Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2018 - Barry P. ""

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - Barry P.

Barry P. runs the eclectic movie blog Cinematic Catharsis, focusing on the little films that slipped through the cracks, with an emphasis on genre titles. Some regular features include: classic spotlights, capsule reviews and overlooked gems.
Find Cinematic Catharsis here:
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See his Discoveries list from last year here:

1. The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch (1968) 
1968 was a banner year for Japanese supernatural films, with Kuroneko, The Great Yokai War, and this fine example from director Noriaki Yuasa (best known for the original Gamera movies) and Daiei Studios. Sayuri (Yachie Matsui) is adopted from an orphanage and brought home to live with a family in a mysterious house. While her adoptive father travels to Africa to study snakes, she must contend with a belligerent older sister, a mother who might not be altogether sane, and a stern housekeeper. Before long, Sayuri discovers that the family is under the influence of a sinister spell. But who or what is responsible? Filled with surreal imagery, hallucinogenic dream sequences, and thick with gothic atmosphere, the film recalls Hammer in its heyday, or an early ‘60s Corman production. Filled with twists and suspense at every turn, it’s a great dark fantasy for kids of all ages.

2. Death Walks at Midnight (1972) 
This nifty giallo from director Luciano Ercoli has enough turns to keep you guessing until the end. Top fashion model Valentina (Nieves Navarro, aka: Susan Scott) takes an experimental hallucinogen for money and has visions of a brutal murder with a spiked gauntlet. As Valentina delves deeper into the mystery, she spots the murderer from her nightmares, which might just lead to her doom. Fearing she will be the next victim, she tries to convince her artist boyfriend and police, but they dismiss it as effects of the drug. Only a lone reporter appears to be her ally. The film features a pair of thugs, including a manic laughing assassin, in a climactic rooftop fight. Warning: Don’t expect Death to appear at midnight; he shows up whenever he pleases.
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3. Bad Ronald (1974) 
Whether you use ‘70s or today’s TV as a yardstick, this is one twisted, bizarre ride. Scott Jacoby stars as Ronald Wilby, a socially awkward high school senior with an overbearing mother (Kim Hunter) who takes being over-protective to an extreme. In a fit of rage, Ronald kills a neighborhood girl, and his mom does what any rational parent would do – she conspires to hide the murder from the authorities, and seals off a room in the house, which will serve as Ronald’s secret lair. As the months wear on, and isolation takes its toll, he begins to dissociate from reality, creating an immersive fantasy world, fashioning himself as “Prince Norbert” from the kingdom of Atranta.

Things go from bad to worse when his mother dies, and the house is sold to another family, albeit with a secret feature (no one seems to wonder why there are four bedrooms and only one bathroom). Ronald spies on the family, and sneaks into the rest of the house while they’re gone. Meanwhile, as his delusions continue to grow, he sets his sights on the family’s youngest daughter as his princess. Jacoby creates a truly memorable, unsettling performance. Bad Ronald is a funny, creepy and unnerving experience, which might make you wonder about the history of the house you think you knew. It’s well worth seeking out. Note: Watch for a brief appearance by veteran character actor John Fiedler as a realtor.
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4. Next Door (2005) 
This taut psychological horror from Norwegian writer/director Pål Sletaune subverts our expectations – we think we know exactly where it’s going to go, until we’re taken to some uncomfortable places. In the opening scene, John’s (Kristoffer Joner) ex-girlfriend Ingrid (Anna Bache-Wiig) collects her things from his apartment. It’s clear he hasn’t taken the breakup well, and he’s failed to move on with his life. Enter two attractive young women (Cecilie A. Mosli and Julia Schacht) in the apartment next door, who seem to know the intimate details of John’s rocky relationship. He soon becomes the object of their game – a game without any apparent rules. The film revisits the events of the first scene, and as new layers are uncovered, we begin to question the veracity of John’s memories (reality versus his version of reality). Simon Boswell’s effective, understated score helps gently escalate the tension. Watch it now, before the inevitable American remake.
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5. The Deathless Devil (aka: Yilmayan Seytan) (1972) 
Turkish director Yilmaz Atadniz’s mind-boggling action movie features dodgy effects, choppy editing, horrible acting, yet I somehow couldn’t look away. Kunt Tulgar (Hmm… I wonder why he never became a household name?) plays our hero Tekin, who adopts an alter-ego as the superhero Copperhead. Unlike many superhero origin flicks, his transformation is purely accidental. In an early scene, he’s confronted with the fact that his father isn’t his real father, and that his true dad was a crime-fighting superhero. Instead of going through the requisite soul-searching and intensive training it would likely take to bring him up to speed, Tekin spontaneously adopts the identity and crime-fighting skills of his predecessor after donning the Copperhead costume (In this instance, I suppose the clothes really do make the man). He’s assisted by an annoying sidekick in a ridiculous Sherlock Holmes get-up (When he’s not mugging for the camera, he’s ogling the women in the film). Add to the mix Copperhead’s arch-nemesis Dr. Satan (Erol Tas) with a giant cartoonish mustache and a paunch, a cheap-looking robot, and enough bargain-basement Bond (replete with some bootleg soundtrack snippets) action for ten other movies, and you’ve got something special. This is the stuff that other cult movies can only aspire to.
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6. Season of the Witch (1972) 
George Romero’s little-known low-budget drama examines the real-life horrors of domestic malaise (I suspect it took more than a few fans of Night of the Living Dead by surprise). Jan White plays Joan Mitchell, a housewife approaching middle age and trapped in a loveless marriage to a self-centered businessman. Her boring suburban existence is shaken to the core after she learns one of her neighbors is a practicing witch. Her idle curiosity turns to a fervent desire to learn about the dark arts, which ignites a voyage of self-discovery and a release of long-repressed urges. As she begins to exert her awakened sense of self, she enjoys a brief affair with a free-spirited college professor.

Season of the Witch demonstrates Romero’s range as a filmmaker, illustrating his potential to do more than straight genre films. The fact that the film isn’t populated with household names works to its advantage. Everyone seems ordinary enough to make this work. Much like Martin, which followed several years later, we’re never quite sure if there’s anything supernatural going on with the main character, or if it’s purely psychological. Although we see Joan practicing spells, we’re left to speculate whether the resulting phenomena are coincidental. It’s an underrated, intellectually challenging film that deserves re-evaluation.
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7. Razorback (1984) 
Music video director Russell Mulcahy made his audacious feature film debut with this stylish tale of man against nature. An American TV journalist (Judy Morris) travels to a remote Australian town for her animal abuse investigation, where she’s met with hostility and indifference from the locals. After she vanishes without a trace, her fiancé flies out to find the answers, and finds himself face to face with a virtually unstoppable beast. Razorback might be described as Jaws on the outback, but that’s selling it short. The film has a flavor all its own, thanks to a script by Ozploitation auteur Everett De Roche (based on a novel by Peter Brennan), which raises the exploits of an oversized killer boar to mythical proportions. Dean Semler’s (The Road Warrior) stunning cinematography transforms the barren landscape into something from another planet, using red filters and exploiting the odd shapes of the desert terrain to great effect. A gore-streaked pet food plant, incorporating various critters scavenged from the wasteland, becomes a character itself. This film would be a great double feature with Wake in Fright, which would likely crush any aspirations of visiting the outback.
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8. Highway 61 (1991) 
Director/co-writer Bruce McDonald’s bizarre odyssey (his style could be described as David Lynch by way of Jim Jarmusch) is a road trip like no other. Pokey Jones (Don McKellar) is a socially inept barber living in a small town in Ontario, Canada. His humdrum life takes an interesting turn when he discovers a dead heavy metal musician in his backyard, and meets up with Jackie (Valerie Buhagiar), a roadie for the band. They head south to New Orleans, with coffin in tow, while pursued by a mysterious man who might be the devil (Earl Pastk). Like any good road trip, it’s full of bizarre surprises along the way, accompanied by an eclectic soundtrack. It also features a host of cool cameos, including Peter Breck and punk icon Jello Biafra. To describe the myriad twists and turns would spoil most of the fun. Highway 61 is best experienced with as little foreknowledge as possible. Note: Big thanks to Michael Denney (follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWDenney) for recommending this weird, wonderful little film.
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