December 19, 2012

Supernatural (1933)

In 1932, siblings Victor and Edward Halperin released their independent horror film "White Zombie", which had actors Madge Bellamy and legendary Bela Lugosi in the main roles. Directed by Victor Haperin, "White Zombie" turned out to be the Halperins' first real hit (they began their careers in the silent era), and its success made them receive an offer from Paramount studios to make a horror film for them. Certainly, this was an offer the Halperins could not turn down, because working for Paramount meant a bigger budget to work, and a better distribution for their work. With this in mind, the Halperins gathered again their crew from "White Zombie" to make the movie that would receive the title of "Supernatural", a story of ghosts that would also include the added value of having in its cast an actress that later would become one of the greatest of her time: Carole Lombard. Unfortunately, the movie wasn't the box office success that Paramount was hoping, finishing with this the Halperin's career with the major studios. Something that's a bit unfair, as the movie isn't really bad.

"Supernatural" begins with the arrest of Ruth Rogen (Vivienne Osborne), a merciless serial killer who is condemned to death for her crimes. Rogen is convinced by Dr. Carl Houston (H.B. Warner) to donate her body to science, as Houston has the theory that a supernatural influence takes place after the execution of a killer. In the meantime, rich heiress Roma Courtenay (Carole Lombard) is mourning the tragic death of her twin brother, situation that's quickly exploited by phony medium Paul Bavian (Alan Dinehart). Inviting Courtenay to his establishment, Bavian employs his theatrical skills to convince Rom that he has truly been contacted by her deceased brother. ROma's fianceé, Grant Wilson (Randolph Scott) is decided to prove that Bavian is a fraud, so he asks help to his dear friend Dr. Houston. However, the strange experiment that Houston is conducting with Rogen's corpse takes an unexpected turn when Roma becomes possessed by Ruth Rogen's spirit, whom holds a grudge with the mischievous Paul Bavian.

Based on a story written by Garnett Weston (whom also penned "White Zombie"), the screenplay for "Supernatural" was written by Weston himself collaborating with scriptwriters Harvey F. Thew and Brian Marlow. While certainly the structure of the story is problematic, there are many interesting elements in "Supernatural"'s plot line, the first of those being the fact of presenting a cold blooded female serial killer as starting point for the story. Another interesting point is the contrast done between the characters of medium Paul Bavian and Dr. Houston: both claim to be able of finding life after death, though only devoted scientist Dr. Houston actually makes it, while Bavian is merely a fake psychic. Something interesting about "Supernatural" is that the scriptwriters dedicate screen time for character development, as even when they begin as stereotypes, a defined identity begins to be developed for them as the story unfolds. However, it's worth to point out that this also makes the plot to move slowly at the beginning, while the second half of the tale gets solved in a somewhat rushed manner.

As in their previous film, "White Zombie", director Victor Halperin again employs atmosphere as the main element in "Supernatural", giving great use to the work of his usual collaborator, cinematographer Arthur Martinelli. However, unlike the static style of silent cinema employed in "White Zombie", in "SUpernatural" Halperin uses a more dynamic narrative style, moving his camera through the spaces with great detail, making them integral part of the characters that inhabit them (as different are Bavian's humble apartment from Houston's laboratory and Roma's luxury mansion). Despite the urban atmosphere the story has, Martinelly and Halperin manage to give the film a quite haunting visual style, employing skillfully the lighting and their scenery to create an ominous supernatural atmosphere. However, despite Halperin's achievement of creating a visually strong film, not everything works that fine in "Supernatural", mainly due to problems inherent to a screenplay that feels a tad incomplete, and a cast that'ts a bit irregular.

In "Supernatural" there's the unusual casting of Carole Lombard in a horror role. While by 1933 Lombard still wasn't the big star that she would become, her career was already on the right track thanks to the many comedies she starred during the early years of sound, so Lombard didn't considered herself appropriate to horror. Nevertheless, Lombard was assigned to "Supernatural" despite her disagreements (and the Halperins' as well, as they would had preferred Madge Bellamy), so it's probable that her performance suffered due to those frictions. While Lombard doesn't make a bad job in the role, she surely feels insecure and without the spark she had in her comedies, resulting in her performance being overshadowed by the superb work done by Vivienne Osborne, who plays the sadistic Ruth ROgen. With a great skill to move from subtlety to intensity, Osborne makes the best performance in the film despite not having much screen time. H.B. Warren also makes an effective job as Dr. Carl Houston, taking good advantage of a role that, while limited, allows him good chances to shine.

As Roma's fianceé, young Randolph Scott feels wooden and rigid in his role, lacking the necessary strength to make a good counterpart to Lombard. However, it's actually Alan Dinehart who delivers the worst performance in the film, making a villain without a defined personality. Certainly, the character is interesting by its own right, but Dinehart fails at making him memorable (it would had been interesting to see someone like Lugosi in the role). Despite those problems with the cast, what truly affects "Supernatural" is having a screenplay that feels incomplete in its final act. While Halpering manages to create an interesting group of characters and an intriguing premise (that would be exploited in many films during the following decade), during the second half of the film it seems as if they had cut down the screenplay given how rushed the climax unfolds itself. Also, there are several holes in the plot that remain unexplained at the end, showing that the writers should had worked a bit more on the screenplay (perhaps Paramount's pressure explains this).

Despite its multiple flaws, "Supernatural" is a pretty entertaining and interesting horror film. The Halperins have earned a reputations as "one hit wonders" due to the abysmal difference between the mastery shown in "White Zombie" and the ineptitude of its sequel, "Revolt of the Zombies" (1936) and their subsequent works. But while maybe "Supernatural" isn't up to the level of their legendary zombie classic, it's is proof that Victor Halperin's talent wasn't limited to just one occasion. Sadly, after the box office failure of "Sipernatural" and a lawsuit by the company that helped to finance "White Zombie", the Halperin saw their reputation severely damaged and their resources diminished to the point that their posterior films show a complete lack of interest in filmmaking. Anyways, "Supernatural" stands as an interesting project that allows us to see a quite different side of the legendary Carole Lombard.


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.


October 24, 2012

Hecho en México (2012)

To make an accurate portrait of the identity of a nation is not an easy task, as whomever attempts to do it will face the fact that said identity rarely comes from an absolute homogeneous cultural source, but instead is the result of the multiple cultures that form said nation. Cultures that normally are quite different from each other despite belonging to the same country. And yet, this is precisely what producers Lynn Fainchtein and Duncan Bridgeman attempt in the documentary "Hecho en México": to make a portrait of Mexico's national identity, a portrait to identify the Mexicanity of almost 116 millions of people of different cultural backgrounds. To do this, Fainchtein and Bridgeman took as starting point a theme that both of them clearly dominate, the music (as Fainchtein has been music supervisor of several feature length films, while Bridgeman is one of the founders of renowned world music project "1 Giant Leap"). Thus, "Hecho en México" is a documentary that uses Mexican music in an attempt to portrait the identity of Mexicans. However, things do not result that good.

In "Hecho en México" (literally "Made in Mexico"), a large group of Mexican musicians (and a couple of foreigners) lend their talents to mix their different styles and make a soundtrack to reflect Mexico's national identity. Mixed by Bridgeman, music becomes the guide to join several interviews with musicians, artists, philosophers and other intellectuals, whom offer their opinions about what is Mexicanity for them. Those opinions move around several themes, such as love, death and religion (amongst others), looking for the ways Mexicanity arises around all these concepts. And all this takes place as the filmmakers visit several corners in the country, showing its natural beauty, its many towns, cities, its inhabitants and their respective cultures, and finally how all those come to reflect the Mexicanity in their diverse artistic expressions. Music comes as the soundtrack for this journey, with the musicians moving along with the filmmakers through Mexico's jungles, through its ancient ruins, as well as through its streets and roads.

Produced without following an established screenplay, "Hecho en México" is build with the interviews with the several celebrities that give their two cents about Mexicanity, talking about the different concepts that form the film's structure. Besides the aforementioned themes of love, death and religion, other concepts are discussed, like spirituality, drugs, the border with the United States, and the relationships between the sexes. However, this construction, based only in a group of pretty abstract and vague concepts results in pretty shallow interviews where there isn't really the care to follow a definitive goal, and it's just talking for the sake of talking. And this is not really something to blame the interviewees, as it would seemed that there wasn't really any direction in the interview besides the abstraction of the concept. Mexicanity is such a huge idea that by being portrayed in such a vague way makes the film to fall in common places and, on some occasions, ridiculous opinions. Of course, there are notable exceptions, but the common denominator in the interviews is shallowness.

British filmmaker Duncan Bridgeman takes the director's seat and is in charge of giving an order to the collection of ideas that form "Hecho en México", and to do this, he puts to good use his skill as sound mixer to transform Mexican music in the backbone of the movie. As he had previously done as a member of "1 Giant Leap" (project where Bridgeman, along Jamie Catto, recorded and mixed music and images from all over the world to create a new audiovisual concept), Bridgeman combines with great skill the whole specter of Mexican music, traditional and modern, rural and urban, northern and southern; achieving very attractive musical numbers that shape "Hecho en México". Thus, Bridgeman's mix results in a musical hybrid where Mexico's many different music styles are fused together in a single sound. This is certainly the greatest achievement in "Hecho en México", or better said, it's only achievement, as that definition of Mexicanity that the interviews leave at mere pseudo-intellectualism, is actually discovered by the musicians in the fusion of their talents and rhythms.

Without a doubt the music mixed by Bridgeman is the main attraction in the film, though not the only one, as the movie has an excellent work of cinematography courtesy of Gregory W. Allen, Lorenzo Hagerman and Alexis Zabe, whom manage to capture images of great beauty. Nevertheless, the technical merits aren't enough to save "Hecho en México" from its many flaws, whom are focused in the ironic lack of identity that the film suffers. In other words, the documentary "Hecho en México" seems to try to be at the same time a music video, a promotional for tourism, and a sociological study. Sadly, it's only as a long music video that the film somehow manages to work, as while the purely musical moments are quite interesting, the way the interviews give form to the movie only puts light on the fact that neither Bridgeman nor Fainchtein had an idea of what Mexicanity is. And while as a foreigner Duncan Bridgman could had offered an interesting perspective at watching Mexico from afar, he instead opts for the cliché, the common places and portraits Mexico as a mere tourist would do.

Certainly, director Duncan Bridgeman has a great talent as musical producer, talent that he has already shown in "1 Giant Leap" and that once again he exploits to the max in "Hecho en México". However, the main difference between his previous "1 Giant Leap" and this film is that the former is a project without any pretensions beyond the music, the ambitious documentary "Hecho en México" tries to define a complex question and fails completely at it. The ideas exposed, in an attempt at being rebellious and irreverent, end up being ridiculous and maudlin, which wouldn't be that bad if it wasn't for the fact that in the end they say nothing. Shallow, empty and without an identity of its own, "Hecho en México" is sadly a movie that can only be enjoyed as a postmodernist display of Mexican music, because as a proper documentary it's a complete failure.


October 23, 2012

Looper (2012)

Way before British author H.G. Wells made popular the idea in his classic science fiction novel. "The Time Machine" in 1895, stories about time travel had already been an integral part of our imagination, going back to the beginnings of civilization (time travel even appears in Hindu mythology). And this is because at their core, this kind of science fiction opens the possibility of answering a question that has always fascinated us, perhaps even more than any other futurist vision: Is it possible to change the past? The many implications of this question, which range from the creation of paradoxes to questioning the existence of fate, have resulted in many works of fiction that explore the consequences of time travel to the past. This interesting question is tackled in "Looper", a science fiction movie written and directed by American filmmaker Rian Johnson (who rose to prominence in 2005 with his neo-noir film "Brick"), where in the future, the novelty of time travel is used for a very interesting purpose.

In "Looper", the story is set in the year 2044, in Kansas, where Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a young man with a quite particular job: he is in charge of killing people sent from the future by the criminals of those years.Time travel, inexistent in 2044 but invented thirty years later, is used in this way by the future mafia to get rid of their enemies due to the difficulties of doing it in their time. However, the rules specify that eventually, one day Joe will have to kill his future self, closing in that way his contract (or "loop") with the chance of retiring until the time comes for him to be sent to the past. That's why he is called a "looper". The day of closing his loop arrives for Joe, but when his future self (Bruce Willis) arrives, Young Joe is surprised by Old Joe whom avoids being killed and runs away. Since he let his future self escape, Joe becomes the target of the mafia, so he'll have to find and kill Old Joe before the mafia catches him. At the same time, Old Joe will have to solve a business in the past while he avoids getting himself or Young Joe killed, as that would result in his own death too.

As mentioned before, the screenplay was written by director Rian Johnson, whom presents an action and science fiction film with a quite original premise. In "Looper", Johnson develops an intelligent screenplay, which takes the often problematic concept of time travel and takes it as the basis to elaborate not only a thrilling story of futuristic criminals, but really a full-fledged tale of self discovery. Young Joe, arrogant and selfish, faces an Old Joe who knows quite well what will be the future of the life of death and drugs that Young Joe is currently living. In full Philip K. Dick style, Johnson is using the usual genre conventions of science fiction to express a more personal, more intimate conflict: the struggle of the protagonist against his inner demons. And this is perhaps the main characteristic of Rian Johnson's "Looper", as it chooses not to worry too much about the intricate technical complexities of time travel and, wisely, opts for focusing chiefly in developing his group of characters and the relationships between them.

This preference towards the interior instead of the exterior is reflected in the visual conception of the future that director Rian Johnson displays in "Looper", as instead of making an extravaganza of futuristic imagery in his movie, what "Looper" shows is a future closer to our reality, that is, closer to the current patterns regarding fashion and technology, resulting in a somewhat realistic vision of the world of tomorrow. The changes that the future shown in "Looper" displays, instead of technological, are more related to the society that inhabits the Kansas City of the year 2044, a society without law, where the crime runs rampant and death is on every corner. Johnson brings to life this urban nightmare with great imagination (and with the great job of art director James A. Gelarden), focusing in classic aspects of Americana mixed with his own brand of science fiction. The cinematography by Steve Yedlin manages to capture this familiar Midwestern atmosphere, that gives the movie a very distinctive personality of its own.

Acting is of pretty good quality, starting with a Joseph Gordon-Levitt that once again shows his talent to play ordinary persons in extraordinary situations. As Young Joe, Gordon-Levitt plays a young man without anything to lose and totally determined to live a short but luxurious life in exchange of killing people for the mafia, though this showdown with his own self will make him think twice about what the future has for him. Perhaps a problem of his performance is that at times it seems he tries too hard to imitate Willis. While recalling at times his character in "Twelve Monkeys", Bruce Willis makes an excellent performance as Old Joe, in what is probably one of the best works in his career. The advantage of course is that in "Looper" his character allows him to explore more emotional aspects that at times move him away from his image of tough guy, that is, allow him to enter the pain that this time traveler experiments. The rest of the cast keeps the same level of quality, excelling specially Paul Dano as Seth, and Jeff Daniels who makes a terrific job as mafia boss Abe.

Creative, intelligent and pretty original, "Looper" is a great work of science fiction in which director Rian Johnson gives good use to the concept of time travel to create an action film with a pretty interesting subtext. Certainly, Johnson makes the most of his premise and develops a quite entertaining story from it bu, unfortunately, "Looper" is not without its problems. First of all, while Johnson tries to consciously avoid to give details about the film's future (2074) and about time travel itself, some bits of information could had been given to better explain some concepts in the film, as in more than one occasion there's the feeling that time travel is just an excuse to begin the story (and while that's perfectly OK, it shouldn't be that obvious). Poorly developed details such as the fact that the premise rests in the weak concept of having the mafia to prefer to send people to the past instead of killing them, makes "Looper" to lose some of its strength. Finally, the film can't avoid to attract the inevitable comparisons with "The Terminator" and the aforementioned "Twelve Monkeys", which don't give it any good.

Anyways, in spite of its flaws, in "Looper" filmmaker Rian Johnson presents a style of science fiction that shows itself as intelligent, courageous and willing to experiment; three characteristics that have defined the cinema of Johnson ever since the beginning of his career (as shown by his quite particular approach to noir with "Brick" and comedy in "The Brothers Bloom"), and that set him apart as one of the most interesting directors of the early twenty first century. With an interesting premise and full of exciting action scenes, "Looper" is without a doubt one of the best science fiction films released in the year 2012.

This review was originally published in Spanish for Habitación 101 on October the 12th of 2012. Habitación 101 is a great site to check for news and reviews on cinema and theatre in Spanish.

The Others (2001)

In 1996 a young 24 years old man named Alejandro Amenábar broke into the Spaniard film industry with his feature length debut "Tesis". The film, which was a horror story about snuff videos, would end up winning seven Goya awards and quickly became a classic of the Spanish horror that was on the rise at the moment. "Tesis" was followed by "Abre los ojos" in 1997, a science fiction film that would impress American actor Tom Cruise so much that he would buy the rights to produce a remake with the name "Vanilla Sky" in 2001. As part of the deal, Cruise would produce a movie for Amenábar, allowing him to enter the American industry. Amenábar began to develop a project, and found his inspiration in an old chapter of the British TV series "Armchair Theatre" that was essentially a ghost story and was titled "The Others". Taking the same title for his story, Amenábar began the production of a film of Gothic horror in the most classic style, pretty much akin to Jack Clayton's 1961 classic, "The Innocents". The result would be outstanding.

"The Others" is the story of Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) and her children Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), who live in a huge mansion in the British Crown Dependency of Jersey, during World War II. Anna and Nicholas suffer from a rare disease, xeroderma pigmentosa, which gives them extreme photosensitivity and forces them to live in the dark, so no light can enter the Stewart house. Strange events begin to take place in the house's rooms, when Anne begins to talk about seeing other persons in the house, including a kid named Victor. As this takes place, three servants arrive to the house looking for a job, they are Mrs. Bertha Mills (Fionnula Flanagan), the gardener Mr. Edmund Tuttle (Eric Sykes) and the young mute girl Lydia (Elaine Cassidy). Grace decides to hire them and explains them the very strict rules of her house, designed to protect her children from the light. Anne keeps talking about Victor, and soon Grace herself begins to experiment the unexplainable evens that Anne has been mentioning. Convinced that they aren't alone in the house anymore, Grace will try to protect her kids from the others.

With a screenplay written by Amenábar himself, "The Others" is, in a certain way, a ghost story done in a pretty traditional style. Firmly rooted within the Gothic horror subgenre, "The Others" has all the key elements of this type of stories, beginning with the huge mansion in the dark, isolated from society. However, something that separates "The Others" from most ghost stories (resulting from the huge influence it receives from Henry James' classic novel "The Turn of the Screw") is the strong emphasis that Amenábar places on his characters. Certainly, very strange things begin to take place in the Stewart mansion, however, the greatest danger seems to be not inside the house, but inside Grace's mind. Lost in uncertainty regarding the fate of her husband (who was sent to the war), Grace's state of mind begins to suffer the ravaging of a growing obsession with the safety of her children, which gets worse as she face the fact that Anne claims to have seen several strangers in her own house.

The refined classicism of the story is reflected in the style that Amenábar employs to craft his film. Opting for a slow and clam rhythm, Amenábar gives "The Others" an elegance and subtlety in its craftsmanship with recalls Jack Clayton's "The Innocents" (not a coincidence, as Clayton's movie is an adaptation of James' "The Turn of the Screw"). In "The Others", as in the classics of Gothic horror, the atmosphere becomes the most important element, and Amenábar focuses on developing a constant sensation of paranoia and suspense within the dark Stewart mansion. forced The darkness of the house, coupled with the loneliness and the uncertainty generate a mood of constant tension that Amenábar transmits through Grace's eyes. It's interesting that Amenábar, in the psychological focus he gives to ghost stories, rather than showing directly what is happening in the house, he narrates it through the expressions of his characters, particularly Grace. So, her eyes become true windows that allows us to gaze into the deep darkness of her mind.

As can be seen, Grace slowly becomes the center of "The Others" and, being this a film where the characters' psychology is so important, the performances by the cast become of enormous importance. Fortunately, Australian actress Nicole Kidman shows to be up to the challenge and delivers one of the best works in her career. Certainly, there are moments where Kidman shows a bit of a tendency to overact a little, however, in general her performance as Grace is charged with a restrained intensity that effectively transmits the fragile state of mind that her character has. As the mysterious Mrs. Mills, Fionnula Flanagan delivers an excellent job that serves as the perfect counterpart to Kidman's, establishing herself with a strong screen presence. Eric Sykes is a bit less fortunate, though his work as Mr. Tuttle isn't any bad. The film's surprise comes from the young actors Alakina Mann and James Bentley, whom deliver performances of great quality as the Stewart children, who try to live a normal life despite their disease.

Without a doubt, a lot of the ominous atmosphere that Amenábar creates in "The Others" is thanks to the excellent work of cinematography done by the veteran Javier Aguirresarobe. Taking great advantage of the darkness that reigns in the Stewart house (as the characters are afraid of sunlight), Aguirresarobe plays with shadows and sources of light to give a supernatural beauty to Amenábar's film. And yet, the technical perfection of the movie never overshadows its story, which is a wise choice by director Alejandro Amenábar, whom despite playing with several of the genre's classic conventions, never loses the focus on his characters. Amenábar makes an intelligent and honest film that without big pretensions, dwells in its characters' psychology without cheap devices and keeping true to the genre. While the film could be accused of being a tad simplistic (especially when compared to Amenábar's previous film, "Abre los ojos"), what Amenábar achieves in "The Others" is to take a very traditional kind of horror story to a nearly sublime artistic level.

Certainly, "The Others" is often noted by the final plot twists of its story, in the sense that it seemed as if the movie was a mere excuse to employ that twist. However, "The Others" is a lot more than a surprising plot twist, as just like the best films with this kind of endings ("The Usual Suspects" or "The Sixth Sense" for example), the twists is not the reason for the film's existence, it's just the icing on the cake that crowns a pretty satisfying story. That is, even when knowing the nature of the twist, the film doesn't lose a bit of its strength. And this is because Amenábar doesn't have this final twist as his only card, he begins to build a fascinating and engaging plot that gives good use to the best elements of the Gothic horror subgenre and makes a work of art out of them. A true heir of Clayton's classic film.


October 16, 2012

Dead End (2003)

At the end of the decade of the 90s, the great commercial success of several horror films brought a renewed interest in the genre, which became some kind of a renaissance during the following decade. The horror genre was again a profitable product, to the point that even big studios began to produce horror movies to satisfy the demand, resulting in the making of many big budget remakes of several classic films of the genre (the perfect example: "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" in 2003). However, and just like it had happened in previous decades, despite the huge amount of produced films, the quality wasn't always the best, and many of those films, whether they were remakes or not, ended up being pretty much forgettable. Nevertheless, a good thing that came with this popularity of horror films was the return of indie horror, which just like in previous occasions, would be where finally the most interesting films would be produced. "Dead End", a somewhat independent French-American co-production released in 2003, would be a great example of this.

"Dead End" is the story of a family trip, where the Harringtons are driving through the highway heading towards grandmother's house in order to spend the holidays there. In the car are traveling Frank (Ray Wise) and Laura Harrington (Lin Shaye), their daughter Marion (Alexandra Holden) and their son Richard (Mick Cain), as well as Marion's boyfriend Brad (Billy Asher). The dream and the nerves make Frank to almost collide with another car, so to alleviate tension, he decides to take an alternate road. Laura is upset by this, so they begin to argue again until Frank sees a woman in white (Amber Smith) carrying a baby through the woods. Frank returns to investigate if the woman is alright, as she seems hurt. The Harringtons decide to take her to a nearby cabin located a few miles back, in order to get her some help. The cabin looks empty, so Frank and Laura decide to investigate. Richard and Marion leave the car, leaving Brad alone with the strange woman, who shows him that the baby is dead. Whn they return, the family discovers that Brad is gone, and this is just the beginning of their trip through a dark road.

Written and directed by French filmmakers Jean-Baptise Andrea and Fabrice Canepa, "Dead End" presents an intelligent plot where the family problems the Harrington have come to the light as they keep on driving in this insane trip through the night. And this is precisely the greatest achievement of the films, as even when the story may not be the most original in horror, the way that Andrea and Canepa develop their characters is what ends up making the story interesting. Their hates, grudges and secrets are uncovered as the family tries to keep their sanity as they face he strange situations that take place on the road, and the deaths that begin to happen during their long voyage to madness. Mixing with great creativity the suspense with comedy, Andrea and Canepa create a story that moves with grace between the blackest humour and the classiest horror, without ever losing the right tone. The ending is perhaps a bit too predictable, but the truth is that what makes "Dead End" really special is the journey, not the destination.

In "Dead End", directors Andrea and Canepa leave aside the graphic violence of modern horror and instead they choose a style more based on atmosphere and suspense than in straight visual shock. With great skill, the filmmakers manage to create an effective feeling of paranoia as the Harrington discover that something is not exactly right with the road. Certainly, the descend to madness that this family experiences is a real nightmare, and the filmmakers truly create a very appropriate surreal atmosphere thanks to a well devised mise en scène that, as mentioned before, it's based more on suggestion than in showing. This last thing may had been the result of budgetary limitations, however, it's a wise choice as it allows the filmmakers to explore a kind of horror that's more psychological than visceral. While this may not really be the best work of cinematographer Alexander Buono, there's something in the style he employs in the film that reminds a lot to the supernatural horror cinema of the 80s (think "Phantasm"), and that the filmmakers use to their favor.

However, a lot of the success of "Dead End" depends on their actors, as it's a film based chiefly in its characters and the relationships between them. And fortunately, "Dead End" has excellent performances from the veteran actors Ray Wise and Lin Shaye. As the father figure in the Harrington family, Ray Wise makes a superb job at making a tough and aggressive character that hides an enormous fear to the horrors he is facing. Wise creates in Frank a very complex character, more complex than it shows, and while at times there's a bit of overacting on his part, in general his work in "Dead End" ranks amongst the best in his career. Actress Lin Shaye also delivers a work of great quality as his wife Laura. Playing a housewife full of secrets, Shaye makes a brilliant job, particularly shown in her timing for comedy, as it's her character the one that gives the film the touch of black humor to the plot. Young actress Alexandra Holden is perhaps less surprising, though she still makes an effective performances as the story puts her on the spotlight.

Nevertheless, not everything is perfect in "Dead End" and unfortunately, the acting done by Amber Smith and specially Mick Cain downgrade the quality of the film due to their bad quality. Cain in particular is pretty poor in his performance as Richard, and it doesn't really help the fact that his character is the less developed of the group. Despite those two details, the acting in "Dead End" is in general pretty satisfying, and one of its strongest assets. If the film has any problem, that is the fact that the film can become a bit slow and repetitive as the movie consists mainly in the family driving through a dark road. It's true that Andrea and Canepa's screenplay keeps things rolling with a good rhythm and well scripted dialogs, but "Dead End" would had been improved if more situations took place in its plot diminish the moments where nothing happens. It's worth to point out that even when "Dead End" was done with a relatively low budget, directors Andrea and Canepa manage to avoid this to be too obvious and keep the attention on the story.

Intelligent, disturbing, and with a very twisted sense of humor, "Dead End" is a film that offers somewhat of a return of a more traditional kind of horror. Thanks to the remarkable performances of Wise and Shaye, as well as the great use of atmosphere that directors Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa achieve, "Dead End" is an experience of paranoia and suspense akin to some of the best moments of "The Twilight Zone". Despits is flaws, this film once again demonstrates that with a good screenplay, it's possible to make a film of high quality even when resources are limited. And as mentioned before, while it's probable that its ending is a bit predictable, what's truly enjoyable in "Dead End" is the Harrington's descent to the dark side of the road.


October 13, 2012

To Rome with Love (2012)

Rome, the Eternal City, owner of an ancient history and an extraordinary rich culture, is a city that has been pictured on film on countless occasions, being the background of several classic films. Now Rome becomes the setting of American filmmaker Woody Allen's 43rd film, whom after making the charming comedy "Midnight in Paris", moved to the capital of Italy after the invitation of Medusa Distribuzione, a distribution company company that offered to finance a film for him under the condition that the resulting film was set in Rome. So, that was the origin of a project originally titled "Bop Decameron", but after several changes would end up being titled simply as "To Rome with Love"; where following the path set by his previous "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" or the already mentioned "Midnight in Paris", the New York filmmaker Woody Allen takes the little corners of the city as the background for a new exploration of his familiar themes. However, unlike those two films, "To Rome with Love" may be an slightly less polished light comedy, though that doesn't make it any less interesting.

"To Rome with Love" narrates four stories where the only thing in common is the fact that they take place on the streets of Rome. In the first one, Jerry and Phyllis (Woody Allen and Judy Davis) are a marriage traveling to Rome in order to meet their future son-in-law Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti), who knew their daughter Hayley (Alison Pill) during her last vacations. Things get complicated when Jerry discovers that Michelangelo's father Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) has an extraordinary (and wasted) gift for singing opera. The second story is about Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni), a typical office worker who one day becomes a celebrity for no apparent reason, taking him to experience the problems that come with fame. The third involves young student Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), whom is in the middle of a crisis when he falls in love with his girlfriend's (Greta Gerwig) best friend, the extroverted actress Monica (Ellen Page). Finally, the fourth tale deals with Antonio (Alessandro Tibero) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi), a recently married couple whom discover Rome's delights when they are accidentally separated.

As expected, the screenplay is a piece written by Woody himself, so it's not exactly a surprise to once again find that his familiar themes are all over it: nostalgia, love, death, neurosis and relationships. However, and while the stories of "To Rome with Love" aren't related between them, they all have in common the greater common theme of fame and fortune: Jerry wants to succeed as a producer through Giancarlo's voice, Jack is looking to revolutionize architecture, Antonio wants to make a good impression in business, and finally, Leopoldo deals directly with the mysteries of being a celebrity. Something interesting about the stories found in "To Rome with Love" is that in general the four of them have several lovely nods to the oeuvre of one of Woody Allen's greatest heroes: legendary filmmaker Federico Fellini. This is particularly obvious in the case of Antonio and Milly's story, which works as a charming extrapolation of the plot of Fellini's very first film, 1952's "Lo sceicco bianco" ("The White Sheik").

In "To Rome with Love", director Woody Allen once again showcases his skill to get deeply into the life of a city and uncover its many different faces. It's true that unlike some filmmakers (Wim Wenders for example), Allen never leaves completely the American tourist's perspective when portraying a city in his films, however, Allen is not exactly a very typical American tourist, but one who truly enjoys taking the camera of cinematographer Darius Khondji to capture a city vibrant with life, from the classic touristic spots to the lesser known places. Khonji's work regarding this aspect is without a doubt of high quality. However, the real challenge of "To Rome with Love" is to be able of developing the four different stories that make the film, while keeping the appropriate rhythm for his overall narrative. And while in general Allen does a good job at handling this, his work is not without its problems, as at times the jump from story to story is a bit harsh, a bit forced, breaking the agile rhythm that Allen's comedy usually has.

But where "To Rome with Love" truly shines is in the performances done by its cast, which are in general of a great quality. Jesse Eisenberg and Alec Baldwin deliver the best performances in the film, both in the story of Jack, where a quite interesting dynamic of mentor-disciple is somehow formed between them. In the same story, Ellen Page would seem like a bad choice to play Monica, but Page manages to make the character her own and finally delivers a pretty solid work of acting. In Leopoldo's story, Roberto Benigni delivers a surprisingly restrained performance, a contrast to his usual self; however, he is equally as funny as ever and his work is what saves his segment, which is unfortunately amongst the weakest in the film. In Antonio's segment, a great surprise is the work of Alessandra Mastronardi as the not so naive Milly, and the inclusion of Penélope Cruz in the same story is more than welcome. In his return ti acting, Allen still looks fresh and skilled in his performance, though wisely, he gives more room to the rest of the cast to shine.

Films dealing with multiple story lines tend to have problems with the rhythm of their narrative, and unfortunately, "To Rome with Love" isn't an exception. As mentioned before, there are moments in which this is lost when Allen moves between its different plot lines, resulting in scenes that could be shorter, scenes that could be longer, and some oddly harsh cuts between them (editing in general looks as if it had been rushed). Nevertheless, and while the work of editing isn't that effective, the root of the problem is perhaps in a script where not every story has been so throughly developed. While Jack's story is a superb modern fantasy dealing with nostalgia, Jerry's story suffers from a little excess of melodrama while Leopoldo's seemed a tad forgotten amongst them. This last story presents a quite interesting premise that seems that couldn't be explored at all, as while its by far the funniest of them, there's the feeling that it should had been a bit longer (while Antonio's could had been shorter). Leopoldo's story is saved thanks to the charm and talent of Roberto Benigni.

With all that it would seem that "To Rome with Love" is a bump in Woody Allen's career but far from it, as in fact it is a quite entertaining movie despite its problems. As a light-hearted comedy, "To Rome with Love" fulfills its job without pretensions, and offers a new glimpse to Woody Allen's world, which becomes even more special as the film allows him to visit the Rome of his hero, Fellini's Rome. Its greatest sin is precisely that it is a Woody Allen film, whose long filmography has include several masterpieces that make "To Rome with Love" pale in comparison (and comparison is often inevitable). Finally, what can be said is that in Allen's body of work, "To Rome with Love" is certainly a minor film. Though of course, many filmmakers would like to have a film like "To Rome with Love" as a mere "minor film".

This review was originally published in Spanish for Habitación 101 on July the 20th of 2012. Habitación 101 is a great site to check for news and reviews on cinema and theatre in Spanish.

October 12, 2012

Incubo sulla città contaminata (1980)

Without a doubt one of the key moments in the history of Italian horror took place in 1978 with the release of American filmmaker George A. Romero's "Dawn of the Dead". Distributed by Dario Argento with the name "Zombi", the film became a total success and the Italian film industry saw in Romero's zombie epic the path to follow in the making of new horror films. So, the following year would see the release of "Zombi 2" by director Lucio Fulci, and even when it had nothing to do with Romero's film, it was named that way to capitalize in the success of "Dawn of the Dead". Applying the classic stylization and aggressive violence of Italian horror, "Zombi 2" also was a great success, so soon more films about the living dead began to appear, copying the model established by Fulci. Italian horror was gaining new force thanks to the zombies, but just like it happened before to Spaghetti Weseterns, the clones rarely reached the level of quality of the original. "Incubo sulla città contaminata" is a classic example of this, as it's closer to involuntary comedy than to true zombie horror.

Known in America as "Nightmare City" (though the literal translation is "Nightmare in the contaminated city"), the film begins when reporter Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz) is assigned with the job of interviewing Dr. Otto Hagelberg, famed scientist who designed a nuclear plant where a damage has been reported. Miller goes to the airport to wait for Hagelberg's arrival, when a an unidentified plane makes a forced landing in one of the runways. When the local police surrounds the plane, Miller gets closer to watch the facts. The door is opened and a group of mutant zombies comes out from the plane, armed with axes and knives. A bloody battle begins between the police and the zombies, while Miller manages to escape without being seen. Desperate, Miller tries to warn the population about it, but he is stopped by General Murchison (Mel Ferrer), who doesn't allow the news to be known. The plague spreads, and Miller decides to find his wife Anna (Laura Trotter) to the hospital where she works, in order to escape from the city that has become a nightmare of death and destruction.

Written by veteran Piero Regnoli collaborating with Antonio Cesare Corti and the Spanish writer Luis María Delgado, "Incubo sulla città contaminata" isn't technically a zombie film, as the creatures that it shows are radioactive mutants with a taste for human flesh and the necessary lucidity to handle weapons and drive vehicles. Nevertheless, the story follows closely the classic pattern of a zombie movie, with the main characters trying to survive in the middle of the chaos that engulfs their city as the plague spreads and society begins to crumble. The story does handle several interesting ideas, like for example its heavy handed ecological message, its clearly anti military stance and its use of intelligent and agile zombies as the monsters of the film (predating the running zombie of modern films). Unfortunately, those ideas are lost in a screenplay plagued with holes, incoherence and a bunch of characters making illogical actions, that more than once result in absurd situations of great involuntary comedy.

The execution from director Umberto Lenzi (famous for his cannibal horror film "Il paese del sesso selvaggio") doesn't help much to solve this big problem, on the contrary, the poor craftsmanship the film has make even more ridiculous the situations that take place in "Incubo sulla città contaminata". Nevertheless, if there's anything worthy of recognition in Lenzi's work is the fact that he keeps action a constant in the film, with a frantic rhythm that avoids tedium. Despite the low quality of the whole production, Lenzi achieves to make a couple of quite effective scenes where his eye for mise-en-scène. These are the attack to the dances at the TV station, and the big attack to the hospital, two scenes where Lenzi manages to transmit the atmosphere of chaos that the story has. Sadly, Lenzi fails to keep this level of quality through the film, and "Incubo sulla città contaminata" ends up filled with technical problems, that range from an awful work of make-up to a pretty uneven editing, not to mention a somewhat mediocre cinematography (by Hans Burman, whom years later would do the cinematography for the film "Tesis").

The acting in the film is another of the biggest problems in "Incubo sulla città contaminata", as in general the quality in this element is pretty poor. Leading the cast is Mexican actor Hugo Stiglitz, playing reporter Dean Miller, and actually his work isn't that bad. While he lacks the classic image of the hero, Stiglitz manages to transmit an intensity pretty appropriate for his desperate character, and he is perhaps the only actor in the film taking the movie seriously. Mel Ferrer, with his days of "Scaramouche" (1952) long gone, makes an uninspired turn as General Murshison, as if he wasn't really interested in the resulting film. The same can be said of Spanish actor Francisco Rabal, who had the main roles in Luis Buñuel's classics "Nazarín" and "Viridiana", and in this film makes a pretty poor performance as Major William Holmes. Nevertheless, if the acting from those actors looks pretty average, the rest of the cast is completely awful, beginning with the work of Laura Trotter, whom seemed to base her entire performance in screaming constantly.

As mentioned before, "Incubo sulla città contaminata" is a film full of technical problems, something that wouldn't be that bad if it wasn't for the fact that the film also suffers from a poorly developed screenplay where things take place randomly and even characters and subplots are introduced without a reason other than to extend the movie's runtime. While director Umberto Lenzi has demonstrated in the past to be a competent filmmaker, in "Incubo sulla città contaminata" there's nothing that could give ground to that argument. However, something pretty remarkable about "Incubo sulla città contaminata" is how oddly funny it is. While maybe this wasn't done consciously, as the Lenzi's film unfolds and the story moves towards absurd, soon the ridicule of the scenes becomes downright comedy stuff. Despite its innumerable technical problems, there's in "Incubo sulla città contaminata" a certain charm in the exaggerated things that take place on screen that's impossible not to think that the crew had a great time making the film.

With a terribly awful screenplay, mediocre acting and a craftsmanship that leaves a lot to be desired, it's hard to recommend "Incubo sulla città contaminata" as a good example of Italian horror cinema, as even when compared to other films of its time it's still a pretty bad movie. However, if there's anything that Lenzi has achieved in "Incubo sulla città contaminata", that is the film's skill to avoid falling in tedium. Despite its many flaws (or perhaps due to them), the film ends up being a quite funny experience, though one that's probably not everyone's cup of tea. The truth is, if one's looking for true horror cinema of good quality, the best that one can do is to search somewhere else; but if what one's looking is a piece of involuntary comedy, "Incubo sulla città contaminata" from director Umberto Lenzi could actually be a pretty good choice.