Wednesday, July 18, 2012

126. MIDNIGHT PARTY (1975)

This explicitly naked but non-hardcore sex farce by Jess Franco was shot simultaneously with two other features, the erotic sci-fi item SHINING SEX and DE SADE'S JULIETTE (which circulated only in a Joe D'Amato-supervised hardcore re-edit called JUSTINE AND THE WHIP). It stars Lina Romay as Sylvia, a nightclub stripper known professionally as "Sylvia the Lips" (presumably due to her then-unusual shaved pubis), who opens the film rolling around on a bed, flaunting her body, and breaking the fourth wall by telling us that she has lots of sexy adventures that she wants to make movies about, and offering her sexual services to anyone out there who might help these movies to get made! There is also a point in her spiel where she introduces this first example of her filmed memoirs by saying "Lina Romay in..." -- at which point the title of this film should have appeared onscreen, but despite this being the one Franco film with the most different titles and variants extant, none of the versions managed to place its main title card where the footage implicitly said it belonged! 

Sylvia's nickname hints that this film may be allied, in some way, to Franco's series of tongue-in-cheek thrillers about the "Red Lips" detective agency, which began with LABIOS ROJOS in 1960 (featuring lady detectives Christine and Lola) and which most famously teamed Janine Reynaud and Rosanna Yanni (as lady detectives Diana and Regina) in the 1967 diptych SADISTEROTICA (on DVD as TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS) and KISS ME, MONSTER. As in LABIOS ROJOS, the film's principal source of menace is a sadistic villain named Radeck, played here by Franco himself, who arranges for Sylvia to be invited to a party at midnight where she is seduced by her host Joe di Loggia (Yul Sanders) and his wife Marilyn (Evelyne Scott) and later awakens from the threesome to find both of her latest lovers gruesomely murdered on the bed. Radeck subsequently orders two servants (Ramón Ardíd and Monica Swinn) to administer Chinese torture to Sylvia while he questions her about whether or not she knows a man named Spencer, and Ardíd and Swinn double-team her whenever he limps on his wooden leg out of the room.

What we have here is essentially a PERILS OF PAULINE type of serial, compressed into a frolicksome feature with lots of LITTLE ANNIE FANNIE-type nudity and orgiastic pile-ons, played with wall-breaking winks and the sort of old-fashioned rinky-tink piano music associated with bordellos and vaudeville. Recklessly photographed at times (all the more painful for having a 2.35:1 ratio), this is not one of Franco's most successful comedies, nor is it very erotic, but it is of great interest to his devotées for its anarchic spirit, its willingness to puncture the conventions of its chosen genre, and for the utter abandon of Romay's comic performance, filmed when she was arguably at the apex of her beauty. With Pierre Taylou as Sylvia's spoiled stay-at-home husband; "Charlie Christian" (actually the early Franco-championing film critic Alain Petit) as guitar-slinging Marxist Red Nicholas, who is heard performing fast and slow versions of his original song "La Vie est une Merde"; and Olivier Mathot as Sylvia's private detective lover Alphonse Gaultier -- who appears in the French version, more authentically, as Franco's recurring private eye hero Al Pereira (who, in other films, has been played by everyone from Eddie Constantine to Jess Franco himself). 

The English-dubbed version, quite funny and well done, credits the film's direction to James Gardner -- not one of Franco's usual pseudonyms and thus possibly the name of its dubbing director. (Unforgivably, the film gives top billing to Monica Swinn, then starring in other Eurociné releases like HELLTRAIN, though she plays only a minor character.) Franco's English performance sounds like it was dubbed by Max Adrian (a veteran of many Ken Russell films, including SONG OF SUMMER and THE DEVILS), while the director dubbed his own French performance. His acting is credited onscreen to "Jess Frank," while the French video alternate credits list him as "David Khunne" (one of his old screenwriting aliases!). Franco was credited as director on both the film's French and substantially shortened German versions, while an extensively re-cut Spanish version with the misleading title LADY PORNO was credited to "Tawer Nero," a beard for another Eurociné director, Julio Perez-Tabernero (CANNIBAL TERROR), who used his own name to "produce" the variant.

Viewed on an all-region German import DVD from Topfilm, bearing its German title HEISSE BERUHRUNGEN, which is available (while supply lasts) from Diabolik DVD.

125. BLACK JESUS (SEDUTO ALLA SUA DESTRA, 1968)

I liked this movie quite a bit but, frankly, I needed to rely on various Internet sources to find out some basic information about it, such as where it was set, who the characters were, and if they were inspired by real historical figures and events. All the film tells us, in a closing title card, is that the location of this story is "immaginary."

Set somewhere in what we presume to be Africa, BLACK JESUS stars the great Woody Strode (SERGEANT RUTLEDGE, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST) as Maurice Lalubi, a non-violent black rebel whose eloquence has inspired legions of his countrymen to fight against the dominant oppression of white European colonists. (The role was inspired by the real-life rebel leader Patrice Lamumba.) He is jailed in a room where he makes the acquaintance of two white men, as all three of them await some form of torture. One of these men, a thief named Oreste (Franco Citti), befriends Lalubi -- becoming the man "seated by his right" indicated by the Italian title -- while the other, unnamed prisoner (HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON's Stephen Forsyth) is so tight-lipped and hostile, he might well be a spy sent into the cell to listen.

The film unfolds in something like real time, with genuine stage drama impact, as the men bond -- or not -- while awaiting or recovering from appalling physical punishments. Strode's character is introduced vocally and he is kept off-camera for awhile, imbuing Lalubi with the aura of a Christ-like leader, preaching intelligently for peace but also sensibility and justice. The more he speaks, in a strange way, the less formidable he seems, particularly when he admits to Oreste his dread of the coming suffering. What the film becomes is a tremendous acting opportunity for Citti, who paints a fascinating character who has lived all over the world and done many different things to survive. Luciano Catenacci, the bald burgomeister in Mario Bava's KILL, BABY... KILL!, plays a violent interrogating cop with a down-to-earth naturalism you won't find anywhere else in his limited filmography. Directed by the story writer Valerio Zurlini (who died in 1982 at the age of 56), and scripted by Franco Brusati (Kirk Douglas' ULYSSES and Zefferelli's ROMEO AND JULIET) this is a fairly riveting piece of humanistic political cinema that deserves a wider audience.

Viewed on DVD-R.   

124. THE KILLER NUN (SUOR OMICIDI, 1978)

Directed by Giulio Berruti, not a name that has particularly left its mark on the horror genre, this psychological thriller rests curiously, not quite uncomfortably, between the Italian giallo tradition and the influx of Catholicism that ran rampant through the genre in the wake of THE EXORCIST in late 1973.

In a story that claims to have been taken "from the Secret Files of the Vatican," Anita Ekberg -- dubbed in the English version by Carolynn de Fonseca -- plays Sister Gertrude, a nun on staff in a psychiatric hospital run by the respected Dr. Poirret (a superbly tanned and silvered Massimo Serato). Prone to headaches, blackouts and violent rages (she stomps one elderly woman's dentures to a pulp when she removes them to eat), all of which she curbs with morphine, as well as occasional excursions into city anonymity where she drinks, dresses provocatively, and invites random sexual encounters, Sister Gertrude is the most seemly suspect when some of the patients at her hospital are murdered. It certainly can't be Dr. Poirret, because Massimo Serato disappears from the film so fast it's like the check for his first week didn't clear, but he is soon replaced by Dr. Patrick Roland (Joe Dallesandro, decidedly cast against type, and dubbed by Ted Rusoff); there is also a seemingly bed-ridden, bon-bon-munching Mother Superior (Alida Valli, in all but one scene literally phoning in her performance) and Sister Gertrude's roommate Sister Mathieu (Paola Morra), who parades around fully nude and makes lesbian passes at her after hours. It's not a particularly hard puzzle to piece together, but there are enough points of passing interest to ensure one's modest entertainment. For example, the patients on parade are an interesting bunch, a combustive core sampling of society that includes Lou Castel as a crippled Marxist rabble-rouser (he gets a nice scene where he must shimmy up a staircase for help) and Laura Nucci as a deluded elderly woman who imagines herself to be rich ("Don't stand on ceremony, just address me as Baroness!"). The director himself briefly appears as a priest giving communion.

Ekberg, having passed here from Amazonian to overripeness, is covered throughout, forcing Berruti's camera to focus on her triangular face and large, limpid, Egyptian-looking eyes. (She's so well covered, in fact, that she gets away with mocking her roommate's big breasts!) She's very nearly the film's only point of focus, because she's the only actor present who doesn't seem to be guesting in the picture; to her credit, she takes a rather disreputable opportunity and gives it her all. However, it's hard to create horrific or thrilling atmosphere in a predominantly white-washed environment, where the staff are wearing white, and saddled with a mostly inappropriately jangly Alessandro Alessandroni score, the film fails to match the operatic heights of her bravado.

According to Jim Kunz, who worked on the film's restoration: "There was extensive damage [to the source materials] and warping in the outdoor picnic scene. Previous versions had removed the damaged areas and edited the scene down to cut cleanly, so this [Blue Underground DVD and Blu-ray] is actually the first time the movie has been presented on disc in a completely unedited state."

Viewed via Blue Underground Blu-ray disc  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

123. TWINS OF EVIL (1971)

Though filmed after the death of Hammer's wizard production designer Bernard Robinson, TWINS OF EVIL (along with its original companion feature, HANDS OF THE RIPPER) stands out as the last of the company's horror films to evoke the sense of Gothic visual grandeur upon which its reputation was built. The art direction here is credited to Dragoljub Ivkov, a Yugoslavian whose previous credits include Dusan Makavejeb's MAN IS NOT A BIRD (1965) and W.R. MYSTERIES OF THE ORGANISM (1971), and his contribution is considerable; but the most potent contributor here is director of photography Dick Bush, now best-remembered as one of Ken Russell's ace collaborators (SONG OF SUMMER, SAVAGE MESSIAH, MAHLER, TOMMY, CRIMES OF PASSION, LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM), but who also shot DRACULA A.D. 1972 and WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH for Hammer. Bush had a knack for sensuous color lighting, color contrast (as shown particularly well in the frame pictured), and velvety shadows that give this film extraordinary character.

Director John Hough (LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY) is often given credit for this, but if we look closely at what's happening with the film's structure and action and pacing, we get a clearer image of a helmsman in a bit over its head. There is the feel of a film that fell behind schedule and had to sacrifice some key scenes -- Gustav Weill's (Peter Cushing's) beating of his niece Maria (Mary Collinson) for the transgressive behavior of her twin sister Frieda (Madeleine Collinson) is alluded to only in dialogue, but sounds like a dramatically crucial scene -- and, likewise, some key moments topple over into risibility, as when Cushing invokes the title of the film, when the revived Mircalla (Katya Wyeth) reaches out during undead sex with her descendant to shag a candlestick with her free hand, when the underwritten hero (David Warbeck) wastes valuable screen time composing a frankly terrible song, or when the husky mute manservant (Roy Stewart) of the vampire Baron Karnstein (Damien Thomas) is reduced to "uh-uh, uh-uh-uh" dialogue to warn his master when the soldiers of Christ are storming the castle. One or two shots are actually filled out by repeating some footage in reverse. One also wishes there was more of Frieda, the story's most pivotal character, and that the film delivered more of the nudity and eroticism it promises. (It was made when the MPAA was at its most censorious toward horror films; it's doubtful the film would warrant more than a PG-13 today, but in 1972, it was not only rated R but had to be additionally cut to receive that prohibitive rating.) So it's not quite solid, but there's no denying that TWINS OF EVIL has many more advantages than either of its predecessors in the Karnstein trilogy, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1969) and LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1971), both also scripted by Tudor Gates, and it is truer to the spirit of what Terence Fisher brought to Hammer's golden age than any film made after his enforced retirement.

Among the bonus features is Daniel Griffith's feature-length documentary THE FLESH AND THE FURY: X-POSING TWINS OF EVIL (84m), which is in fact a welcome history of Sheridan Le Fanu's "Carmilla" and all its adaptations to film. I am one of the talking heads in the movie, as are several of my most knowledgeable colleagues (Kim Newman, Ted Newsom, David J. Skal and John-Paul Checkett, to name a few). I attended a screening of it at Wonderfest; I thought it was a superlative piece of work, equally entertaining and informative, but also inspiring. Thanks to John-Paul's illuminating input in particular, I came away with reasons to want to finally read "Carmilla."

Viewed on Synapse Films Blu-ray, which contains a bonus DVD disc.

122. THE STREETWALKER (LA MARGE, 1976)

This is an unusual Walerian Borowczyk film in that it's almost completely devoid of his usual antiquarian fetishism and set in the present. Joe Dallesandro plays Sigismond Pons, an idyllically married man and father who must leave his beautiful wife (Mireille Audibert), their young son and comfortable country house to make a work-related trip into Paris, during which he becomes involved with a prostitute named Diana (Sylvia Kristel).

The situation is common, so much so that the film employs only enough dialogue to give the story the barest skin of exposition; it also takes what initially seems a lazy approach to creating mood and atmosphere by laying in source music played in its entirety (cost prohibitive today), some of the songs painfully obvious like 10CC's "I'm Not In Love", and some others distracting (Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting," edited to eliminate Elton's voice). But when this tragic film ends, an extraordinary thing takes place: we realize it has somehow sunk its hooks in, and we understand that's the point, or at least one of them. It's a reflective film that finds its real immediacy only once it has entered the past tense. It provides us with just enough points of reference to attach ourselves, and the rest is so deliberately vacant that we fill in the blanks with ourselves, even with our mind's wanderings. The French title translates as "The Margin," which I imagine would more meaningfully translate to "On The Side," and it blossoms into fuller dimension once we have marginalized it. In some ways, this is a film about loneliness and the need to connect, how connecting to one person marginalizes our other relationships, and it also shows how we link our memories and past loves to songs that acquire a power quite apart from what they represent as recordings -- that old cliché, "the soundtrack of our lives."

Sylvia Kristel has said that making this film was the most memorable creative experience of her career; I'm not convinced that I saw her bringing more than usual to her performance, though she's lovely and believable as the mercenary who loses professional control of her emotions; it's possible this film, and her work in it, accrues more consciousness with repeat viewings. However, I thought Dallesandro, so often miscast and misplaced in his Italian films, was unusually well-cast here and surprisingly believable in all the shades of his character: professional, husband, lover, father and john. A surprising film I look forward to revisiting.

Viewed via DVD-R.   

Saturday, July 7, 2012

121. DEBAUCHERY (RYOSHOKU, 1983)

The first in a numbered series of Impulse Pictures releases collected under the banner "The Nikkatsu Erotic Films Series," DEBAUCHERY establishes the playing field for what the Japanese know as "eroductions" or "roman [meaning romantic] porno." As these films go, this is not an exceptional example, but it is acceptable B-erotica. At only 70 minutes, it feels more like a co-feature than a stand-alone entertainment.

Taking the lead from Buñuel's BELLE DE JOUR (1967), it's the story of Ami, an attractive doctor's wife in her early 30s, whose domestically tamed sexual nature is jump-started by an offhand remark from her husband, the handsome Dr. Fujina, that Dr. Kohsaka, a frequent dining and social friend of theirs and a colleague of his, with a somewhat evil look, may have long been secretly in love with her. Then, while gossiping with a girlfriend over lunch about a reputed call girl service known as Madam Machiko Society, Kohsaka appears, having overheard everything, and offers the two women his help in contacting the Madam. Ami secretly makes an appointment to be interviewed to work there, but she agrees to work only twice per week; Madam Machiko accepts her anyway, because she is unusually beautiful, but also because the odds are in favor of Ami becoming addicted to her work and accepting all she can get. Once Ami is "broken in" by a particularly rough, Oddjob sort of client, she realizes she has never before known such extremes of physical pleasure. ("I never felt like that before. I felt like I was being torn in half.") She continues to work with more frequency in a red boudoir, decked-out with whips and chains and other accessories, that sometimes reminds one of the set of VIDEODROME. But Ami doesn't know the full extent of sexual sadism until Kohsaka himself appears as her client, determined to torment her for the years she has neglected his desire for her in the private sector.

Take away the sometimes extreme, if softcore, kinkiness and its optical fogging of genitals and faked coupling, and you're left with fairly standard soap opera, scored with the airiest and simplest of synthesizer accompaniment, as well as some occasional insect-like buzzing to indicate what Ami describes as "the throbbing of my body." As Ami, Ryoko Watanabe makes a very watchable heroine, but the level of acting across the board is nowhere near so impressive as the actors' sumo-like ability to throw themselves, like pit bulls and rag dolls, into the acrobatic prowess of the violent bedroom scenes. The film's most intriguing aspect is Ami's fatalistic relationship with the one man she doesn't sleep with, an aging vagrant to whom she gives her first professional earnings (moreso out of disgust with selling herself than real charity), which he in turn uses to acquire a much younger woman of his own, leading him into a similarly punishing relationship and, in time, a second date of destiny with Ami. The happy ending posits Ami, after her experiment with sexual freedom, back in harness as her husband's sexual pet. Written and directed by Hidehiro Ito, whose most recent productions include the DTV movie VAMPIRE GIRL VS. FRANKENSTEIN GIRL (2009).

Viewed via Impulse Pictures' DVD.    

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

120. THE IRON LADY (2011)

This film about Margaret Roberts Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister in British history and a record holder of that office (1979-90), is at least as much about a Meryl Streep performance. It is constructed so that it is less impressive as the comprehensive story of a still-living historical figure who served in recent memory than as a sustained impression assisted by seamless makeup appliances.

The DVD notes describe the film as the story of "the most powerful woman of her time," a woman whose working class background and inner strength "propelled her to unprecedented power in a world dominated by men," but it's moreso the story of that strength's faltering, as the retired PM succumbs to senility, conducting conversations with her late husband Denis Thatcher (Jim Broadbent) and generally coming "unstuck in time" (to quote Vonnegut), returning to her humble origins as well as the early days of her marriage and career, during which Streep is replaced by well-cast and just-as-capable Alexandra Roach and Harry Lloyd as Denis. (Mind you, all this can easily be swallowed as fact, but the only official word on Thatcher's health is that she suffered a series of small strokes in 2002 and called a cessation to her public speaking thereafter. The rest, so far as public record is aware, is a storytelling device and quite a presumptuous one.) Thatcher was a controversial, polarizing figure, adored by the wealthy and demonized by the poor (including some 3,000,000 unemployed members of the citizenry during her Conservative reign) but director Phyllida Lloyd (MAMMA MIA!) and screenwriter Abi Morgan tapdance around most of this to give us a homogenized version, only vaguely delineated in political terms. We see her and her hairstyle taking a staunch hardline stance in front of a fictitiously all-male, half-fawning Parliament; her causes are shown to always end well, with just enough intermediary unpleasantness to keep the drama kettle bubbling.

Ineptly, the film incorporates 4.3 television coverage of highlights like the UK garbage strike and the Falkland Islands war into the 2.35:1 feature by stretching it horizontally, when matting it properly would have been much less distracting. All in all, one can't call the film at all educational or balanced and, as cinema, it's not notably more than a play. Yes, you do get a remarkable, nuanced, sensitive performance by Streep, but it's the cart leading the horse, and you don't reap noticeably less by imagining it in an instant than you'll get in the couple of hours it takes to watch it in real time. It won her virtually every major film award for Best Actress, but I believe there's an important difference worth pondering between a performance that carries a film and one that props it up.

Viewed on Weinstein Company Blu-ray, also available on DVD.

Monday, July 2, 2012

119. THE ASTONISHED HEART (1950)

Terence Fisher co-directed this romantic tragedy, based on Noël Coward's play, with its producer Anthony Darnborough. It was adapted by, composed by, and also stars Coward, who reportedly replaced Michael Redgrave in the lead during production. Despite his authorship and there being some authenticity of pain in the writing, Coward is too controlled to make a persuasively reckless leading man in this scenario, in which a happily-married, successful psychologist embarks on a year-long affair with a former schoolmate of his wife.

Dr. Christian Faber (Coward) and his wife Barbara (BRIEF ENCOUNTER's Celia Johnson) are a seasoned couple and attempt to deal with this unestranging attraction in an enlightened, tolerant manner, but something unhinges Chris in his escalating obsession with Leonora Vail (Margaret Leighton); his possessive jealousies flare up not only in regard to present, unfounded suspicions but about the men in her past, even dead ones. Johnson is especially good, projecting outward calm and resignation as well as internal suffering, and Leighton's doe-eyed society clotheshorse has her best moments when reacting with shock to the violent changes in her lover's character. Coward himself effortlessly embodies the initial protagonist, a man utterly in charge of himself to the point of seeming wholly cerebral, and he's convincing enough in his final stages, absolutely stricken by an unsalvageable amour fou, but the all-important transition, the overpowering passion he needs to evoke with Leighton, is characterized with such restraint and stocked with mutually pithy sophistication patter that there's no getting under their clammy skins.

For all this, the film is technically very well made and shot (by Fisher's future Hammer DP Jack Asher), though it looks roughly five-to-ten years older than it really is. With a different leading man, it might have looked forward in an odd way to the warring repressed and liberated personalities of the tragic hero of THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL. Fisher's next film, SO LONG AT THE FAIR (also 1950, also co-directed by Darnborough), was the earliest of his films to feel personal.

Viewed on Netflix.

118. A RAGE TO LIVE (1965)

Based on a novel by John O'Hara, this Tennesee Williams Lite potboiler was director Walter Grauman's follow-up to the shocking thriller LADY IN A CAGE (1964), and a bid for toplined stardom for the smoky-voiced Suzanne Pleshette, who had done well in a supporting role in Alfred Hitchcock's THE BIRDS (1962). Cast as a wealthy, smalltown nymphomaniac whose carnal appetites bring many a man low, though none lower than herself, Pleshette isn't at all right in the early scenes, which introduce her -- then almost 30 and looking like she's been not only around the block but around the world once or twice -- as a minor. Future LOST IN SPACE star Mark Goddard rapes her and she likes it, and the fire in her pants later inopportunely absents her from the room when her ailing mother (Carmen Mathews) suffers a fatal heart attack, causing her a burden of guilt that evaporates within 10 minutes or less. She finds the love of a decent man (Bradford Dillman, dyed blonde to avoid confusion with the many other dark-haired men in her life), who not only proposes marriage and agrees to work the farmland she's inherited, but pay her back for it to maintain his own self-respect. Maintaining the property brings back into our heroine's life a hairy-chested Ben Gazzara, a construction worker who corners her during a rainstorm to confess all the years of lust he's felt for her since he was her family's grocery delivery boy -- and that's all it takes. Everyone basically gets what they want, and a lot of it, until her reputation makes it too hard for everyone to believe that she would ever resist newspaper editor Peter Graves, the only man she ever said a fond regretful "no" to, whose wife's misguided jealousy steers the whole mess to a point of no return and a melodramatic closing crane shot. Frank Maxwell, Brett Somers and Aneta Corsaut have uncredited roles.

At the time the film was first released, it got a lot of studio publicity for a supposedly groundbreaking, nude-under-the-covers bedroom scene with Pleshette and Gazarra, but the scene itself barely exists in the final cut, just a brief glimpse of a bare-shouldered clinch in the midst of a dissolve. Little more than tawdry trash, but it was shot in black-and-white Panavision, a classy combination made all the more elegant by a Nelson Riddle score dating from his ROUTE 66 heyday. Even better, the Universal backlot sets and locations give it the patina of the raciest Universal-International pictures.

Viewed on Netflix, but also available on DVD as part of the MGM Limited Edition Collection.   

117. HEAVENLY CREATURES (1994)

As I watched Jean Rollin's THE TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES for the first time, I found that the two young leads (Isabelle Teboul and Alexandra Pic) reminded me very much of Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey (pictured) in this Peter Jackson film, his first "serious" picture and bid for mainstream respect after three fairly caustic and cartoonish send-ups, BAD TASTE (1987), MEET THE FEEBLES (1989) and DEAD ALIVE (1992). It had been so long since I'd seen HEAVENLY CREATURES, my only viewing had been on laserdisc, and as I refreshed my memory, I was pleased to discover that the film -- based on the true 1954 story of Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker, two New Zealand teens who bonded in an unhealthy way and eventually conspired to murder one of their mothers -- had parallels to the Rollin film above and beyond mere resemblances. I'll save those thoughts for my essay, which will accompany Redemption's forthcoming Blu-ray and DVD releases of THE TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES and THE LIVING DEAD GIRL, but suffice to say, this film continues to stand out as one of Jackson's most absorbing and cleverly conceived achievements, though the quirkiness apparent in the earlier works isn't completely out of his system yet.

Viewed on Netflix.

116. THE LIVING DEAD GIRL (LA MORTE VIVANTE, 1982)

Jean Rollin was one of the most refined and gentlemanly of horror film specialists. But just as he sometimes resorted to directing pseudonymous porn to pay the bills, he at least twice conceded to the trends of his times and made horror movies that were downright indelicate in the gore department: THE GRAPES OF DEATH (LES RAISINS DE LA MORT, 1978) and this one, about the corpse of a wealthy heiress, Catherine Valmont (Françoise Blanchard), that is reanimated after coming into contact with spillage from a drum of radioactive chemical waste. Because this is a Rollin film, there is more to it than this; he works in a charming yet resonant backstory about Catherine and her childhood best friend Hélène, who became "blood sisters" as children, promising that whichever of them died first, the other would follow soon after so they needn't be alone. The adult Hélène (Marina Pierro, in the only film she made for a director other than her husband Walerian Borowczyk after they began working together in 1978) has not kept her promise, however, and she is prompted by guilt and her own fear of death to sustain Catherine's appetites by means that make her a far more conscious monster than her helpless friend could ever be.

The film has a few splendid sequences, but it is hobbled by a backstory shot in English by another director, involving a tourist couple (Mike Marshall, Carina Barone) who photograph the living dead girl and uncover the secret of her resurrection. Apart from these scenes, THE LIVING DEAD GIRL stands out as one of Rollin's most powerfully acted films, with Blanchard's doll-like demon in particular resonating with the memory of an earlier French heroine of horror cinema: Catherine Deneuve in Roman Polanski's REPULSION (1965). Bit parts are played by noted French cinéma fantastique scholars Alain Petit (pictured) and Jean-Pierre Bouyxou, and the surprisingly well-done gore effects were the first screen work of the late Benoît Lestang (THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, MARTYRS), who was only 17 years old at the time of production.

Viewed via Encore Entertainment's out-of-print imported DVD. Forthcoming on DVD and Blu-ray from Redemption/Fox Lorber, with a brand-new essay by Yours Truly.

115. THE TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES (LES DEUX ORPHELINES VAMPIRES, 1995)

Jean Rollin once described this film, based on his own 1993 novel, as "certainly my most accomplished and professional film." It's not, but his assessment is forgivable if we consider that he made the film when kidney failure had forced him onto dialysis, and that he made it believing it would be his last film. After a couple of viewings, it does improve somewhat on its shaky first impression and, unlike some of Rollin's other titles, which can be noticeably bruised by production interference/inadequacy, it all flows with uncommon smoothness and authoritative signature as if from the same pen. This in itself must have felt to Rollin like a great and long postponed gift.

Inspired by characters and episodes from the 1875 French Revolution romance LES DEUX ORPHELINES by Adolphe d'Ennery and Eugène Cormon (previously filmed by D.W. Griffith, Maurice Tourneur, Riccardo Freda and others), it's the sweet and delicate story of two blind foundlings of unknown origin (Isabelle Teboul and Alexandra Pic, pictured), raised as sisters in an orphanage run by nuns (one of them played by the wonderful Natalie Perrey, who also edited), who have the ability to "see blue" by night and use that time of vision, when the rest of the world cannot see, to run riot through their own shared fantasy land. As with Bret Easton Ellis' novel AMERICAN PSYCHO, and the Mary Lambert film based on it, one could make the argument that all the horrible things that happen take place only in the girls' own romantic and hyperactive imaginations; whether or not this was the intention, the film works better from this tricky perspective, because this is not a horror film about feral menace, but about magic and legend and the importance of never losing your ability to suspend disbelief. The two girls are wonderful, and one wishes Rollin had lived to treat them and us to further adventures; he lived to write five novellas about them in all, all of which were collected together under this French title in 2001.

Viewed via the Media Blasters/Shriek Show DVD. Forthcoming on DVD and Blu-ray later this year from Redemption/Kino Lorber, featuring extended liner notes by Yours Truly.