Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Jeffrey Canino ""

Monday, March 4, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Jeffrey Canino

Jeffrey Canino holds a Masters in English Literature, which makes him about as employable as you’d think. He blogs about Euro Horror, slashers, found footage, and sundry other horror oddities at his blog, Nessun timore (

You can also follow him on twitter @nessuntimore.

Superstition (1982) dir. James W. Roberson
An American supernatural slasher in the Italian mode. Director James W. Roberson didn’t go on to do much, but he did this one right. This surreal and garish tale of a family being terrorized by the reincarnated evil of a New England pond witch is horrifyingly brutal, dispatching its innocent characters with aplomb. Gorgeous production design, goopy gore, and an over-the-top approach to haunted house tropes assured Superstition a place in my heart.

Death Laid an Egg (1968) dir. Giulio Questi
Of the bucket loads of gialli I consumed in 2012, few left the same lingering impression as Giulio Questi’s bizarre, SF-tinged thriller. Its fractured plot and abrupt editing create an intriguing and dreamy puzzle that’s aided by occasional forays into surreal concepts and imagery, chief among them being a grotesque genetically engineered pink chicken creature without a head or wings. Sexual perversion, hypocrisy, and murder rule the day, but coming so early in the Italian giallo cycle allows Death Laid an Egg to explore an approach to the mystery thriller outside of the soon-to-be-standardized formula. And what a dizzying and eccentric approach it is.
Viewable on YouTube: 

The Plumber (1979) dir. Peter Weir
More visceral and less ambiguous than Picnic at Hanging Rock, Peter Weir’s later oddball thriller is an uncomfortable hour and change. Its almost nonstop intensity and devastating social commentary make it a particularly surprising made-for-TV affair, but then ‘70s TV was a bit more daring, wasn’t it? Ivar Kants is of particular note for his performance as Max, the titular deranged plumber, who convinces everyone of the merits of DIY home improvement.

Montenegro (1981) dir. Dusan Makavejev
Makavejev’s Sweet Movie (1974) is the best absurdist satire ever filmed, but Montenegro isn’t far behind. It’s a slightly more commercial, narrative-driven film than Makavejev’s previous work, but only slightly so. His humor is still of the darkest and most caustic variety, here depicting a bored housewife’s sojourn into the allure of the gypsy lifestyle. The film’s social philosophy makes it clear that status and freedom cannot be reconciled, and that the upper class’ existential dissatisfaction is terminal.

The Haunting of Julia (1977) dir. Richard Loncraine
This Peter Straub adaptation starring Mia Farrow, Keir Dullea, and Tom Conti (also known as Full Circle) is a sophisticated and unjustly neglected classic of understated horror. Its ghostly manifestations have a blink-and-miss-them subtlety and its mystery unfurls with some genuinely surprising revelations. The film’s delicate mood is bolstered by Colin Towns’s impeccable synthesized score. Long relegated to VHS-quality bootlegs, the film started streaming on Netflix Instant in 2012 with a much-improved widescreen transfer, revealing even more of its haunting charm.

El Caminante (1979) dir. Jacinto Molina
The great Paul Naschy turns in arguably his finest effort both in front of and behind the camera. El Caminante (The Traveler) is an excessively grim and cynical film about the evil that humans do. Nonetheless, along with all the cruelty, betrayal, and suffering, this devilish (wink) period piece happens to be unquestionably humorous in a sick and twisted way that will make you ashamed of yourself for laughing along at the world’s injustices. The rare film in which Naschy chews his scenery with the same intensity out of the werewolf costume as he usually does when within.

Dirty Dancing (1987) dir. Emile Ardolino
Though its isolated Catskill summer resort would be a fantastic slasher setting, it was nonetheless what Dirty Dancing actually had to offer that pulled me into its sweaty embrace. A giddy, smile-inducing teen romance of the highest order, it also has the benefit of being a period piece, having genuinely enjoyable dancing, and featuring Jerry Orbach prominently. I’ve never fallen in love with a Patrick Swayze type on a corny family vacation, but this film makes me feel like I have. Jennifer Grey is beyond endearing as she blusters through her own awkwardness and blossoms (pretty much by herself, despite Swayze) into a self-confident woman in an environment that pretty firmly discourages it. I wouldn’t have figured a film like Dirty Dancing—with its misleading popular reputation—would have appealed to me on any level, but I’m so very pleased to be wrong.

Oddballs (1984) dir. Miklos Lente
Easily the hardest I’ve laughed all year. A blank parody of teen summer camp films that’s more preoccupied with unleashing a bewildering array of irreverent, rapid fire gags, nearly all of which hit. I initially watched Oddballs with a group of Internet pals who convene bi-weekly to feast upon and heckle cinematic trash, and we found ourselves utterly humbled by the film’s anything-and-everything-for-a-laugh anarchic absurdism. It will forever remain in a prominent position on my shelves of VHS.

Poor Pretty Eddie (1975) dir. Richard Robinson
For a few months after I first watched Poor Pretty Eddie in 2012, a blank post bearing its title stood saved as a draft on my blog, waiting for me to write and publish it. Eventually I threw up my digital arms and deleted it: it turns out it’s a hard to film to write about. Endlessly complex in its themes and impressive in its low-budget proficiency, Richard Robinson’s film is one of the greats. A grotesque chamber drama, head-butting issues of race, class, and sexual desire while wailing desperately into the night. Leslie Uggams, Shelley Winters, and Michael Christian turn in performances that are so good—and so painful—that one almost can’t bear to watch. Throughout its running time the film feels as if its tension is about to explode into a heated mess, and when it finally does it comes as a relief. Poor Pretty Eddie is powerful and intelligent exploitation filmmaking that is more than worthy of its reputation.

Computer Beach Party (1987) dir. Gary Troy
I shall eagerly await the day when Computer Beach Party is hailed as the next rediscovered camp classic that defies all explanation and good sense. Ostensibly a summertime teen sex comedy, the film is closer to a nonsensical and incoherent blast of vaguely computer-tinged tomfoolery. Spotted with inept acting, insufficient filmmaking, and inane gags (a Chicken Car is recurring), it also reaches some transcendent heights of loony ingenuity, like the beach car race helped along by glove compartment keyboard computations. At times, Computer Beach Party feels like a never-ending promotional music video advertising a bizarre world immeasurably distant from our own.

Honorable Mentions: Spider Labyrinth (1988), La Residencia (1969), Alucarda (1977), Mill of the Stone Women (1960), Zero Day (2003), Hotel (2004), & Elves (1989), all of which I’ve written about at greater length on my blog so don’t quite merit the same verbiage here. Rest assured, they’re all wonderful.

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