November 30, 2012

Leptirica (1973)

According to an old Serbian legend, in the village of Zarožje there was a man named Sava Savanović, who worked in the mill that was close to the river Rogačica. Despite already being an old man, Sava Savanović married a beautiful young lady he loved. However, the young lady was in love with Sava's brother, and the couple began an affair. In an act of fury, Sava Savanović murdered the two lovers inside the mill. When the villagers of Zarožje discovered the crime, they captured and lynched Sava Savanović, and then buried his corpse deep in the woods. Soon after this rumours were heard about Sava Savanović, who supposedly now was a vampire roaming the old mill. With this legend, Sava Savanović would become one of the first vampires in Serbian folklore, and his popularity was such that celebrated writer Milovan Glišic wrote a novel based on the old story ("Posle devedeset godina" or "After Ninety Years" in 1880). The plot of this novel would be taken as basis for a TV movie released in 1977 by director Djordje Kadijevic with the name of "Leptirica" ("Лептирица").

"Leptirica" (literally "The Moth" or "The She-Butterfly", which is the English title of the film), begins with the mysterious death of the town's new miller, Vule (Toma Kuruzovic). As he prepares to spend the night at the mill, Vule is murdered by a strange creature with dark skin and long fangs. The following day the villagers are worried since Vule is the fourth miller in the year to be killed under strange circumstances while spending a night at the old mill. In the meantime, the humble Strahinja (Petar Božovic) is madly in love with the beautiful Radojka (Mirjana Nikolic), the daughter of rich landlord Živan (Slobodan Perovic). Strahinja asks Živan to allow him to marry his daughter, but he refuses to accept his daughter marrying someone as poor as young Strahinja. Disappointed, Strahinja decides to leave the town, but instead ends up convinced to take the dangerous job of miller. Strahinja spends the night at the mill and manages to survive the monster's attack. After this, Strahinja and the villagers decide to discover the nature of the creature, so they find out about the legend of Sava Savanović.

Adapted by director Djordje Kadijevic himself, "Leptirica" is developed precisely as the thing that originated it in the first place: a folk tale. That is, at taking "Leptirica" to the screen, Kadijevic opts to give it a simple approach, avoiding to make the plot too complicated and focusing in enhancing the legendary (or better said, mythical) aspects of the story. Thus, the characters are basically a group of classic fairytale archetypes, in a story that transcends its origin in Serbian folklore and becomes a universal tale: "Leptirica" becomes essentially the story of a young humble man who must prove his worth to society and himself. The vampire myth in "Leptirica" is more a force of nature, with Sava Savanović acting as demon of the woods, an opposition to the civilized villagers. There's also in "Leptirica" a subtle subtext of vampirism taken as an equivalent to sexual awakening inherited from Glišic's novel. With a certain touch of comedy, Kadijevic keeps his plot between horror and fantasy, using a light-hearted tone that evokes the rural fairytale origin of the story of Sava Savanović.

Director Djordje Kadijevic makes a simple yet effective work in his making of "Leptirica", capturing the atmosphere of myth that the story has with great skill. In fact, this atmosphere is perhaps the most important element in "Leptirica", as Kadijevic manages to give his film the sensation of being set in an undefined period of history, in a timeless fantastic Serbia where myth is mixed with reality. This is particularly obvious in the horror scenes of the film, which have a certain surreal beauty in their craftsmanship thanks to the great use given to the work of cinematographer Branko Ivatovic. However, Djordje Kadijevic isn't that lucky in the making of the comedic scenes of his movie, which feel a tad forced and stagy, in sharp contrast to the aforementioned horror scenes. Certainly, Kadijevic is a devoted horror fan, (in fact, his 1969 film "Darovi moje rodjake Marije" was the first 100% Yugoslavian film with horror touches), and this becomes obvious in the great care given to the making of the horror scenes. Nevertheless, it would had been better if the same care had been put in the rest of the film.

The performances in "Leptirica" are a bit regular, as while there are a couple of great quality works, others aren't really that good. Of the former it's worth to point out the work of Petar Bozovic, whom plays young Strahinja, the archetypal rural hero of the story. Poor and humble, but noble in heart, Strahinja would rather leave before watching his beloved married to another man. While looking a bit too old for the part, actor Petar Bozovic makes a pretty good job and manages to capture the naiveté and nobleness of his character. However, it's actually Slobodan Perovic whom shines the most in "Leptirica" as the harsh landlord Živan. Perovic makes an excellent job, to the point that it would had been good to see more of his character. Young actress Mirjana Nikolic also makes an effective performance as Radojka, the beautiful daughter of Živan. The change her character endures as the film unfolds makes her an iconic figure of Serbian horror. The rest of the as isn't really up to the level of the aforementioned, and this is probably one of the film's weakest elements.

Done as part of a series of horror movies for the Yugoslavian television (the other films are "Devicanska svirka", "Sticenik" and "Zakletva", all directed by Djordje Kadijevic), "Leptirica" suffers from the technical and budgetary limitations of being a product made for television. However, the real problems of "Leptirica" aren't really related to its poor production values (director Kadijevic manages to do wonders with limited resources), but with his screenplay, which seems to be divided between a desire for being both a true horror film and an accessible rural comedy at the same time. Kadijevic fails to keep a balance between both genres, resulting in haunting horror scenes of great quality and moments of comedy that feel cheap and rushed. The contrast between them is abysmal, and truly show that the real interest of director Kadijevic was in the horror moments of his film. Despite this problem, "Leptirica" is still a quite interesting vampire story that, spiced up by Serbian folklore, gives a nice spin to the classic myth.

Considered as a classic of Serbian horror, the work of Djordje Kadijevic offers an interesting vision of the genre deeply rooted in his country's folklore. From amongst his works, "Leptirica" is perhaps the better known film, a movie that perfectly captures the essence and symbolism of Serbian folktales and transports them to the screen. Owner of a surreal atmosphere and an interesting visual design, "Leptirica" presents an interesting twist to the vampire myth, portrayed in the film as a force of nature that evokes the ancient fear to the unknown, to the savage: the woods, the darkness, the night. More symbolic than descriptive, the film is a faithful representation of a mythic struggle in film. While far from being a masterpiece, "Leptirica" has a certain charm that could only be described as "magic".


November 23, 2012

The Ape Man (1943)

Truly a real icon of the horror genre, Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi was immortalized when he played the legendary vampire, Count Dracula, in the film adaptation directed by Tod Browning for Universal Studios in 1931. However, after the role that would take him to the top, Lugosi would face the problem of being type-casted as a horror villain, thanks in part to his heavy foreign accent. While at first Lugosi enjoyed constant work at Universal Studios, when the company decided to close the production of horror films, Lugosi saw himself forced to work in low budget films in the harsh world of B-movies. Working for Sam Katzman's Monogram Pictures during the decade of the 1940s, Lugosi would perform in films of regular quality, as his career was being forgotten by mainstream audiences. "The Ape Man", directed by William Beaudine and released in 1943, is a clear example of this, as it presents Bela Lugosi working under a badly done work of make up as the titular ape man. While it's worth to point out that, despite this, the Hungarian actor does a quite professional job.

"The Ape Man" begins with the arrival of Agatha Brewster (Minerva Urecal), a professional ghost-hunter, who's coming to the city after receiving the news of the disappearance of her brother, the famed scientist Dr. James Brewster (Bela Lugosi). Reporter Jeff Carter (Wallace Ford) is waiting for her, eager to get an interview, but unfortunately Agatha is in a hurry, and his attempt ends in failure, as even the photograph taken is a mess. The reason of Agatha Brewster's hurry is that Dr. Randall (Henry Hall), her brother's colleague, has informed her that James has not disappeared, but that after a tragic lab accident, he has been turned into an ape man. In the meantime, Jeff Carter receives the mission of making a proper interview with Mrs. Brewster, and much to his dismay, he is partnered with a new photographer, Billie Mason (Louise Currie). The team will try to find out why is Mrs. Brewster so secretive, but they'll discover the twisted mind of Dr. Brewster, whom is now desperate to find a cure for his condition, and with that in mind he's willing to do the unthinkable.

The screenplay for "The Ape Man" was written by Barney A. Sarecky, taking as basis a story by Karel Brown, whom was a famous cinematographer of the days of silent cinema that later became a writer during the 30s, penning among others, the classic thrillers "The Man they Could Not Hang" and "Before I Hang". As in those films (by the way, both starring Boris Karloff), the main character is a scientist facing the tragic consequences of having experimented with himself. Being a victim of his own experiment, Dr. James Brewster has become a violent sociopath interested only in his own recovery. Certainly, this makes Dr. Brewster a quite interesting character, but Sarecky's screenplay opts to leave him aside in favor of the couple made by Carter and Mason, the classic wisecracking reporters that were so common in horror films during the 30s and 40s. It may seem as if with this choice, "The Ape Man" was now turned into a pretty ordinary film, but actually Sarecky's screenplay generates interesting dynamics between the two reporters, playing with Carter's uneasiness at having a woman in his team.

The role of director is taken by the veteran b-movies filmmaker William Beaudine, whom by then already had the reputation of being an efficient and practical craftsman. However, this emphasis on practicality often resulted in a sacrifice of the film's quality in general, not to mention the downplaying of other artistic values. And unfortunately, "The Ape Man" is a clear example of this, as while the screenplay isn't really a bad idea, Beaudine limits himself merely to shoot the film without caring too much for creating atmospheres or a particular emotion with it. Beaudine's style is quite conservative, and while it may be a style that could work in less fantastic melodramas (in fact, the screwball comedy between the reporters actually works just fine), "The Ape Man" would had been benefited by a more creative approach from the director, more willing to take risks and innovate. The result is that "The Ape Man" is ultimately a lot less interesting that what could had been, with a pretty slow rhythm only improved by the good performances the film has.

And that's because if there's something valuable in "The Ape Man" is that in general it has a good amount of pretty good performances (in comparison to other B-films of its time). First of course is Bela Lugosi, whom despite having a badly done work of make up in his face, does a pretty professional job as Dr. Brewster, turned into a being half man half ape. There's a certain care in the way that Lugosi creates his character, as rather than making a mere caricature of an ape, Lugosi makes a restrained, perhaps even subtle performance out of it. Wallace Ford, famous for his role in Tod Browning's "Freaks", shines with his particular charm and comedic talent in his role as wisecracking reporter Jeff Carter. However, his character wouldn't be the same without his counterpart, Billie Mason, played with great talent by Louise Currie, the film's true surprise. Veteran actress Minerva Urecal isn't that lucky, and her performance as the sister of the unfortunate Dr. Brewster, Agatha, is a tad exaggerated and overacted.

The case of "The Ape Man" is definitely one of wasted potential, as amongst the many movies done about murdering apes (which were pretty popular during the 30s and 40s), this one is certainly amongst the best written. Scriptwriter Barney A. Sarecky balances quite well comedy and horror, and there are even some clever situations and pretty interesting moments through the story. However, William Beaudine's work as a director turns ordinary a tale that could had resulted in a remarkable film. As mentioned before, Beaudine's simplistic narrative manages to work well in the comedy scenes (which also are enhanced by the great chemistry between Ford and Currie), but not in the horror ones, which look even stagy in their execution. On top of that, the poor quality of the special effects truly harm the film, particularly the make up done for Bela Lugosi and Emil Van Horn (who plays an ape) is of an awful quality (though of course, with a better done work of cinematography, this could still had worked, with those flaws hidden in the shadows as in 1932' "Murders in the Rue Morgue").

There's no doubt that William Beaudine's working style was pretty functional for film studios eager of having new material to show in little time (in fact, that's precisely the reason why Beaudine would later work in television), however, films like "The Ape Man" certainly deserved a bit more of care in its making. There are many good and interesting elements in "The Ape Man" (the cast for example), but they are inevitably overshadowed by the uninspired work of director Beaudine, who merely translates what's on the script to the silver screen without putting any emotion in it. Finally, a film that could had been quite entertaining, ends up looking a bit silly, slow and even boring. "The Ape Man" isn't really a bad film per se, but it's truly a pretty average one, and it leaves the sensation that the story deserved something better. The work of Currie, Ford and Lugosi certainly deserved better.


November 12, 2012

Man with Two Lives (1942)

Across the history of cinema, very few events have had the tremendous impact that the arrival of sound had. As a factor that redefined the art of cinema for ever, it meant as well a forced changed in the careers of many artists. Naturally, this is of course more than obvious in the case of actors, forced to adapt themselves to the changing art; however, it also represented a challenge for the filmmakers, who experienced the shaking of the foundations of an art they had come to dominate. While some of them, like Fritz Lang, managed to make a notable transition from silent cinema to "talkies", many others weren't that lucky and saw their careers finished. The case of director Phil Rosen could be considered a middle ground, as while Rosen could still work in sound films, he went from being a filmmaker of a certain name to an unknown yet efficient artisan making genre films in the world of B-movies. The film "Man with Two Lives", a mix of horror and science fiction released in 1942, is a typical example of the kind of cinema that Rosen would do in the sound era.

"Man with Two Lives" begins in the laboratory of Dr. Richard Clark (Edward Keane), whom along his young assistant Reginald Bennett (Tom Seidel), has dedicated his job to find a way to resurrect the dead. So far, it seems that Dr. Clark has achieved his goal, having been able to keep a heart beating for days; however, he hasn't been able to try his theories on a human being. The opportunity would come to him in a tragic way, when Reginald's brother, Philip Bennett (Edward Norris), loses his life in an unfortunately fatal car accident. Desperate, Philip's father, Hobart Bennett (Frederick Burton), begs Dr. Clark to put his theories to the test in order to resurrect his son, who had a promising future and was set to marry the beautiful Helen Lengel (Marlo Dwyer) in the following days. Dr. Clark accepts, though not without some reluctance. Fortunately, the experiment success and Philip Bennet is alive again. However, something is not right with Philip, who doesn't remember anyone and on the contrary, seems to know a lot about Wold Panino, a criminal who was executed at the same time Philip was resurrected.

Written by veteran scriptwriter Joseph Hoffman (who would have a prolific career in B-movie cinema), "Man with Two Lives" is another reinterpretation of the popular theme of change of personalities, having in this case the soul of a gangster in the body of kind and responsible Philip Bennett. Thus, Hoffman's tale moves between science fiction and crime melodrama, as the recently resurrected Panino uses Bennett's body to try to recover his criminal empire. As can be guessed, a lot of the drama in "Man with Two Lives" comes from the fact that Philip is a well liked member of high society, so his family and friends end up shocked as they discover the places and the people that Bennet is now visiting after his resurrection (not to mention his new activities). Hoffman's script is a tad predictable (not to mention it borrows a bit too much from Arthur Lubin's "Black Friday", released just two years before), though it does include a couple of interesting moments where the ruthless personality of Panino is evident. Sadly, Hoffman fails to explore more this aspect and even betrays himself with pretty cheap finale.

Director Phil Rosen gives life to Hoffman's screenplay in a pretty simple and traditional way. In fact, this simplicity in its visual narrative, though certainly effective to work with little time and low budget, results in a movie that feels even more antiquated than it really is. With a pretty static style that opts for practicality instead of a properly defined artistic vision, Rosen crafts an uninspired film that hardly takes advantage of the locations and props the film has (which include laboratory devices brought from previously done horror films). Despite the touches of horror and science fiction the story has, Rosen builds up his movie without paying too much attention to those aspects, leaving "Man with Two Lives" as mainly a gangster film and focusing more in the contrast between the two lives that his character experiences: the luxury existence of wealthy Bennett and the sordid life of ruthless criminal Panino. Even when Rosen himself had a solid background as cinematographer, the use he gives to the work of Harry Neumann in this department is pretty simplistic.

The performances by the cast in "Man with Two Lives" aren't really bad, so it's a bit sad that they hadn't a better material to work in this movie. Edward Norris plays the nice Philip Bennet, whom after suffering the unfortunate accident finds himself with the personality of the violent Panino. As Bennett, Norris is a bit wooden, even stagy in his performance, though once the personality of the criminal begins to control his character, Norris actually makes a pretty good job (certainly Norris was more comfortable playing the gangster than the nice guy). Marlo Dwyer, playing socialité Helen Lengel isn't bad in her role, though she's overshadowed a lot by actress Eleanor Lawson, who plays Panino's former girlfriend, confused at finding in Bennett the traits of her deceased lover. As Dr. Richard Clark, Edward Keane makes a job that's reminiscent of Lionel Atwill's style, though of course without the same level. Young Tom Seidel makes a pretty acceptable job as young Reginald Bennett, to the point of overshadowing Norris at times.

As mentioned before, "Man with Two Lives" is a film a bit too predictable for its own good, and pretty much lacking in originality. The fact that it's plot is too similar to "Black Friday" doesn't help much (specially when in said film one finds the performances of the two greatest icons of horror: Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff), and unfortunately "Man with Two Lives" does little to move away from that comparison. Without a doubt, with a better developed screenplay, the film could had explored far more interesting territories. Unfortunately, it would seem as if Hoffmand had been consciously trying to avoid risk at all cost, for example. after having taken the story to a climatic scene of a certain strength, Hoffman's script opts to take a easy way out that feels gratuitous and cheap. Phil Rosen's uninspired work of directing is another negative element in the film, as while the acting isn't really bad, Rosen does little to establish an atmosphere or a mood for his film, leaving "Man with Two Lives" as just an average gangster film of the 1940s.

Monogram Pictures was a pretty important studio in its time, as it served as production company and distributor to the works of many filmmakers forced to thrive in the world of B-movies. While there are many Monogram films of great quality, unfortunately Phil Rosen's "Man with Two Lives" isn't one of them. A hybrid of horror and gangster film, "Man with Two Lives" sets aside its horror genre inheritance and focuses more on being a typical crime melodrama. Despite its lack of originality, there are certain elements in the film that could had elevated the film a bit. Unfortunately, those elements aren't exploited and the film ends sadly as a pretty forgettable story.


November 11, 2012

La residencia (1969)

While in many other national film industries, the horror genre had been previously explored almost since the beginning of cinema, in Spain its development had been almost null, as other than some fantasy experiments by film pioneer Segundo de Chomón and Edgar Neville's 1944 film "La Torre de los Siete Jorobados", there wasn't really a proper horror film made by the Spaniard film industry until the arrival of the 1960s. The main reason for this was the hard censorship that Francisco Franco's government had over filmmakers, but in 1962 several changes began to take place in the industry that opened the door for horror movies. And the two most important persons in this rising genre were the filmmakers Jesús Franco and Narciso Ibáñez Serrador. Born in Uruguay to a family of actors, Ibáñez Serrador began his career in Spain initially on theater, later on television, where he put his taste for horror to work in the legendary TV series "Historias para no dormir". After the huge success of this TV series, Ibáñez Serrador released in 1969 his feature length debut: "La residencia".

Set in 19th century France, "La residencia" (in English "The House that Screamed") is the story of a boarding school for girls directed by the strict Mrs. Fourneau (Lilli Palmer). To the school arrives a new student, Teresa (Cristina Galbó), who soon discovers the secrets hidden by the facade of discipline the school has. One of the students, Irene (Mary Maude), trusted assistant to Mrs. Fourneau, takes a particular interest in Teres, and seeks to torture here and humiliate her every time she can. Mrs. Fourneau herself doesn't miss a chance to violently punish the rebel Catalina (Pauline Challoner). While this takes place, Teresa secretly befriends Luis (John Moulder-Brown), son of Mrs. Fourneau, who lives hidden at the school, as his mother doesn't want him to befriend the young girls of the house. Teresa wishes to leave, not only because of the constant humiliations she suffers, but also because several students have gone missing without a trace in the last days, so fear begins to run rampant through the walls of the house.

Based on a story by Juan Tébar, the screenplay for "La residencia" was written by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador himself (under the name of Luis Peñafiel), whom mixes several classic elements of horror to shape a quite innovative story for Spanish horror. On one hand, the setting on an isolated mansion of 19th century brings back memories of traditional Gothic horror fiction, while the plot line of having Teresa facing the tortures of the sadistic Irene give the story a pretty subversive touch of rebellion against authority. Finally, the main plot of the serial killer on the loose, makes "La residencia" an interesting ancestor of the slasher subgenre. However, the most interesting thing in "La residencia"'s screenplay is the amount of readings its plot can have, as there's not only a thinly veiled criticism to authoritarian regimes (such as the one headed by Francisco Franco), but the way Ibáñez develops his characters includes a risky but quite elegant touch of lesbianism in the relationship between Teresa and Irene.

Elegance is perhaps the best way to define the style that director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador employs in "La residencia", style that gives a greater importance to suspense and tension. With a remarkable work of cinematography by Manuel Berenguer, director Ibáñez Serrador creates a film where the atmosphere of repression is felt in every frame. Taking good advantage to his location, Ibáñez Serrador makes his young characters more like prisoners than students, under the strict rule of Fourneau (and the ruthless enforcement of Irene). The fear felt by the characters towards their oppressive environment, is portrayed by Ibáñez Serrador with great detail, and the perfect example is the knitting lesson sequence, where with a brilliant use of montage, the director manages to show the sexual repression latent in the young ladies. As it can be seen, it's suspense rather than horror what makes the most predominant element in the film, though when the killer finally strikes, Ibáñez Serrador creates several images of great impact (and innovative for its time).

With "La residencia", Ibáñez Serrador was trying to reach an international public, so despite its multinational cast, the film was dubbed to English (a common practice in Eurpean cinema of its time). The dubbing isn't that bad, the great quality of some of the performances can still be felt. The crown jewel of the film is the performance by German actress Lilli Palmer, whom as Mrs. Fourneau makes one of the best works in her entire career. With great dignity and an extraordinary screen presence, Palmer creates a character of such an intensity that truly leaves a powerful impression even when she's not in the screen. Palmer manages to fuse the oppressive Mrs. Fourneau with the ominous atmosphere of her school. Excellent as well is the performance of British actress Mary Maude as Irene, who makes a superb work of acting as Mrs. Fourneau's loyal assistant, abusing her position of power to torture her classmates. In front of such excellent jobs, Cristina Galbó is a tad overshadowed, however, she manages to rise up to the challenge and deliver a terrific job.

Being without a doubt one of the best works in Spanish horror, "La residencia" is a great example of Gothic horror that quite possibly serve as inspiration to Italian filmmaker Dario Argento to make "Suspiria" (which is also set at a boarding school). Innovative, captivating and full of suspense, "La residencia" rests on the great care that director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador put in its making. However, despite its many virtues, there are some details that can't be totally forgotten. Perhaps the most obvious one is the complete abandonment of some of the film's most interesting subplots (specially one referring to Catalina), which end up unresolved in favor of the main plot. This is probably the result of a screenplay where Ibáñez Serrador tried to include multiple ideas that in the end had to be sacrificed. Another detail is that perhaps the identity of the killer is a bit too predictable, though it's worth to point out that this doesn't diminish the climax's impact, which is enhanced by a remarkable camera-work and the superb work of Lilli Palmer.

Despite its flaws, "La residencia" is a major work of Spanish horror, and a clear example of the great talent of director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador (talent that would shine again in his 1976's classic "¿Quién puede matar a un niño?"). With its beautiful cinematography and the haunting musical score by Waldo de los Ríos, "La residencia" is a film that, like the best Gothic horror stories, employs the conventions of its genre to make a subtle and elegant portrait of sexual repression. While the film had a pretty cold reception upon its release (in both Spain and in foreign markets), "La residencia" is a film a lot more intelligent that what would seem at first sight, because behind its plot of a serial killer is hidden a harsh criticism to oppressive regimes and their followers. A true forgotten classic of horror cinema.


November 10, 2012

La corta notte delle bambole di vetro (1971)

Having done a career as assistant director during the last years of the decade of the 1960s (in works such as Bernardo Bertolucci's "Il conformista" and several films with director Maurizio Lucidi), Italian filmmaker Aldo Lado got his chance to debut as a director with a story of mystery and horror (a giallo film) with the title "Malastrana". Executives from the film's distributor thought the title, which was a reference to the Malá Strana neighborhood in the city of Prague (where the story was set), was a bit too ambiguous and wasn't working, so it was decided that the film would be titled "La corta notte delle farfalle", meaning "Short Night of the Butterfly". To director Aldo Lado's misfortune, that very same year another tale of mystery was being released in Itay with butterflies in the title: "Una farfalla con le ali insanguinante", so another title changes was required at the last time, settling for the more ambiguous and poetic "La corta notte delle bambole di vetro", or in English, "Short Night of Glass Dolls". The film would end up being considered one of the most celebrated and unusual within the giallo subgenre.

"La corta notte delle bambole di vetro" begins with the discovery of the corpse of Gregory Moore (Jean Sorel), an American reporter who had gone missing a couple of days before. However, while it's apparently clear that Moore is dead, he is actually alive and conscious, trapped in a body that he can't control and unable of any form of communication. Confused by this, Moore tries to understand what has happened to him, remembering how everything started: with the mysterious disappearance of his beautiful girlfriend Mira (Barbara Bach) after a party they had attended. Moore begins to remember the events that took place after her disappearance, as while the local police had quickly dismissed the case as the bitter splitting of a couple, Moore had discovered a link between Mira's disappearance and other cases of missing girls in town. Moore's co-workers, Jessica (Ingrid Thulin) and Jacques (Mario Adorf) try to help him, though without really believing the clues that Moore follows, clues that will lead him to discover the morbid secrets of Prague's high society.

Written by director Aldo Lado himself along veteran scriptwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (writer of several Italian films of the genre), the story of "La corta notte delle bambole di vetro" presents an unusual spin to the mystery thriller at basing the plot in a series of flashbacks to reporter Gregory Moore's memories, while at the same time he tries to recover the control of his body. It's in this element where suspense comes into play in the story, as Gregory Moore isn0t really dead, just completely paralyzed by some reason unknown to himself, so tension rises by having him unable to communicate or defend himself. Mystery is perhaps the most important element in "La corta notte delle bambole di vetro", because as the plot unfolds it makes some unpredictable twists and turns that take the story each time closer to more extraordinary and morbid terrains. Certainly, "La corta notte delle bambole di vetro" moves away from the classic model of Italian giallo (stylish thrillers with great emphasis on graphic violence and eroticism), however, it truly keeps the horror and tension typical of the genre.

Another giallo element that remains intact in "La corta notte delle bambole di vetro" is its great visual stylization. Director Aldo Lado creates in "La corta notte delle bambole di vetro" an ominous atmosphere of mystery that reaches a haunting oneiric level as the plot unfolds and Moore gets deeper into the horrible secrets of Prague. It's interesting how what starts as a somewhat typical thriller get a greater stylization as Moore descends into darkness. Despite this being his feature length debut, director Aldo Lado shows a great domain of his camera and a quite developed visual narrative, as he manages to take full advantage of the awesome work of cinematography done by Giuseppe Ruzzolini. As mentioned before, suspense is a fundamental thing in "La corta notte delle bambole di vetro", and the film has director Aldo Lado showing his great domain over it. Besides this, it's worth to point out the truly remarkable musical score composed by the master Ennio Morricone, which truly enhances the ominous atmosphere of surreal nightmare that Lado's film has.

Acting in "La corta notte delle bambole di vetro" is in general of great quality, even taking into account that the work of dubbing done in the film (a common practice in Italian cinema) is less than stellar. Leading the cast is French actor Jean Sorel (known for his work in Luis Buñuel's "Belle de jour") as reporter Gregory Moore. While nothing truly outstanding, Sorel makes a pretty acceptable job and, despite his dubbing, manages to carry the weight of the film without problem. However, he is a bit overshadowed by Ingmar Bergman's legendary muse, Swedish actress Ingrid Thulin, who plays his coworker and former lover, Jessica. Thulin manages to create a pretty complex character despite having a character with less weight in the plot, showing her talent as a woman divided between what she feels for Moore and her hatred towards his new girlfriend. As Mira, Barbara Bach (in her second giallo after "La tarantola dal ventre nero") makes an acceptable job, and even when her character is limited to looking good, Bach manages to fill the screen with her great presence.

The rest of the performances are pretty good, and even the dubbing isn't really that aggravating (with the sole exception being the case of Mario Adorf's dubbed voice). "La corta notte delle bambole di vetro" reveals itself as a quite atypical giallo, gifted with a great visual beauty and an attractive plot that aims for tension and suspense instead of graphic violence. If there's any problem in "La corta notte delle bambole di vetro" is that probably director Aldo Lado at times abuses too much of the resource of having Gregory Moore's narrating the film, resulting in moments that could seem a bit ridiculous. Another problem is that the film becomes a bit slow in occasions, however, it's worth to point out that it never becomes tedious or boring. Certainly, the premise where the story rests requires a bit more suspension of disbelief than what would be desired, given how extraordinary the situation is. Fortunately, the film more than compensates this with an unpredictable plot and a superb finale full of tension.

In this his debut, director Aldo Lado manages to create an excellent story of suspense and mystery that breaks the classic conventions of Italian giallo. Focused more on mystery than on violence, "La corta notte delle bambole di vetro" opts for a kind of horror a bit different, one based on tension and paranoia rather than in visual shock (which isn't bad, really). Lado keeps his moments of violence for carefully established moments, which enhances a lot the film's suspense. While far from the traditional style of "thriller all'italiana", Director Aldo Lado's film "La corta notte delle bambole di vetro" is one of the best films ever done within the giallo subgenre. With a haunting visual beauty and a captivating musical score, "La corta notte delle bambole di vetro" is a forgotten classic of horror and mystery.


November 09, 2012

The Dead Outside (2008)

Ever since the release in 1968 of George A. Romero's classic horror film "Night of the Living Dead", zombie films quickly became a quite popular subgenre of horror; and that was because the type of scenario that Romero's film introduced to the world allowed countless narrative possibilities (worth to point out that its direct ancestor was Richard Matheson's novel "I Am Legend"). From the gory violence of Lucio Fulci's "Zombi 2" (1979) to the comedy of Wright's "Shaun of the Dead" (2004), to even more existentialist meditations like "I, Zombie: The Chronicles of Pain" (1998). The renewed popularity that the zombie film experienced at the dawn of the 21st century has brought new ideas on the subject, and amongst them there's the one presented by the British film "The Dead Outside", an independent production released in the year 2008. Directed by Scottish director Kerry Anne Mullaney, "The Dead Outside" fits in the kind of zombie film that focuses more on the social repercussions of the outbreak of a virus. Unfortunately, the result is not that stellar.

"The Dead Outside" is the story of David (Alton Milne), a young survivor of a devastating neurological epidemic that has ravished the world. The disease, of an unknown origin, is highly contagious and the result in those infected is a loss of reason, of sense and an increase of violent impulses, reducing them essentially to partially sentient creatures unable to feel pain. David wanders in his car through the fields of Scotland looking for other survivors, as the group where he was living was attacked with him as sole survivor. In his quest, David finds a farm that seems inhabited, so he decides to spend the night there. While he rest, he is surprised by the house's owner, April (Sandra Louise Douglas) and her old rifle. After making sure that David is not infected, April allows him to star for a while. Soon, the differences between them will make their personalities clash, because while David still sees the infected as humans, April exterminates them without any remorse, full of a fury that intimidates David. But under that anger, April hides a very important secret.

Written by Kris R. Bird and director Kerry Anne Mullaney herself, "The Dead Outside" tackles the zombie film genre from an interesting point of view: that of those who survived the apocalypse. So, rather than being a traditional horror film, "The Dead Outside" is a character study about these two characters that circumstances have gathered in a lonely farm in Scotland. As David and April face the infected that occasionally get near the farm, the writers contrast the different ideas both characters have about their future, with David hoping to recover a certain degree of normality while April only wants to be left along. In general, the premise of "The Dead Outside" is interesting as it aims for psychological horror instead of a more visceral type of it, as it focuses on the frail balance that exists in the relationship between David and Apri. Unfortunately, Bird and Mullaney's screenplay fails to truly explore those themes, as it doesn't develop its characters beyond the stereotype, which eventually becomes a bigger problem when the plot doesn't have much going on in it.

While her screenplay is pretty much lacking, as a director, Kerry Anne Mullaney has better luck, as "The Dead Outside" shows she has a well defined vision for her quite particular brand of zombie apocalypse. Working with minimal resources, Mullaney creates a minimalist film placing greater emphasis on atmosphere and tension between her characters. The key element in "The Dead Outside" is the feeling of loneliness that invades the characters and their reactions to it. Mullaney reflects this loneliness by taking great advantage of the work of cinematographer Kris R. Bird, who makes an effective job at capturing the strange beauty of the desolated Scottish fields. In "The Dead Outside", Mullaney employs a slow, contemplative narrative, which goes hand in hand with the screenplays' focus on the characters and their loneliness. The atmosphere of desolation generated by Mullaney is effective in the realist way it presents her apocalypse, an apocalypse of loneliness where survivors only have their memories with them. Sadly, Mullaney doesn't manage to do something with this, thanks to a story that goes nowhere.

As mentioned before, "The Dead Outside" is more a character study than a typical horror film, exploring the consequences of the epidemic in two of its survivors. By focusing on its characters, the performances become instrumental to the success of "The Dead Outside", but unfortunately, the acting in the film is pretty much average. Alton Milne is maybe the only exception, making a pretty acceptable job as the traumatized survivor Daniel, who tries to start his life again. In a retrained yet still emotive performance, Milne manages to transmit his characters' loneliness and melancholia, after having lost everything except hope. On the contrary, SandraLouise Douglas makes an unfortunately bad job as the mysterious April, making an exaggerated performance of the anguish and anger of the characters, resulting in her making April look like nothing more than a capricious and bitter teenager. Of course, not everything can be blamed on Douglas, as her character doesn't give her much space to do something better. Sharon Osdin appears as a third survivor, making an OK performance, though nothing surprising.

"The Dead Outside" is an independent horror film with as many virtues as it has flaws, which results in a movie that's never entirely satisfying at all. Technically, it's remarkable how director Kerry Anne Mullaney manages to do it with such limited resources, but ultimately, her film suffers from the greatest sin a movie can commit: being boring. As mentioned above, the problem is not in its premise, which is certainly interesting, it's problem is that "The Dead Outside" never truly moves on to something, as while it establishes several subplots that point towards something interesting, nothing relevant really happens. The clash between two characters, based mainly on the contrast between David's desire for returning to society and April's hate towards it, only results in discussions where April ends up just screaming in anger demanding to be left alone. Thus, a character that's the center of the main plot and whom should be interesting, is left reduced to an annoying stereotype that makes her lose her supposed importance in the plot.

In this her debut, director Kerry Anne Mullaney certainly shows a defined vision and narrative style, as well as a great skill to do a lot with very little. It's a shame that there hasn't been more care while developing the screenplay, because "The Dead Outside" ends up looking like an incomplete work. In fact, it's quite probable that if the movie had been developed as a short film, "The Dead Outside" could had worked a lot better, as what results is a film of a terribly slow rhythm where ultimately nothing happens. Despite its interesting premise, "The Dead Outisde" ends up as a film that sadly is neither good nor bad, just simply forgettable. Nevertheless, films like "The Dead Outside" prove the great versatility that the zombie film subgenre has for storytelling.