Posts Tagged Mezzanotte

Back Into the Shadows

The final installment of Mezzanotte’s IL FAIT PEUR! series. All six episodes are archived here.

BACK INTO THE SHADOWS

Immediately after completing Les Vampires, Feuillade threw himself into his next feature, another original crime serial called Judex, using most of the same cast as Les Vampires. The slow move toward domestic melodrama that crept into the end of Les Vampires was front and center in Judex, partly because Feuillade was under heavy fire from critics who felt Les Vampires was simply too ghoulish, too in love with its criminals, too subversive. But largely it was because as 1914 wound down, it was becoming clearer and clearer that this skirmish between France and Germany – and subsequently Great Britain, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Russia, Turkey, so on and so forth – wasn’t going to be a quick and clean affair.


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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Stunt Vamps in Venice

The machine keeps chugging.

WHO SAW HER DIE?

When one does encounter a giallo that not only tugs at the emotional heart strings, but actually succeeds in connecting with the viewer on a more affecting level, the effect can seem amplified. Aldo Lado’s moody 1972 thriller Who Saw Her Die? is the rare giallo that attempts this, and the rare that succeeds, and it is thanks primarily to a committed performance from former James Bond George Lazenby in a role that puts him through an emotional ringer.

 IL FAIT PEUR, PT. 4: LIGHTNESS AND DARK

If Pearl White was the blond haired, vivacious face of a new, can-do America, Theda Bara was its shadow. Dark, mysterious, dangerous. If Pearl could pluck you out of the jaws of death, Theda was the woman who would sacrifice you to it. Her dark, kohl-smeared eyes enticed you, and she laughed as you willingly destroyed yourself for her. America loved her as much as they feared her. Pearl White bucked traditional notions of feminine helplessness and subservience, but Theda actively attacked it, preyed on male weakness and exploited it, never with the altruistic sense of adventure and do-goodism as Pearl. For a young film industry that needed a foil, and a way to capitalize on the popular interest in Spiritualism, the Orient, and in particular Egypt, Theda Bara was perfect. There was only one problem: it was all bullshit.


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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Killers and Thrillers

A couple things going on over at Mezzanotte. First, our giallo theme continues with a film that is the gold standard for stupid, hateful, callous characters. In addition, we hit 100 likes on Facebook, so we’re celebrating with a second series looking at the early days of silent serial cinema, focusing (as much as I ever “focus”) on 1910’s Frankenstein and Louis Feuillade’s Fantomas and Les Vampires. Parts 1 and 2 of that are up now.

THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS

The joke is often made (or it has been here, at any rate) that giallo are populated by people who are, to put it mildly, not of the best quality. The kind of people who will make love and then roll over and engage pillow talk like, “I can’t believe my sister was raped and murdered by a sex maniac on this bed just yesterday.” The kind of people who will say to someone who just suffered through a terrible trauma, “Well really, I don’t understand why you’re so upset. Your daughter was murdered, so what?” When it comes to truly loathsome characters in giallo, few can match Giuliano Carnimeo’s The Case of the Bloody Iris, a film in which pretty much everyone is hateful or stupid; or more often, hateful and stupid.

IL FAIT PEUR, PT. 1: AN EXERCISE IN PUERILE BARBARITY

Night falls, bringing with it a hush as the good people of Paris scurry home to the warmth of family and dinner and an evening spent with a snifter of Cognac and the evening paper. A lone figure – thin, lank, almost a wraith – skulks across a rooftop, a black shadow in a black hood creeping through a black night. A woman undresses, – safe, she assumes, in the sanctum of her bedroom, with the warmth of incandescent light to chase away the night. She does not see the black-gloved hand emerging slowly from behind the curtain, holding a slim dagger poised to be plunged into her exposed back. Strange things were happening on the streets of Paris in 1913.

IL FAIT PEUR, PT. 2: MARY AND THE MONSTER

At first, the 1910 Frankenstein plays coy with the doctor’s abomination. After the phantasmagorical creation scene, which stops short of showing the fully-formed creature, we see the monster first only as a horrifying, dead-looking, clawed arm slowly reaching out toward Frankenstein from behind a heavy metal door. Once again, any Edison company claims that this isn’t a horror film become ridiculous. This is horror, pure and simple, and one can only imagine how audiences reacted to that hideous, withered arm groping out from its alchemist’s furnace. Dr. Frankenstein himself certainly reacts poorly to it, throwing up his arms in unholy terror and fleeing to his bedroom, where he promptly faints for the first of what will prove to be a surprising number of times for a film so short.


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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Bloodstained Butterfly

Continuing our journey through the stylish, sleazy world of giallo.

THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY

Like many early-cycle giallo, the film’s title is a riff on the trend started by Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage of including animals that usually end up playing a minor role, at best, in the plot itself. The Bloodstained Butterfly also follows Argento’s lead in making the limits of human perception central to the plot. Eye witnesses and circumstantial evidence that seems to result in a slam dunk case for the prosecution are revealed via a non-linear narrative to be more deceptive than they might initially appear. In the case of the two main eye witnesses, it is literally their ability to see that is called into question. For the forensic scientists, it’s not the results of their tests that are questionable, but rather the way those results are interpreted and the way the preconceptions of investigators lead them to certain conclusions that, while seeming reasonable and perhaps even likely, are not explicitly confirmed.


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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The Invisible Man vs. the Human Fly

Wrapping up our look at the Japanese Invisible Man “trilogy.”

The Invisible Man vs. the Human Fly

Daiei had no history of werewolf, vampire, or mummy movies, and while it might have been cool to watch the invisible man square off against a traditional Japanese spirit or yokai the likes of which had been appearing in the studio’s ghost films, in the end it was obvious that the only fitting opponent for an invisible man is the invisible man’s natural enemy: a really tiny flying hitman. Thus was born Invisible Man vs. the Human Fly.


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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Forbidden Photos of Evelyn Rising from a Suspicious Grave

It’s a one-two punch of eye-searing giallo fashion and decor, so prepare yourself for shag carpet, silk cravats, long titles, and MURDER.

THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE

Giallo trade in awful characters doing awful things to one another, and rarely do they serve up much in the way of sympathetic protagonists. But usually, no matter how big a creep, the nominal hero of the story has on his or her side, at the least, the fact that they aren’t slitting anyone’s throat, which makes them a little more acceptable than whatever black-gloved and raincoated killer us running amok. Not so in The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, where the hero of the story murders about the same number of people as the murderer. In fact, the film’s only decent and sympathetic character is the hooker Alan assaults in the beginning of the film, so he might even be marginally worse than the mysterious murderous ghost.

THE FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION

Forbidden Photos concerns itself with only one murder, rather than a series of them, which might, for some, put it at a distance from the giallo genre as a whole. If you are someone who comes to giallo cinema primarily for its stylized violence that will likely be the case. However, if you are someone who, like me, is content just to bask in the film’s pervading atmosphere of slinky European licentiousness, it should be considered a pleasure not forbidden but prescribed.


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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The Invisible Man Appears

We’re slipping in one more for NO, THE OTHER ONE just under the wire, but before we get to that one, we have to talk about this one.

INVISIBLE MAN APPEARS

By 1949, the Invisible Man had all but vanished. But 1949 is the year in which Japanese director  Nobuo Adachi made Invisible Man Appears (Tômei ningen arawaru) for Daiei Studios. The heyday of the iconic Universal monsters was over, and the studio was pitting it’s classic creatures against Abbot and Costello (they would meet the Invisible Man in 1951). The last legitimate film in the Invisible Man series had been 1944’s The Invisible Man’s Revenge. This Japanese entry into the sweepstakes might not have been an official part of the series, but it certainly holds its own against Universal’s films, and in fact is a sight better than most of the official Invisible Man sequels.


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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All the Colors of the Dark

Continuing our tour through the weird world of giallo…

ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK

Martino’s 1972 giallo All the Colors of the Dark works within the confines of the genre (which was still relatively new in 1972 but, given the fecundity of the Italian film market, already contained quite a few films, established tropes, and expectations), but it takes the genre further afield than had previously been explored, resulting in a dizzying psychedelic combination of straight-forward stalker/murder mystery (the giallo’s stock in trade), hallucinogenic psycho-sexual experiment, and occult horror.


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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Race Revenge: I Spit On Your Grave

This might not be the movie you’re thinking of…

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE

Cinematic adaptations of books have a long history of being derided by the source material’s author, but few have as dramatic a claim to this dubious honor as this adaptation of Boris Vian’s 1946 novel J’irai cracher sur vos tombes. Vian had been warring with the production team. He was so dissatisfied with the way his material was being adapted that he demanded his name be removed from the film. Despite railing against the film, he was gracious (or morbidly curious) enough to attend the premiere on June 23, 1959. As the now famous story goes, Vian stood up minutes into the screening to shout out his angry disapproval of what he was seeing. He then, suddenly, dropped dead.


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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Happy Valentine’s Day: Strip Nude for Your Killer

Nothing says romance quite like the sleaziest giallo of the 1970s:

STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER

Signature murders include the stabbing of a woman who, upon realizing a prowler may be in the house and all her co-workers are getting murdered, investigates while completely nude except for a pair of clunky platform clogs; and then there’s the one where, after charmingly attempting to rape a co-worker before going impotent, we get ample shots of an enormously fat man in his sagging tighty whities and black dress socks, clutching a deflated blow-up doll in one hand and a kitchen knife in the other while he cries uncontrollably. Tasteful!


Keith Allison is the chief bacchanologist at MEZZANOTTE.

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