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.


October 09, 2012

Chernobyl Diaries (2012)

On April the 26th, 1986, one of the greatest nuclear catastrophes in the history of mankind took place, the explosion of the nuclear reactor of Chernobyl, in the then Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Considered as the worst nuclear disaster in history, the explosion at Chernobyl launched enormous amounts of radioactive contamination to the atmosphere, provoking the evacuation of the nearby area, particularly the town of Prypiat, where the families of the nuclear plant workers were living. Years went by, the Soviet Union disappeared, but Prypiat remains exactly as it was abandoned; and now, more than 20 years after the tragedy, the nuclear contamination has descended to levels that make possible to visit this ghost town, desolated relic from the Soviet era. This touristic expeditions to the abandoned Prypiat served as inspiration to filmmaker Oren Peli (of "Paranomal Activity" fame) to write a horror screenplay, "Chernobyl Diaries", which has been taken to the big screen with Peli as producer and the débutant Bradley Parker at the helm.

"Chernobyl Diaries" begins with images of a trip through Europe done by Chris (Jesse McCartney), his girlfriend (Olivia Taylor Dudley) and their friend Amanda (Devin Kelly), who has just broken with her boyfriend. Chris' plan is to propose to girlfriend when they reach Moscow, their final destination. Their trip takes them to Kiev, Ukraine, where they meet Paul (Jonathan Sadowski), Chris' brother, who offers them to change their route a bit and do something of "extreme tourism". Paul's plan is to visit Prypiat, the ghost town evacuated near the Chernobyl plant. Chris refuses to go, but finally he gives int, convinced by Natalie and Amanda, who find the idea very attractive. The four friends take a tour organized by an ex-military man named Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko) where they meet Australian Michael (Nathan Phillips) and his girlfriend Zoe (Ingrid Bolso Berdal). Arriving to Prypiat, they are marveled by a place forgotten by time. However, soon they'll realize that they aren't alone in the desolation left by the Chernobyl disaster.

The story developed by filmmaker Oren Peli was adapted to the big screen by screenwriters Carey and Shane Van Dyke, collaborating with Peli himself. While the premise of "Chernobyl Diaries" does reminds a lot to Wes Craven's 1977 film "The Hills Have Eyes" (and its 2006 remake by Alexandre Aja),the movie has a greater focus on suspense instead of graphic violence, and leaves in the mystery the nature of the ones hunting the group of young tourists. In a way, this gives to "Chernobyl Diaries" a tone akin to the one found in a zombie movie, as there is not a properly defined villain in the film (like for example, Craven's savages), but the characters face a horde of mysterious nameless creatures that lurk in the darkness. Certainly, this forces the story to be focused on the main characters and the relationships between them, particularly in the bitter rivalry between siblings Chris and Paul. Unfortunately, Peli and the Van Dykes are unable to properly develop this key aspect of the story, leaving them a tad shallow.

Debutant Bradley Parker manages to create quite an interesting atmosphere of desolation in his "Chernobyl Diaries", really taking advantage to the setting of the story and the remarkable work of cinematography done by Morten Søborg. In "Chernobyl Diaries", Parker and Søborg truly capture the strange and melancholic beauty of Prypiat, generating an ominous sensation of abandonment and dread. Given the presence of Oren Peli as the film's producer, it could be expected that "Chernobyl Diaries" was a found footage film; nevertheless, director Bradley Parker distances himself from Peli in terms of style and opts to have a more traditional narrative in his movie. Despite having previously developed his career as a visual effects supervisor, Parker gives greater importance to the atmosphere and suspense to develop his film, and truly knows how to play with shadows and to use the darkness to his advantage. Søborg's camera flows dynamically through Prypiat following the action, giving the sensation of being with the characters, in a way quite reminiscent to the horror survival video games.

The performances in "Chernobyl Diaries" are of an uneven quality, as while there are some effective works, there are also a couple that are unfortunately regrettable. Sadly, to the latter belongs the one done by Jonathan Sadowski, whom playing Paul, becomes the de facto protagonist during great part of the film. Sadowsky looks stiff and wooden in his performance as Paul, and while the conflict his character has with Chris opens the door for a couple dramatic moments, Sadowski fails to exploit them in any way. Devin Kelly, whom also has a key role, is in the same boat as him, being unable to give her character a defined personality and leaving her as the most stereotypical final girl cliché. Quite a difference is the work of Jesse McCartney, whom truly manage to create a convincing character despite the very few chances the screenplay gives him to do it. The same case for Dimitri Diatchenko, who makes a very effective job as the funny strongman Uri. The rest of the cast is pretty much average, though it's worth to point out that the screenplay doesn't give them much chance to shine.

And that's definitely the main problem in "Chernobyl Diaries", as since it presents a story focused on its characters, the ideal would be that said characters had well defined personalities that made attractive to the audience. However, what Peli and the Van Dyke have created is a group of shallow and void characters, that seemed to lack any identity beyond their professions and nationalities. On top of that, the plot resorts a bit too often to clichés (which wouldn't be that bad if the film had better characters), moving from one common place to the other without truly taking advantage to its premise. Certainly, director Bradley Parker achieves a film that's visually very attractive, though it would had been preferable to have him put on the screenplay the very same effort he put to the film's visual design. Something of interest: instead of having the bullied character, Chris, as the protagonist (the perennial underdog), the writers instead put the bully Paul on the spotlight, resulting in a not very interesting (and often annoying) main character.

While it would seem like it, "Chernobyl Diaries" isn't really a complete disaster, as it does have its fair share of pretty interesting moments, mainly during the first half and thanks to Parker's choice of giving atmosphere and mood an important role in his movie. However, this doesn't stop the film from being a failed experiment in which once again it's proved that a poorly developed screenplay doesn't give much chance to be translated into a good movie. Certainly, the newcomer Bradley Parker shows a lot of promise at rescuing the somber atmosphere that the story inherently has; unfortunately, this isn't enough to save a plot that sadly falls deeper in tedium and boredom as it unfolds. In fact, "Chernobyl Diaries" is not really bad, just painfully mediocre.

This review was originally published in Spanish for Habitación 101 on July the 7th of 2012. Habitación 101 is a great site to check for news and reviews on cinema and theatre in Spanish.

Zombi 2 (1979)

In 1978, ten years after having revolutionized horror cine with the classic film "Night of the Living Dead", American filmmaker George A. Romero would return to the subgenre of his creation with a new zombie film: "Dawn of the Dead". The success of his new epic about the living dead was astounding, particularly in Europe, where director Dario Argento had distribute it under the title of "Zombi". The success of "Dawn of the Dead" was so huge that soon the Italian film industry would try to capitalize the zombie genre, and the most famous of those attempts was the retitling of a modest horror film that was being produced at that very moment, under the command of a filmmaker better known for his comedies, westerns and gialli (thrillers), Mr. Lucio Fulci. While released with the not so subtle title of "Zombi 2" (in the United Kingdom the title was "Zombie Flesh Eaters" and in America simply as "Zombie"), Fulci's film would depart from Romero's canon by its inclinations to the supernatural and mainly, its more realistic graphic violence that Fulci had already employed in his gialli. Thus was the birth of the Italian zombie.

"Zombi 2" begins with a yacht apparently abandoned, drifting to the New York's coast apparently without crew. The coast guard arrives to the scene in order to investigate when a monstrous decomposed body attacks them. After this event, Ann Bolt (Tisa Farrow) is questioned by the police, as she recognizes the ship as being owned by her father (Ugo Bologna), whom had been missing. At the ship, Ann finds a note from her father, discovering that he is at Matool island; so with this in mind she decides to follow the clues and find out what's happened. To do this, Ann recruits the help of journalist Peter West (Ian McCulloch) when he offers to help her in exchange for the exclusive rights to publish the story. The two head for the tropic, where with the help of a local couple, Bryan Curt (Al Cliver) and Susan BAttett (Auretta Gay), find the Matool island. However, they realize that the island is curse, and the dead rise to devour the living. At the island they'll meet Dr. David Menard, who has been doing research about the mysteries behind the curse of Matool island.

Written by Elisa Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti (who had previously worked with Fulci in the giallo "Sette note in nero"), "Zombi 2" really has very little in common with "Dawn of the Dead", as even when Filci's film follows the general rules established by Romero in his "Night of the Living Dead", the creatures in "Zombi 2" are closer to their roots in mysticism and the supernatural than Romero's ghouls. The monsters in "Zombi 2" are ancient corpses, reanimated by a strange curse that makes them rise and exterminate the inhabitants of the island of Matool. Certainly, while it's probable that neither Briganti nor Sacchetti had intended to include a social commentary in "Zombi 2", it is interesting to point out that the story makes a stark contrast between the main characters (all coming from the first world) and the islanders, who live under the scourge of disease, poverty, superstition and now the zombies. In fact, "Zombi 2" has a constant atmosphere of decay and despair in its plot, which director Lucio Fulci manages to translate successfully to the screen.

And this atmosphere of dread is perhaps the greatest achievement of Lucio Fulci in "Zombi 2", as he manages to transform this tropical paradise in a true zombie apocalypse, where the rotting corpses attack with a terrifying brutality. The chief characteristic in Fulci's brand of horror in "Zombi 2" is precisely his very creative use of violence, displayed in several sequences that are as imaginative as they are explicit, making them both fascinating and repulsive at the same time. A lot of the visual power contained in the gory violence of "Zombi 2" rests in the talented work of make-up artist Giannetto De Rossi, who was in charge of bringing to life the decidedly realistic vision of Fulci, and created many of the most powerful images in Italian horror. The contrast between graphic violence and the natural beauty of the island is captured by the eye con cinematographer Sergio Salvati, who makes an effective job and with Fulci, generate this atmosphere of constant desolation that the film has. In a way, while Romero is the creator of the subgenre, Fulci's "Zombi 2" is the film that defined it.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest problems in "Zombi 2" is the uneven quality of the acting through the film, made even worse by the low quality of the dubbing done for the film (dubbing was a common practice in Italian cinema of its time). Actress Tisa Farrow (sister of Mia Farrow) doesn't do a bad job, and as the protagonist Ann Bolt, she manages to carry the film with her talent despite not having a very developed character. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of Scottish actor Ian McCulloch, who looks a bit stiff in his role, yet still somewhat acceptable in his role. Actor Richard Johnson (famous in the horror genre for the classic "The Haunting"), shows a bit of overacting, but that exaggeration is an important part of the obsessive nature of his character, desperate to find a rational explanation to the zombie outbreak. The rest of the cast is less fortunate (particularly Olga Karlatos), though the always reliable Al Cliver (familiar face in Italian horror) has some very good moments in his supporting role.

Despite its many virtues and is status as a classic of the genre, "Zombi 2" is far from being a perfect film, and some of its flaws are sadly quite notorious. The most obvious is perhaps the inclusion of a couple of scenes that can only be described as silly given the sharp contrast they have with the serious and raw tone of the film (exactly, the famous scene of the fight between the shark and the zombie is one of them). Besides this, it's necessary to admit that the screenplay has its fair share of holes and illogic situations that downgrade a bit the impact of "Zombi 2". It's very probable that the lack of care in the developing of the screenplay had been due to the urgency of the production company to release a film related to the successful "Dawn of the Dead". Nevertheless, it's worth to point out that after all, there are more good things than bad in "Zombie 2", and despite its problems, it's perhaps the most influential film that filmmaker Lucio Fulci made in his career (generating a style of making zombie films).

Violent, aggressive, yet owner of a strange charm, "Zombi 2" is an Italian classic that lives up to its reputation, and serves a the perfect introduction to the Eurohorror of the 70s. With its beautiful work of cinematography contrasting with the graphic explicit violence, it shows all the typical traits of Italian horror with brutal intensity. "Zombi 2" was a landmark in the career of Lucio Fulci, whom after the film would become a real icon of the horror genre, making a couple of masterpieces of horror cinema later in his career. While it probably will always live under the shadow of Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" (impossible to talk about one without mentioning the other), the truth is that the influence of "ZOmbi 2" still reigns supreme to this day.


October 07, 2012

Quella villa accanto al cimitero (1981)

Italian director Lucio Fulci found international recognition with the release in 1979 of "Zombi 2" (also known as "Zombie Flesh Eaters" in the UK), a violent tale of zombie horror that was sold as an unofficial sequel to George A. Romero's classic "Dawn of the Dead" (which was known as "Zombi" in Italy). After this success, Fulci would use the horror genre to explore more complex ideas, related to metaphysics and the after life, resulting in the films "Paura Nella Città Dei Morti Viventi" ("City of the Living Dead") and his masterpiece, "L'aldilà" ("The Beyond"), films that, while dealing with different stories, both explored the theme of portals that communicate between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Fulci would close the circle with a third film, "Quella villa accanto al cimitero" ("The House by the cemetery") in 1981, and while the film returns a bit to a more traditional style of making horror cinema, it also explores a similar theme and completes a thematic trilogy related with death, melancholy and hopelessness.

"Quella villa accanto al cimitero" begins with two deaths: a woman and her boyfriend are brutally murdered in an abandoned house located in New Whitby, Boston. The following day, Norman and Lucy Boyle (Paolo Malco and Catriona MacColl) are in New York preparing their stuff to move, as Norman wants to continue the research that his late colleague, Dr. Peterson, was doing before committing suicide. Their destiny is precisely the house in New Whitby, despite the fact that their little son Bob (Giovanni Frezzi) has warned them not to go, as he has received a strange psychic message from a mysterious girl (Silvia Collatina) telling him there's a grave danger. The family moves anyways, and begin to install themselves in New Whitby. Norman finds out that his colleague was researching on a certain Dr. Freudstein, the old owner of the house the Boyle live now. In the meantime, a young woman named Ann (Ania Pieroni) is hired by Lucy as a babysitter. Strange noises are heard in the mansion, so Norman and Lucy decide to open the cellar; however, this will release the evil locked under the house by the cemetery.

Based on a story by Elisa Briganti (author of "Zombi 2"), the screenplay was developed by Fulci and his regular collaborators, writers Giorgio Mariuzzo and Dardano Sacchetti. As mentioned before, "Quella villa accanto al cimitero" is a more traditional horror film, that leaves aside the oneiric surrealism of the previous films and focus instead on a more linear plot that seemed to mix the classic Gothic horror with the gory violence of Fulci's style. In top Gothic fashion, the film features a family moving to an old house and ending up a victim of the dark secrets that the mansion has buried in its past. And yet, "Quella villa accanto al cimitero" returns to the very same concepts of the Gates of Hell films: again there's a portal that has allowed the crossing of dark forces into our world, though this time they have taken possession of the rotting corpse of Dr. Freudstein, transformed by Fulci's imagination into one of the most iconic monsters of Italian cinema. It's worth to point out that in the screenplay there's a notable influence from the stories by the master of supernatural horror, H.P. Lovecraft.

The influence of Gothic horror that's imbued in the script for "Quella villa accanto al cimitero" can be found as well in the style given by director Lucio Fulci to this film. In this movie, Fulci shows a greater care in the creation of atmospheres and the handling of suspense than in his previous works, and while his taste for gore is still present, in "Quella villa accanto al cimitero" this stops being a gratuitous effect and becomes a quite important element in the characterization of the film's monster. Certainly, there's a great improvement in Fulci's technique, which is made apparent by the great use he gives to the brilliant work of cinematographer Sergio Salvati and the score by Walter Rizzati. Both elements are use to great effect, giving the film an uneasy atmosphere of dread that remains constant ever since the family sets a foot on the Freudstein house. The work of Salvati is worthy of recognition, as he manages to give "Quella villa accanto al cimitero" a very particular look, capturing Fulci's vision of a savage, brutal and oneiric tale of Gothic horror.

As in the previous films in the Gates of Hell cycle, British actress Catriona MacColl appears in a main role, playing housewife Lucy Boyle, who faces the horrors found in the Freudstein's house while his husband Dr. Norman is away. MacColl makes a very good job as Lucy, though maybe not on the same level as her performances in "L'aldilà"; nevertheless, she shows that amongst Fulci's cast, she is one of the most talented members. But if MacColl doesn't shine that much, that's maybe because the main role is for young Giovanni Frezz, who plays little Bob, the psychic kid. The problem with Frezza's performance is that his work is the one that suffers the most problems with the awful work of dubbing done for the film, receiving a voice such annoying and bland that doesn't match his acting. Better luck has Paolo Malco, who makes a good counterpart to MacColl when playing her husband, Dr. Norman Boyle. The beautiful Ania Pieroni appears as the babysitter Ann, but her performance is so poor that seemed to be limited to looking good and recite her lines.

Again it could be said that the acting is the weakest link in this film by Lucio Fulci, however, the problem is not exactly in the acting per se, but in the disastrous work of dubbing done in the film. The core of the problem is that, in those days dubbing was common place in Italian cinema due to the multicultural casts. To Italian producers, it was easier to have each cast member to act in their own language and then to make the dubbing later. For "Quella villa accanto al cimitero", this was tragic, as those who dubbed the child actors Giovanni Frezza and Silvia Collatina doesn't sound really as kids, and instead give their roles annoying voices that do not represent by any chance the work done by the young actors. Adults fare better, but the fact that the kids sound that bad provokes an unintentionally comic effect in what otherwise is a serious horror film. It's sad that this problem has such effect in "Quella villa accanto al cimitero", as even while this is not a revolutionary horror film, it is really one of the best works done by the Italian filmmaker.

Owner of a gorgeous Gothic beauty and a savage gory violence (that made it to be included in the infamous video nasties list in the United Kingdom), "Quella villa accanto al cimitero" is a powerful example of Fulci's craftsmanship at a moment when it was at its best. Certainly, its low budget affects the results in more than one occasion, but Fulci manages to create a tale of Gothic horror with a powerful atmosphere and a brutal climax that make it one of the most interesting movies in the Eurohorror of the 1980s. Of course, the dubbing is awfully bad, but leaving that aside, one can see that Fulci was not merely a commercial filmmaker jumping on the bandwagon of Italian horror cinema, but a truly consummated artist of the genre. "Quella villa accanto al cimitero" closes with style the Gates of Hell trilogy.