoir next to Norma’s. Initially rebuffing her advances and hysterics, he soon finds himself in an uncomfortable balancing act of lover/writer just as he begins to fall for the fiance of his best friend (Nancy Olson) as she too wants both his love and his writing acumen.

Skillfully narrated by Joe’s voice-over, this brilliantly scripted film (Co-written and directed by Billy Wilder) begins with a body floating in a pool, but so mesmerizing is the underlying story that I forgot what this was slowly driving back to. The excellent performances by the main cast includes Norma’s sympathetic butler, played by former director Erich von Stroheim, who even manages to induce a bit of levity.

While the final act of Swanson swooning into the camera proclaiming “I’m ready for my close-up now Mr. Demille” is probably the most referenced scene, there are plenty of other gems such as Joe exclaiming “You were once big.” upon meeting Desmond who retorts “I AM big. It’s the films that got small.”

The special features that were included on my DVD revealed a fascinating number of parallels between the story and the cast. Swanson, like Desmond was fifty at the time of filming and was indeed a former then fade star having made a single film in the preceding 15 years. Ironically, this Oscar nominated performance (as were that of all the other stars – all deserving I might add) did return her to glory. Holden was also a forgotten player whose career was not only revitalized, but was the beginning of a long and prosperous career. I’ll leave the surprise of von Stroheim’s casting to those who have not watched the film as it’s too good to spoil here.

Hollywood at its best by exposing Hollywood at its worst. Only in Hollywood can such a self-deprecating movie become such a success.

Movie Reviews 412 – Easy Rider (1969)

October 31, 2019

When Peter Fonda passed away this past summer, it was the end of an era of sorts. Never having achieved the stardom of his father Henry or his sister Jane, the black sheep of the family will forever be recognized for his role in Easy Rider, a film he wrote and produced with director and co-star Dennis Hopper released fifty years ago. A defining moment for the rebellious sixties youth movement that many would say reached its apex that year, the film also presented a radical departure from traditional storytelling, with an emphasis on characters, and a minimalist almost inconsequential plot.

The story centers on two bikers who have just scored a small fortune after flipping a load of cocaine from some Mexicans operating from a dust filled pueblo to a rich dealer chauffeured in a Rolls Royce (a cameo role for renown and now reviled music producer Phil Spector). After the score, “Captain America” (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper) make their way to New Orleans for the Mardi Gras carnival, picking up a hitchhiker (Antonio Mendoza), an alcoholic small town lawyer (Jack Nicholson), visiting a commune, spending a bit of time in the slammer, before finally pairing up with some hookers (Karen Black and Toni Basil) in The Big Easy.

The film chronicles multiple journeys. On the surface we have the internal journey of flag draped pessimist Captain America. His timid soul searching (between acid trips) a sharp contrast to that of folded brim slouch hat wearing Billy who is optimistic of their fortunes while not trusting anyone. On the other hand the celluloid journey captures the panoramic beauty of the desert vistas across America itself as the boys roll on the highways. Once could easily claim that the vehicles of this journey, the two iconic chopper motorcycles they ride are just as much the stars of the film as any of the human actors.

Capturing the essence of this sixties youth would of course be inconsequential without a fitting the music score, and in that regard Easy Rider delivers from the outset with Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild and The Weight (Robbie Robertson/The Band) with a sprinkling of Hendrix, The Byrds and Roger McGuinn (allegedly the main characters being loosely based on McGuinn and David Crosby of The Byrds).

Numerous scenes highlight the dichotomy of the hippie, freewheeling lifestyle compared to mainstream America including a small town restaurant scene in which local townsfolk were employed to provide a realistic point of view of the disparity. The symbolism of seeing Captain America hoisting his bike to repair a tire while a farmer re-shoes his horse only a few feet away is unmistakable. The film ominously concludes with a memorable, jarring, perhaps overly harsh statement on that tenuous bridge between those two worlds.

Watching the film I couldn’t help but wonder how many of those stunning open highway landscapes are now dotted with condos, parking lots and fast food outlets. It’s far from a perfect film, but it does effectively capture a time that is now lost.

Movie Reviews 411 – Firestarter (1984)

October 25, 2019

Stephen King‘s cinematic legacy has always been one in which adaptations of his writing either fell in the “Terrific Film” category or “Dismal Dreg” cinematic swill bucket. You have your Shinings, Carries, Shawshank Redemptions and Mists against your Dreamcatchers, Maximum Overdrives and Thinners and there are very few that fall in between those extremes.

With an esteemed cast that includes George C. Scott, Martin Sheen, Drew Barrymore, Art Carney, Heather Locklear and Louise Fletcher, you could be forgiven if you presumed that Firestarter would fall in the “Terrific Film” camp. (OK, I was just kidding when I included Heather Locklear’s thespian chops as a selling point). However this is not only not one of the better adaptations but would easily vie as one of the worst.

Firestarter is about a young couple who underwent experimental pharmaceutical testing for some secretive government agency which resulted in long lasting psychic abilities for the subjects – well for those that survived the ordeal anyway. As both Andy (David Keith) and Vicky (Locklear) were test subjects, their daughter Charlene “Charlie” (Barrymore) later proved to have even more powerful faculties. As a “firestarter” with unknown limits to her increasing powers, the same organization that administered the drug trials are now deeply concerned and want to get her into their labs for testing. As told from a series of flashbacks, the couple, fed up being confined and tested have long been in hiding with new identities. Accidental firebursts from Charlie allow the men in black to find the family and in trying to retrieve the girl Vicky is killed. Andy and Charlie, now on the run from one crummy roadside motel to another find a brief sanctuary with an elderly farm couple, but eventually they are hauled back to “The Shop” for analysis, and possible ‘threat eradication’.

The list of problems with this film is longer than a Green Mile. An occasional trait of Dino De Laurentiis productions is that he sometimes opted for money and star power alone In lieu of a good script and production values for his film productions – the 1976 King Kong, Orca, and David Lynch’s Dune come to mind as prime examples. This was the fate here, but only the first obstacle.

Barrymore, somewhere between her “cute preschooler who can innocently repeat swear words” debut in E.T. and her current adult director/producer/comedy actor phase, seems to be merely putting on choreographed faces while memorizing lines and is clearly beyond her range. Scott, ever the hard-as-nails heavy is just that, but his macho demeanor and murderous intentions aren’t really backed up by any real threat so he comes off as a delusional psychotic. He inexplicably sports an eyepatch during the latter half of the film (apparently an eye infection developed early in production), but no attempt is made to reconcile it in the film. He also sports and long ponytail coif that is at odds with his military precision facade. Carney is the lovable grampa figurehead as the farmer, but I’m at a loss as to what Fletcher was even thinking as she cardboard-coasts her delivery as his wife. Sheen’s character as the guy running “the Shop’ is meant to counterbalance Scott’s hard handed approach towards Charlie, but in the end he does absolutely nothing. Even a small part for everyone’s favorite “Huggy Bear” (Antonio Fargas) as a cabbie is basically squandered.

Now with a premise completely based on a character that can spontaneously start a fire, one can imagine to type of special effects featured in the film. A few car explosions and inferno’s aside, a lot of the FX are laughable. The zoom in on Charlie every time she is about to unleash her power in which we see her hair suddenly going airborne to an invisible wind tunnel loses its charm the second time we see it and would make for a good beer drinking game by the halfway mark. By the end of the film she can bounce bullets off her like Wonder Woman and start shooting what I can only describe precision meteors to those who stand in her way. Yes it gets that silly and all this before a groan worthy Three Days of the Condor ending.

I never read the novel so I can only conjecture that there may have been a lot of the narrative that  got trimmed as the story does suffer from broad jumps and sparse background of what I suspect may have been a compressed plot. Interestingly, this film was once slated to be directed by John Carpenter but the perceived failure at the time of The Thing resulted in him being removed from the film. (Yes, you got that right. The Thing was not a box office smash and only later received acclaim once it was released on home video.) We can only imagine what his version would have been like.

My Firestarter DVD happens to be the dual set that includes the sequel Firestarter: Rekindled, a TV miniseries made 20 years after this original. I haven’t watched it yet but it stars Malcolm McDowell and Dennis Hopper so it’s gotta be good right? What are the odds I get burned on that one? (I’ll be sure to have some burn ointment close at hand.)

As for Firestarter itself it would be no loss if someone burned all remaining prints and copies off the face of the Earth. I’ll start rubbing sticks. Throw a little gasoline on it for good measure…


Rocket Ryder & Little Putt-Putt Go Down Swinging – Timothy Friend (2018)

October 17, 2019

The only negative thing I can say about this novella is that it has an overly long and somewhat misleading title. However once I read it and the liner notes that included author’s intent, I understood how it came to be yet still wish a more apropos title was used. I say this because it was only a matter of circumstance that I picked up the book in the first place . But I’m certainly glad I did.

This is a 1950’s era murder mystery that includes Film Noir clichés like a murder, a set of compromising photos of a well-to-do individual, rogue cops on the take, some down on their luck characters, and revenge as a central driving force. What distinguishes it from Film Noir is the decidedly spicy language used throughout. No Hays Code filtering here!

The author also clearly has a fondness for classic day-time kiddie shows like Captain Video, Space Ranger and other bygone low budget silver suited heroes. In this case the titular characters Rocket Ryder and Little Putt-Putt, the star and sidekick of a miserly Kansas TV station have just learned that their TV show has been cancelled and that they are out of job. But that’s just the beginning of their problems.

When our protagonist Scotty Crane (AKA Little Putt-Putt) gets a late night call from Rick Tanner (AKA Rocket Ryder) to meet him he is shocked to find that their former show’s director and longtime army buddy has been murdered. The trail leads to the wealthy station owner and his son, but as is always the case while piecing together the clues, the motives, repercussions and conclusion have a number of twists and turns.

Told from the point of view of Little Putt-Putt, his relationship with Rocket Ryder develops nicely as the story progresses. The sleuthing itself is not that remarkable, however the trail is an interesting one. A minor plot device of Scott also having to keep an eye on his bad ticker (that’s a slang reference to his heart you young’uns!) which he nicknames his “Yobo” was more annoying than adding to the tension, but was not bad enough to take me out of the story.

I really enjoyed the nostalgic feeling reading about a world with Brownie cameras, The Dumont TV network (look it up!) and pump jockeys. This was a short, but enjoyable read of neo-Noir that I don’t come across too often, but would certainly like to read more of. I picked up this book from Myth Hawker books and will be shopping for more.

Movie Reviews 410 – Shock (1977)

October 11, 2019

In the mood for a vintage giallo this week I perused my movie library and was happy to find Shock (original Italian title Schock and released in North America as Beyond the Door II) by none other than director Mario Bava, the patriarch of the giallo maestro triumvirate (the others being Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci of course). Sadly this, one of his last films, was mediocre at best, and nothing comparable to any of his classics such as Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, or even the quirky Sci-Fi horror Planet of the Vampires. This despite the contribution of Daria Nicolodi in the starring role.

As a young family is moving into a house we sense that the wife Dora (Nicolodi) who seems quite familiar with the place is nonetheless not happy about the move. We soon learn that this is because she once lived there with her former husband Claudio, now deceased. Her distress is more than just a reminder of Claudio, but an actual apprehension of the house harboring some malevolent entity. Moving back in was her new husband Bruno’s (John Steiner) idea, one she only reluctantly accepted.

Their young son Marco (David Colin Jr.) seems quite taken with the house, especially the cellar and Dora can at least enjoy his amusement. That is until he starts muttering things like “Pigs, pigs, PIGS!” when his parents engage in any hanky-panky, or when he innocently tells his mom “Momma, I have to kill you”. But Dora’s worries are not confined to her son’s sudden odd behaviour. She starts seeing floating drawings, a razor laced piano playing by itself and even learns that Bruno, a pilot, briefly lost complete control of the plane he was flying at the same time Marco was having a psychotic episode at home. All her torment seems to be related to her troubled past husband who was a drug addict before he disappeared. But what exactly were the circumstances of that disappearance?

While there is a decent payoff when we learn the truth of what happened, the reliance on cheap scares and the wavering between Dora being insane and imagining all these events or Marco really being possessed gets stale fairly quick. Putting all the clues together it isn’t really all that hard to see where things end up going, at least in the big picture sense. However some of the details of the ‘big reveal’ were surprising.

Rating the movie itself I would have to say that it is more for die hard giallo fans than for casual horror lovers. My Blue Underground DVD did include a number of features that were somewhat interesting, the main one being an older Bava interview. A second interview where son Lamberto Bava describes working on the production and learning ‘the chops’ (literally and figuratively) was fascinating in that we know he was on his way to becoming a respected director himself, eventually directing the classic Demons.

Movie Reviews 409 – Memories of Murder (2003)

October 4, 2019

Between the years 1986 and 1991 the South Korean city of Hwaseong experienced that country’s first serial killer. The series of 10 rapes and murders galvanized and terrorized the citizens. Memories of Murder is a dramatization of the investigation as told from the point of view of the two prime detectives who worked on the case.

Detective Park (Song Kang-ho) is the first one the scene when a body is found wedged under ditch crossing in a field. A bumbling cop, he is prone to quickly jumping to incorrect conclusions while eager to be in the spotlight as the case advances. The discovery of a second victim brings detective Seo (Kim Sang-kyung) from Seoul to help with the investigation. Methodical and quiet spoken he not only sheds light on new evidence but the fact that there has already been a third victim who hasn’t even been found yet. But the third victim is not the last in what becomes an interminable case.

Park and his willing partner and sidekick Cho resort to coercion and beating confessions, leaving Seo to mock their tactics and disprove their findings, which only ratchets up the tension between the two as the case wears on. While some clues including a rather strange modus operandi becomes evident, even crafty traps fail to capture the assailant. The key lies with a most unusual suspect, a retarded young boy who is being ‘trained’ by Park to provide a believable confession.

While the mystery itself if riveting enough, the complex relationships between the officers and the impact of the stress they are put under is just as much a part of the drama. Seo is the perfectionist unaccustomed to dealing with failure especially on such and important case while Park suffers from anxiety and his own ineffectiveness coupled with his wife’s worries for him. But as time goes on a mutual respect develops but not without lingering effects from the prolonged investigation.

Despite the somber circumstances being portrayed, the film also includes a number of strangely comical scenes when it comes to Park and Jo’s antics such as one in which he discerns that since no evident non-victim hair was found on the bodies the perpetrator must be hairless. While I enjoyed this comedy as I watched the film I had no idea that this was based on true events. It was only while watching the DVD special features did I learn that the serial killings were not only real, but not solved at the time of filming, which makes the comic aspect somewhat morbid. Ironically, as did a bit more digging into the story I learned that the crime was solved only this past year.

Writer-director Joon-ho Bong would call again on actor Song Kang-ho to star in The Host shortly after this outing with equally entertaining results.