Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Mark Hodgson ""

Friday, January 18, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Mark Hodgson

A movie-goer since 1966, Mark Hodgson is the sole writer behind which started in 2005. Twitter addict and hoarder of movie ephemera, he works in an independent TV post-production house in London.

This year, many of the films new to me have been suggested in discussions on Twitter, as well as from an ongoing list of unfinished business. Old articles, posters and magazine photospreads that once caught my eye, maybe thirty or forty years ago, that still have the power to persuade. These prompts have been working, increasingly this year, with rarities and no-shows on DVD appearing on YouTube. But whenever possible, if I like it, I buy it.

Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962)
The draw of a Vincent Price movie with a name like this is obvious, but I've never had the chance to see it until the Warner Archive made-on-demand release this year.

Based on Thomas De Quincey's autobiographical account of his teen years as a drug-addicted runaway sleeping on the streets of London's Soho, (incidentally it mentions the steps of the Soho Square buildings I now work in). The film is a very loose adaption. The action leaps forward a hundred years and over to San Francisco's Chinatown. Vincent plays a sailor who stumbles into the middle of a drug war, deep in the world of Tong gangs and prostitution.

While the story could have been an X-rated prequel to Big Trouble In Little China, its vices are more hinted at than explicit and Chinatown is represented by a minimum of studio sets. There's still more action than I'd expected and the opium references are about the same strength as pre-code. It's suitably presented like one long dream and there's a storm drain set that kept reminding me of the climax to Earthquake.
Available from Warner Archive: Here

Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno (2009/1964)
This is in fact a documentary about an unfinished film, from the director of Les Diaboliques (1955) and The Wages of Fear (1953). Filmed in 1964, it ran into such problems that despite the huge amount of money already spent, it was abandoned, practically ending his career. The extensive clips and use of existing footage reconstruct the story - a spectacular depiction of a husband's overly suspicious nature. Psychedelic and colourful experimental camerawork that depict his jealous rages are hugely impressive, as is the vast filming location that symbolises their relationship - a high suspension bridge over their lakeside hotel.

Like many ambitious projects, the traumatic account of the production is just as dramatic as the story, while also allowing insight into the intentions and methods of an expert filmmaker. The beautiful Romy Schneider (What's New Pussycat, Madchen In Uniform) was the star, but Berenice Bejo (The Artist) appears in some short reconstructions to flesh out the unfilmed scenes. I later tried out Claude Chabrol's belated remake, Hell (1994), which was a disappointing stripped-down version without the visual ambitions.

Park Circus released this in the UK on DVD in 2010, then the indispensable Video Watchdog prompted me to see it. My rental list is a hundred strong so titles can take time to filter through.

Symptoms (1974)
After her spooky double-act with father Donald in From Beyond The Grave (1974), I've always wanted to see more of Angela Pleasence especially in horror films. Here she gets the leading role she deserves, for Jose Ramon Larraz, director of the celebrated Vampyres (released the same year). This gloomy British film centres on the relationship of two women enjoying a quiet weekend together in an isolated old house by a lake.

Hinting at a lesbian relationship and darkness in her past, Angela gives a great performance that mystifies me why her career was so patchy and TV oriented. Perhaps she wanted more normal roles and disliked the disturbed characters she was so good at.

Downbeat, with an initially languid pace, the interaction between the two women is realistically underplayed, though I was very glad that I stuck with it until it all kicked off...

Footprints on the Moon (aka Le Orme, 1975)
Another woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown, this one dreaming of a disastrous moon landing. I leapt at this after seeing a delicious trailer reel at the start of one of the new UK DVD releases from Shameless Screen Entertainment, presented in giallo-coloured cases. In the past I've been daunted by the huge number of Italian thrillers and murder mysteries made in the 1970s, so far limiting myself to zombies and Argento. But these new, low-priced releases are cherry-picking some real winners.

Apocalypse Now cinematographer Vittorio Storaro is the main reason to see this one, depicting architecture and landscape as art. I also enjoy seeing fresh-faced Peter McEnery (Victim, Entertaining Mr Sloane) up to his ankles in Eurothriller mayhem.

The Lorelei's Grasp (1974)
My entry-point to these two Spanish horrors was the gory British pre-cursor to Fangoria, Monster Mag, which showed such glossy gory close-ups of '70s horror films that one issue was banned completely. This DVD double-bill was snatched from the shelves when I saw one was directed by Amando D'Ossorio. His four Blind Dead, Knights Templar horrors impress with extreme gore and slow-motion atmosphere, the most skeletal zombies out there.

Lorelei starts with gore effects that couldn't possibly have been seen in the US or UK. The prosthetics don't convince, but compensate with ambitious viciousness. A monster is prowling the countryside and killing. And why are so many victims young beautiful and naked? Spanish horror of this era apparently relied on boobs and blood, and there's less atmosphere than the Blind Deads. But despite the small story, it's never dull, and an interesting indicator of D'Ossorio's downward fortunes in directing.

It's paired with Horror Rises From The Tomb (1972), a Paul Naschy production with even more sex, more nudity, just as much blood, but less story. Strange how Naschy gets the best sex scenes. The cover image of a a white-eyed victim with her throat cut gave me a forty-year flashback to another Monster Mag photo-spread. I just had to see how she died! It opens with a medieval Witchfinder General tableau that I wished the story had stayed within.

The Sea Serpent (1984)
The Lorelei's Grasp led me to Amando D'Ossorio's last ever feature film, which washed up on YouTube, starring Timothy Bottoms and Ray Milland. Whereas all the directors' previous films were shot in Spanish, the big name American cast were presumably where all the money went. This monster movie, substituting a shark with a giant sea serpent, had little money left for special effects, despite the frequent need for them.

One cannot imagine what Bottoms said after he saw the finished film, but unsurprisingly he didn't stick around to loop his own lines. Not since Reptilicus has a giant monster been so woefully depicted. Basically a Muppet with teeth, and a toy being dragged through a pool. Which is a shame because there's also a cleverly filmed full-scale chomping monster head that barely gets shown. The addition of toy boats, a tiny model lighthouse and a train set, all shot in real-time (instead of slow-motion) add to the effect of 'giving up'. A very sad end to several careers. But also funny.

Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 aka After Death aka Zombie 4 (1989)
My most treasured discovery in this Euro-trawl was this second sequel to Lucio Fulci's supreme Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979). I'd tried Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 many years ago and was depressed at how bad the zombies looked (solid masks), dissuading me from any more sequels. But then I discover that gay porn god Jess Stryker (under an assumed name) starred in this. Two of my favourite genres in collusion! Stryker is still rampantly sexual, shirt split to the waist from his very first scene, displaying a more ample chest than his female co-star.

Despite a tacked-on (?) voodoo prologue, with squishy gore effects, we're back on an island with disorientating multiple storylines and a forest of black-hooded ninja zombie ambushes. This settles down into a traditional siege, but in rows of barracks, the heroes pick a building without a front double-door. In a zombie siege. They make no effort to block it, let alone board it up. Ammunition will be their defence! It's better than any Zombie sequel has any right to be.

White Lightning (1973)
Last year I did a trawl for '70s and '80s Burt Reynolds films I'd missed and found the DVD availability patchy and poorly mastered, having to settle for 4:3 aspects for many of them. This is an exception, with a good widescreen release, and it's long overdue for me, as I'd originally seen the sequel Gator (1976) in the cinema. That was a case of a light-hearted film getting tough, White Lightning is the reverse, opening with a tough, bleak, picturesque murder in the bayou.

After being informed that this was also intended as Spielberg's first feature, the man himself had done preparatory work on it, I paid extra attention trying to imagine how he'd have done it differently. While backwater America is often represented by stereotypes, this has more sense of community and family. Once again, it's the police that are the enemy.

The drama then takes second place as the authentic, squealing car chases kick in, and the tone gets so easy-going it ends up almost at the perfect level for Smokey and the Bandit (1977) to take over.

Ned Beatty, Bo Hopkins, R.G. Armstrong and a youthful Diane Ladd co star.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
A pre-Bond Roger Moore is forced by veteran director Basil Dearden to concentrate hard and do acting, one of the few in which he proves himself. His handlebar moustache instantly identifies him in this film, an effort to differentiate from his persona as the star of long-running TV series The Saint.

With a wealthy businessman getting increasingly anxious that he's forgetting where he's been and what he's done, the strength of the story is not knowing exactly where it's going, despite there only being a few possible explanations.

In his last film as director, Dearden keeps the tension up, and was no doubt picked for his work on Dead of Night (1945). The supporting cast kowtow to Moore except for a superbly eccentric performance from Freddie Jones (The Elephant Man, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed) as Moore's psychiatrist. Incidentally, Freddie is actor Toby Jones' father.

Roar (1981)
This has been a very Tippi Hedren year. We've seen her twice in conversation, once plugging The Girl at London's BFI, once introducing the new restoration of The Birds at an AMPAS screening in Los Angeles. Both times she mentioned her charity, The Shambala Preserve, a refuge for unwanted lions and big cats just north of the L.A. city limits.

After reading Tippi's book 'The Cats of Shambala' I was surprised that the refuge came about because of the movie, Roar. It tells the amazing story behind the film, a ten-year project that started when she and her husband began collecting big cats, hoping that living with them at home would make lions friendly enough to share screen time without them getting eaten. Over a hundred big cats later, and throw in the teenage years of daughter Melanie Griffiths, it's a catalogue of disastrous floods, fires and maulings (not onscreen), and you get We Bought A Zoo with teeth and claws.

Tippi getting pecked by a bird pales into insignificance against being mauled by a lion and having her leg broken by a gigantic (pet) elephant while making the film. The many trips by the cast to A&E led to several crew walkouts and then financial problems.

Not recommended as completely cold-viewing because of the non-existent story and patchy acting, but rather as a feature-length YouTube video of astonishing footage where people meet crowds of lions and tigers. This was Jan De Bont's first American film as a cinematographer, serving on Roar for five years. His work adds immeasurably, with dynamic up-close footage, and he deserves a medal for bravery in returning to the shoot after needing two hundred stitches and nearly losing half his scalp.

Not a typical way to make a movie, but far more thrilling than CGI.

Breaking Glass (1980)
Phil Daniels, the star of Quadrophenia (1979), plays a streetwise manager to a struggling post-punk band in 1980 London. A very natural performance, but far less challenged in essentially a then-typical, cynical look at the music industry.

What really impressed me was how a decent budget doesn't glamorise this grotty scene, a time-slice of British new wave music right at the very start, before gothic and new romantic movements also took off. Hazel O'Connor, the singer in fictional band Breaking Glass, became an actual pop star launched by songs from the film.

Her character rejects the racist intent of 'Oi' skinhead music and the Swastika fashions of punk, representing the transformation of angry nihilism into political protests of the new wave. Mostly filmed in a London gripped by strikes by dustmen and power station workers, it includes a Camden Town recognisable from Withnail & I.

The familiar arc of the artist's integrity vs corporate music label is realistically portrayed at all levels, and I particularly liked the demonstration of chart-rigging. It helps that the players are actors such as Richard Griffiths, Jim Broadbent, Jon Finch and an impressive Jonathan Pryce (pre-Brazil) as a deaf saxophonist.

The changing fashions include some Blade Runner make-up and a light-up Tron stage costume, while pre-dating both films. Breaking Glass sums up the decade ahead of its time.


KC said...

I also wish Angela Pleasence would have made more movies, though I can see how having such an unusual appearance would have limited her. Basically, the thing that makes her awesome, also puts her in a box. She was so magnetic in that movie. I think it would have been pointless without her.

Ned Merrill said...

Big fan of BREAKING GLASS, tho I wish the American Blu-ray / DVD from Olive didn't have a flubbed soundtrack on the end credits AND included the original extended ending as a bonus. Long been curious about ROAR for some reason. Also, MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF.