SHOCKTOBER 2015: THE PACT (Nicholas McCarthy, 2012) & THE CANAL (Ivan Kavanagh, 2014)

When I chose these two films to watch, mostly at random, I didn’t expect there to be so many similarities between them! It’s almost creepy to think about, unless you consider that contemporary haunted house horror films share a lot of the same genetics. Both The Pact and The Canal try to do something new with the haunted house trope, with varying levels of success.



The Pact is the story of Annie, who, after her estranged mother’s death, is cajoled by her older sister to come back home for her mother’s funeral. When she arrives in town, however, she finds her sister has disappeared, leaving her young daughter behind. Annie must figure out the truth about what happened to her sister, and what’s behind the spooky happenings in the house, both of which might be related to Annie and her sister’s harshly abusive upbringing at the hands of their mother.

The Canal is also about a haunted house, but with a much more brutal relationship to the ghosts of the past. David, his wife, and his young son all live happily in a Victorian house by a canal, until David has some suspicions and finds out his wife is cheating on him, and planning to leave him. That same night, his wife is found murdered, her body surfacing in the canal. All signs point to David, but he insists that murderous ghosts in the house have something to do with her murder.



Both films rely on technology to help the characters figure out their relationship with the ghosts – Annie gets a mysterious text with an unknown address, and when she looks it up on Google Maps, she sees the above ghost; while David, a film preservationist by trade, films the house and the canal with a turn-of-the-century camera he believes can capture the ghosts. Both films even have video calls with ghosts in them!

David’s obsession with film, and what it can show him about things that he cannot see with the naked eye (or cannot prove exist to others) reminded me of one of our all-time favorite films, Arrebato– David even holds up his film to the light to try to prove he’s right, in a seeming homage to one of Arrebato‘s most enduring images. The appearance of ghosts after you see David’s film is also reminiscent of The Ring, and The Canal shares that film’s obsession with seeing that which we are most afraid of.



The similarities continue: both films are set at/around Christmas, and characters peeping through holes in the walls and hiding in secret passageways within the house are recurring themes in both. It’s the third-act reveals that separates the good from the mediocre. The Pact finds real heart and redemption in its finale (even as it switches from a haunted house film to more of a slasher thriller), while The Canal is brutal (particularly against women) until the very end. Whereas The Canal director Ivan Kavanagh might have thought he was being shocking, instead it’s just a needlessly depressing parade of horrors, one after the other.

The performances also differentiate the films: The Pact stars Caity Lotz, who I was happy to see, as she’s one of my favorite recurring actors on Mad Men, who brings a tough vulnerability to Annie. This is a woman who has been through a horrifically abusive childhood, yet has the strength to come back to the former house of horrors and solve her family’s ghastly secrets. The Canal, on the other hand, stars Rupert Evans in a relatively thankless role as David. He’s never a nice guy, he has violent fantasies about killing his cheating wife, and is basically threatening and/or frightening to every woman in the film. There’s no one to cheer for, even if we think that David is being falsely accused. At the end of the day, I’ll always take the woman with heart over the man who is filled with impotent rage.





DanaNightbreed: The Director’s Cut is a mess. A phantasmagorical, delirious, world-building mess, but a mess nonetheless. Thankfully, we have a very large spot in our hearts for earnestly felt disasters.


Darren: The Director’s Cut of Nightbreed is certainly an improvement on the theatrical cut (fewer jokes, more monsters) but storywise it’s not any more cohesive. What makes Boone a monster? I don’t mean this in the “perhaps it is WE who are the monsters!” sense, I mean this as a genuine question: Why should Midian take him? Sure, he’s the “chosen one”, I guess, but nothing in the film backs that up. It ultimately doesn’t matter; this is all pretext for Boone and his girlfriend to explore Midian. In a better world, we’d skip the hick cops vs. the sensitive monsters showdown and just float through this subterranean world before our protagonist screwed everything up for everybody.


Dana: Agreed. But Nightbreed does give us the rare pleasure of seeing David Cronenberg in an acting role! And his affectless Canadian demeanor is perfect for the role of Dr. Decker, the (spoiler? although you’ll see this coming in the first five minutes of the film) actual mass murderer who wants to get into Median. He wears a terrifying tweed gimp mask with buttons for eyes – it’s actually incredibly unnerving, and Cronenberg is the best part of the film.

Darren: Cronenberg’s style plays perfectly to this role, particularly since so much of the acting in the film is over the top at times. It’s a beautifully shot film, without question, and the sort of artistic touches of his early films Salome and The Forbidden come to the surface in Nightbreed more than in any of his other films. If the film tries to do too much, if it creates a world at the expense of naturalistic characters or a tight storyline, that’s entirely keeping with Barker’s work in pretty much any conceivable media, which certainly makes it worth a couple hours of your time.


SHOCKTOBER 2015: DEAD CREATURES (Andrew Parkinson, 2001)


Dead Creatures is a cannibal film with brutal kidnapping, cannibalism, and murder, and yet it doesn’t feel like a traditional horror film. The film rolls out its premise slooooowly – the first scenes juxtapose a group of women hanging out, smoking pot, and sleeping in hovels with graphic shots of disembodied arms and legs being dismantled by knife. One of the women is literally falling apart, with chunks of skin missing from her face and hands. There is clearly something wrong – but what, exactly?


The film doesn’t go too  much into the mythology of its disease, which is something I generally appreciate in horror film – too many movies try to over-explain their plot, to the advantage of no one. The women are all afflicted with a vampire-esque cannibalistic disease, and stick together in small groups and share their fresh meat in order to survive. I loved how the film portrays these small societies of women – killing and robbing to get along, helping one another and living in a nonhierarchical structure – even killing members of the “tribe” once their disease progresses too far.


There is a subplot involving an older man who is obsessed with finding these cannibals, one young woman in particular, but it’s thankfully  just used as a sidebar in order to give the film a semblance of narrative structure. With a bit more adventurous cinematography and different choices (soundtrack, for sure), Dead Creatures could have been a remarkable feminist-horror-film-as-parable; instead, it’s not a bad choice for your Shocktober viewing, but nothing extraordinarily memorable.


SHOCKTOBER 2015: CORRUPTION (Robert Hartford-Davis, 1968)



Dana: This year’s Shocktober festivities began with a bang with Robert Hartford-Davis’ Corruption, starring Peter Cushing as a distinguished surgeon whose model fianceé has a nasty accident involving her face and a flood lamp. Overcome with grief, he devotes his life to finding a cure for her scarred face, which leads him down a path of murder and, well, corruption.

Darren: A surgeon who must operate upon the dead (and, ultimately, the living) is certainly well in the wheelhouse of Cushing, who took more than a few turns playing Dr. Victor Frankenstein, but all Gothic trappings are switched for mod-a-go-go London and tasteful cutaways are switched for startlingly brutal murder scenes. Meanwhile, complications grow ever more difficult to avoid — Cushing’s fiance’ (Sue Lloyd, probably best known from The Ipcress File) develops a Lady Macbethesque need for any and all to die in order to keep her power, an attempt at bringing a young hitchhiker back to the house leads to home invasion and ghastly discoveries, and all the while Cushing’s future brother-in-law keeps giving him the razz about ethics and decency.


Dana: It might not seem like a stretch for Cushing, a man whose name is synonymous with mid-century British horror, but this is quite a different film for the actor best known as Van Helsing – he’s the (reluctant) villain of the film, using corpses to find the parts he needs, until he realizes live victims will do better. He’s a wild-eyed, wild-haired madman who kills prostitutes and train passengers with bloody brutality.


Darren: What Corruption does well is continue building the pitch, adding pressure to Cushing’s ever-increasing series of problems: throughout the film, he seems like a man in a world he doesn’t understand and for which he is entirely unequipped — he’s belittled by the fashionable, the strong, those without any morality whatsoever, so that by the time we get to the finale (I won’t spoil it, but it’s nuts) it seems the only way such a film could end.

Dana: Sue Lloyd is great as the burned woman who eggs her husband on more and more to help her regain her lost beauty. There’s one particularly great scene in which Lyon, surrounded by mirrors reflecting her damaged face, smashes mirror upon mirror until they are as broken as she sees herself. As I said on TwitterCorruption is one part Hammer horror film, two parts HG Lewis execution, and, for some reason, one part Straw Dogs subplot. Not a bad way to start the month!

Dana’s Weekly Roundup!

Better late than never! Last week was brutally hot in NYC, so it was a perfect time to hide inside and watch a lot of movies.


Lost Souls: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (David Gregory, 2014): The only time I’ve seen the disastrous 90s Island of Dr. Moreau has been with a Rifftrax over it, but I honestly don’t think I’m missing much. This documentary of the failed attempt for Richard Stanley (Dust DevilHardware) to adapt Wells’ novel as faithfully, and gruesomely, as possible is a relatively simple film, but is interesting in its extensive interviews with Stanley himself, as well as the producers, executives, and actors (including Fairuza Balk, forever my 90s girlcrush). The moral of the story: don’t ever  make a movie with Val Kilmer. Oh, and Marlon Brando loved to fuck with people.


Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs, 2015): Covered pretty throughly here, just thought this blog could need another picture from the film.


Faults (Riley Stearns, 2014): It’s hard for me to discuss how I felt about the film without going into some pretty heavy spoilers, so consider yourself warned. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is wonderful, as always, as Claire, a young woman living in a cult named Faults, whose parents hire Ansel Roth (Leland Orser) to deprogram her. Roth is about as down-on-his-luck as a person can get, so even though he admittedly doesn’t give a shit about the job anymore, he’ll do it for the money. Of course, Claire, her parents, and the whole situation is not what it appears.

There’s a few minutes in the film – after Ansel falls under Claire’s spell, and wakes up tied to a chair, watching his old talk show tapes, while Claire and her “father” have sex in the periphery – that really grabbed me, that made me incredibly uneasy. The aftermath of this incident, where Ansel is unsure what is happening, unable to distinguish his broken reality from fantasy, is fascinating, as we watch Ansel try to parse what he’s seen and heard. However, after that, it goes pretty obvious – of course Claire is the leader of Faults, and her “parents” are in on it, and happy to die after helping brainwash Ansel. I wish we had a little more insight into why Claire did what she did – was she getting revenge for Ansel’s past “victims” (which she refers to a little bit), or was it just a trophy to get cult expert Ansel Roth into Faults? The movie doesn’t dig as deep as I’d like, so it’s a pretty boring ride most of the time for a few explosive moments.


Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo (Toshiya Fujita, 1970): We recently bought the (amazing!) Stray Cat Rock box set released by Arrow Films (who I am incredibly excited are finally putting out discs in the US!) and decided to put in one at random. Darren and I are both huge Meiko Kaji fans, so we knew any of the films would scratch that itch; however, Wild Jumbo is….not what we were expecting, to put it lightly. Part delinquent teen shenanigans, part beach movie, and part heist movie, Wild Jumbo is about a small time teen gang on vacation, who decide to steal a lot of money from a church/cult (I likely could have used some cultural context on that part). Kaji isn’t the star, and doesn’t lead the gang – and, as a total shocker for Kaji fans, she smiles and laughs during the movie! This isn’t the scowling, badass Meiko Kaji we’re used to. It’s good! Pretty silly, not a pinky violence title, but worth seeing.

Screenshot at Jul 30 17-43-28

Alyce Kills (Jay Lee, 2011): This one was a purely random Netflix pick, and I appreciate it for what it is. Alyce is dangerously in love with her best friend Caroll – Caroll had accused Alyce of Single White Female-ing her, but they’re over that now (sort of). After a night of heavy partying, Alyce and Caroll end up on the roof of Alyce’s building, and something happens, and Caroll falls off the roof to the street below. However, she’s not dead. As Alyce tries to come to terms with what she may (or may not) have done, it drives her completely over the edge, and soon she’s giving a sleazy drug dealer sexual favors for cocaine and seducing the men in Caroll’s life. Alyce’s downfall is creepy, and realistic at the same time as it is bombastic. The film reminds me quite a bit of BCMH favorite Starry Eyes – both feature young women at the end of their rope, swayed to extreme violence by the promise of being someone else.

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Secret Things (Jean-Claude Brisseau, 2002): Another Netflix pick, this one I’ve been meaning to watch for ages. Sandrine, a bartender, and Nathalie, a stripper, decide to go into “business” together to improve their financial and social standings. Their plan is simple: attract rich, powerful men, and get them to marry them. It works remarkably well, for a while, until one of the women catches feelings and the whole plan unravels. What’s most interesting about the film to me is its progression; it starts as a 90s-style erotic thriller, and in the final half hour, becomes almost mythological in its storytelling. There’s hints of a trashier Robbe-Grillet aesthetic here, and there’s more going on there than a synopsis makes it seem.


Tom Stathes’ Cartoons on Film (Various): As part of their annual Animation Block Party, BAM in Brooklyn presented an hour-long program of ultra-rare, pre-code cartoon shorts. As with pre-code film, the shorts are on the edge between racy and explicit (except for one silent film, which was incredibly pornographic, shocking even a 2015 audience), and derive much of their humor from suggestive situations. Although some of the films were disappointingly (but predictably, for the era) racist/sexist/fatphobic, most were a delightful view into a lost art. The films included stories from Betty Boop (my favorite as a youngster), Bobby Bumps, and the first Felix the Cat short. It was a real pleasure to check out!


Casque d’Or (Jacques Becker, 1952): A lush black and white drama about a gangster’s moll who falls in love with another man, and the consequences of following one’s heart. Simone Signoret is gorgeous and really empathetic as Marie, who starts out with the terrible brute Roland – however, at a party, she meets ex-con Manda, a friend of one of the gang members. The fireworks are immediately apparent, but Marie has a hard time getting out of Roland’s grasp. A duel, accidental death, and escape from the city ensue, but it’s not enough to escape the past. A tragic tale of love, but especially of male hubris – if any of these men had chilled out, the situation could have been resolved reasonably!


The Genre-Busting Pleasures of MAGIC MIKE XXL


Somehow I wasn’t in line on the first day for Magic Mike XXL; even though I thoroughly enjoyed the first one, and heard nothing but raves about the film, it took me a month to see it. But I’m extraordinarily glad I finally did – I haven’t had that good of a time at the movies, well, maybe ever. So while most everything about the film has already been said – though I’d quickly like to give a shoutout to the fact that this movie sees female pleasure of all kinds as a transformative force – a few less obvious, though no less revolutionary, things have stuck with me.

  1. Metatextuality: This being the sequel to a Soderbergh film, the clever intertextuality of MMXXL isn’t actually that surprising. It’s remarkable for how effective it is, though: Gabriel Iglesias’ classic McConaughey impression when discussing how Dallas has gone to Macau; Andie McDowell, who may as well be reprising her character from Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape, warning us of the sexual desert of middle age; Channing Tatum’s literally tongue-in-cheek performance of “Pony” in his workshop; and, my favorite, Joe Manganiello’s horror and disgust at the troupe of male entertainers performing a Twilight routine. All these moments work together to build a film that never takes itself too seriously, and is, like its male entertainers, focused on the audience’s pleasure.
  2. Respect: Speaking of pleasure, the male entertainers all respect the need for pleasure, and joy, and hold it above anything else. They respect women; I can’t think of a single misogynistic comment throughout the entire film, which must be some kind of record. And while the film is incredibly heteronormative, there’s no homophobia, either; the guys get up on stage and do legit voguing at a drag show, with none of the “no homo” attitude we’ve come to expect from modern masculinity. And when Zoe (Amber Heard Depp) describes herself to Mike as going through a lesbian phase, he doesn’t mock her, or make any suggestive comments about how he can fix that. He just accepts it.
  3. That ending: I can’t express how glad I am that the stripped convention wasn’t a competition where they had to beat some young upstart group of male entertainers – instead, the only people they were competing with were themselves. This means that there can be a really satisfying ending without some totally manufactured conflict with an ending we see coming. Instead, the guys are able to perform to the best of their abilities, and “win” by doing their best, as cheesy as it sounds. And speaking of cheesy, the end, with a montage of July 4 good times set to “All I Do Is Win,” should be an eye-rolling affair. Instead, it’s a celebration of friendship and hard work! Plus Zoe and Mike don’t fall in love – she’s even seen throwing her arms around a group of women. How’s that for a nice ending? As the friend I went to the movie with said, “This is what Entourage should be.”

Dana’s Weekly Roundup

It’s a frustrating thing to have so many ideas about things to write on (seriously, I have a very full Google Doc with things I hope to get to one day…) but not have the inspiration, or the energy to do it. To throw myself back into writing about film, here’s the first Dana’s Weekly Roundup, a quick digest of all the films I’ve watched in the past seven days!


To Be or Not to Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942): It doesn’t seem possible, or at least wise, to ever make a romantic comedy-backstage drama-espionage thriller set in occupied Poland, not to mention making it in 1942. Leave it to Lubitsch to do it, and to make it a true masterpiece. Carole Lombard and Jack Benny star as Maria and Joseph Tura, the most famous actors in Poland, whose company is putting on a performance of Hamlet while the Nazi occupation begins. Ms. Tura becomes involved in the Polish resistance, roping in Mr. Tura through his own stubbornness, and a plot to bring down the Nazis in Poland comes down to the downtrodden troupe of actors. Of course, this being a Lubitsch film, there’s a frankly portrayed love triangle, as Maria is also in love with Polish airman Robert Stack. There are so many disparate parts to the film – the love triangle, the crosses and double-crosses of espionage, the broadly funny set pieces for Benny – that it would easily seem disjointed, but it’s Lubitsch’s expert eye, as well as the cast’s impeccable timing, that make the film a true masterwork. It’s hilarious, and touching, often at once, as well as bold and daring, especially considering its date. Very highly recommended!


The Smiling Lieutenant (Ernst Lubitsch, 1931) I could honestly just watch Lubitsch films all the time, so we followed up To Be and Not to Be with The Smiling Lieutenant – love triangles aside, they could not be more different films. The Smiling Lieutenant stars frequent Lubitsch collaborator Maurice Chevalier as the titular army man, who is in love with Claudette Colbert, the leader of a beerhall touring-all-women’s orchestra (!!!). Chevalier pitches woo left and right, and soon he misdirects his ardor to the Princess of Flausenhaum, a neurotic, repressed, delightful Miriam Hopkins.

This is pre-code Lubitsch in all his glory – the innuendos zing by at lightning speed, and there’s a complicated love triangle that ends with the two rivals becoming friends (of a sort) – Colbert sings a song called “Jazz Up Your Lingerie” to Hopkins to help her win over Chevalier once and for all. This is the thing I loved most about the film – the two women aren’t angry at each other over the lieutenant; instead, they’re both sad about the circumstances, but Colbert understands the die is cast against her and decides to non-bitterly help her “rival” instead. That’s so much more progressive than most romantic comedies that have come since.


Losing Ground (Kathleen Collins, 1982) I’ve been interested to see Losing Ground since it was presented at Lincoln Center earlier this year – the rediscovery of the first film directed by a black American woman is something to celebrate! While I didn’t make it to the run at Lincoln Center, I’m glad I got the opportunity to check it out during BAM’s (excellent) Indie 80s series. Seret Scott is magnetizing as Sara, a philosophy professor researching religious ecstasy over the summer break, when she rents a house in upstate NY with her artist husband Victor (director Bill Gunn of Ganja & Hess fame). On the brink of his first real success as an artist, Victor declares he’s over abstraction and is ready to embrace nature, and beauty, particularly in the form of Celia, a resident of the small town they inhabit that summer. Through her marital crisis, Sara gets a lead role in a senior thesis film, where she lets her hair down (literally) and dances with an older, becaped gentleman.

The first half of the film is a little clunky – most of the dialogue is expository and didn’t seem right coming out of any of the characters’ mouths. As the film went on, however, the colors became more brilliant, the motion more fluid, and the emotions more believable. A scene by the pool at the very end of the film, and especially Sara’s long-gestating venting of her feelings towards her husband, almost made me want to stand up and applaud (and I generally hate things like that in the theater). While the 80s score really hobbles the emotion of the film, the acting and beautiful direction overcomes it by the end, and it’s a real lost gem of American cinema.

Orson Welles at 100


Orson Welles has taught me a lot of things. He taught me that weirdo ambition from southern Wisconsin can take you pretty far. He taught me that you can work against the grain, and maybe people will come around to your side in the end. He taught me that you can be a serious artist and a bitchy gossip at the same time. He taught me about magic, and about storytelling, about lies and about truth and about secrets. He taught me about low-angle shots and deep-focus cinematography, and how you can hide almost anything behind beautiful images. He taught me about the importance of understanding your own talents. He’s the best film talent America has yet to produce, and his influence lingers in the air everywhere. Welles is the first place cinephiles should start, and he’s also the artist that I revisit time, and time, and time (and time) again, and always find something new, always find something that makes me rethink my opinion from the last rewatch. Thanks, Mr. Welles.



Anthology Film Archives presented the second part of their excellent, all-35mm giallo series, naturally titled The Killer Must Kill Again!, a few weeks ago, and as with the first part (Giallo Fever from September 2012), it was an really wonderful, well-curated segment of everyone’s favorite sleazy genre. Getting to see such favorites as TenebreAll the Colors of the Dark, and Phenomena on 35mm is one of those things that makes me glad we live in NYC.

(Side note: If I had one complaint, it’s that the source 35mm print for All the Colors of the Dark was the US cut, titled They’re Coming to Get You – a not-untrue but less expressionistic choice – which trimmed down the freaky psychedelic pregnant nightmares, and lead to some choppy scene transitions. Still, I’ll take it.)

Assuming that there will be a third part to the series – and I can’t see why there wouldn’t be, as all the screenings we attended were near-capacity – I humbly present ten titles that would do this series proud. Since most of the major gialli have already been screened in this series, consider this a supplemental giallo guide, a map through the genre’s sometimes-murky, often sleazy territory.


Deadly Sweet (Tinto Brass, 1968)

A pop-art, proto-giallo from Tinto Brass (yes, that Tinto Brass*, although there aren’t any butts on display here that I can recall), also known as I Am What I AmDeadly Sweet is the story of Jane (Ewa Aulin, fresh off of Candy), who is found by Bernard (perennial favorite Jean-Louis Trintignant) in a nightclub next to a dead body; she assures him that she didn’t actually kill the person, so the two team up to find out who really did. Plot is secondary to the film’s visual style: mod, ultra-colorful swinging London, characters who break the fourth wall, and even an obvious, loving Antonioni homage that might surprise people who only know Brass as a skin filmmaker. I’ve never seen this film programmed on the big screen, and that needs to change, stat.

*Please note that if any theater in NYC is interested in doing a Tinto Brass retrospective, I will program that with pride. The Borowczyk retro at Lincoln Center was such a smash hit that maybe people are finally into revisiting Euro-smut on the big screen!


The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (Luciano Ercoli, 1970)

One for the giallo names record books, The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion stars Dagmar Lassander as a frustrated housewife who is one day warned by a stranger that her husband is a killer. This leads her down a rabbit hole into pornographic photos, blackmail, and even murder. What’s most interesting about the film is – as with many gialli – a portrait of an unsatisfied wealthy wife, looking for love and finding trouble, coupled with sexual experimentation. Much like All the Colors of the Dark, the sanity of the beautiful protagonist is in question and being tried throughout the film – “Is she actually crazy?” should probably be the tagline for most gialli.


The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (Sergio Martino, 1971)

Sergio Martino is one of the masters of giallo – All the Colors of the DarkThe Strange Vice of Mrs. WardhTorso, and Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key were all directed by Martino between 1970-1973, and are all classics of the genre. Any giallo series would be incomplete without a Martino film, and I think The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail is one to be rediscovered. Anita Strindberg and George Hilton star as a pair investigating the murder of a recent widow who was about to inherit a large fortune from her deceased husband. Could it be the husband’s lover (Janine Reynaud, as wonderful here as she is in many Jess Franco films)? Or someone else entirely? The quintessential giallo, in many ways: the black-gloved killer lurking in the shadows, beautiful women, a Bruno Nicolai score, George Hilton, and an appearance by J&B.


The Case of the Bloody Iris (Giuliano Carnimeo, 1972)

Nothing should make the relationship between giallo and paperback pulp mystery novels more clear than the titles of the last two films. The Case of… films might be routinely named (in English, at least – this film’s title literally translates to What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood on Jennifer’s Body which is a bonkers, perfect title), but The Case of the Bloody Iris is another standout film from the golden age of giallo. Genre queen Edwige Fenech stars, again with George Hilton, as a British model who moves into the flat of two recently murdered young women, and finds herself stalked by the same killer. Another giallo in which the victims are being punished because of their sexuality, which would make an interesting series in and of itself- however, the film is pretty relaxed in its own treatment of sexuality. Edwidge’s husband brings her to his secret sex cult, but it has no bearing on the murder itself – just a nice little treat for wiggy sex scene fans.


Love and Death in the Garden of the Gods (Sauro Scavolini, 1972)

In reviewing the list I came up with for this post, I realized that most of the gialli that I really love are anchored by a strong female lead: Ewa Aulin, Anita Strindberg, Dagmar Lassander, and (of course) queen Edwige. Love and Death is no exception – Erika Blanc, an actress I would haved like to see in lots more films, gives the performance of her career in this film, a surreal, dream-like murder mystery that is on the outskirts of giallo classification. Sauro Scavolini (whose brother Romano would also fit in this program nicely with Spirits of Death) directs this beautiful, creepy story of a ornithology professor who moves into a house in order to study the local birds. He finds the recorded confession of a killer with a very twisty-turny back story. I love a good frame narrative, and the professor listens to the tape unraveling the story of Azzura (Blanc), her husband, her brother, and her psychiatrist, it’s hard to imagine where the film will go next. There is a spooky, hauntingly beautiful dream sequence that rivals the one in All the Colors of the Dark for fantastic beauty in a giallo, and the ending is supremely satisfying. This would be a perfect film for a giallo series – absolutely gorgeous on the big screen, and a really underrated, under-seen title.


The Killer Must Kill Again (Luigi Cozzi, 1975)

Foreshadowing the more bloody, graphically violent gialli of the 1980s, The Killer Must Kill Again is part straight-up horror movie, part giallo, and part rape-revenge thriller. Although Anthology’s series was titled after the film, it hasn’t actually played in either series, and is a film with interesting twists on the typical giallo themes. We know from the outset of the film who the killer is; Antoine Saint-John is a gaunt, shaved-head creep who really embodies the giallo killer aesthetic. It’s a bit grimier and sleazier than the rest of the films on the list, and the story doesn’t have as many plot twists as a giallo usually does, but it’s a perfect bridge between the “traditional” and later gialli.


The House with the Laughing Windows (Pupi Avati, 1976)

The House with the Laughing Windows is probably the most high-concept film on the list, and an interesting case study in how giallo evolved after the golden age of 1970-5. Lino Capolicchio stars as an art restorer who travels to a small Italian village to restore a fresco of St. Sebastian. The original artist of the fresco, it turns out, often tortured and killed people in order to inspire his art, so the restoration takes on an eerie vibe – the villagers are (understandably) against it, and the killing starts anew. The imagery in this film is what takes this film over the top – the snails, the shadows, and the actual house with the laughing windows are all things that stick in my brain when I think about the film. Without a big name star, and with a more esoteric plot than most gialli, this is an outlier on the list.


The Stendhal Syndrome (Dario Argento, 1996)

Perhaps not actually a giallo, but no giallo program would be complete without a film from the master, and I wanted to highlight Argento’s late-period work with the last film of his I can say I really like, The Stendhal Syndrome. Argento cast his daughter Asia, in my favorite collaboration between the two, as a detective in Florence on the trail of a serial killer. She is afflicted by the Stendhal syndrome, a physiological response to great works of art which cause vertigo and an almost hypnotic state. The killer takes advantage of her state, but the story doesn’t end there, and to give away much more of the plot would be to ruin the fun. Asia is killer in the role – hard and soft, beautiful, monstrous, vulnerable and tough all at once. Not really a giallo, but enough murders and high-concept plot twists to keep everyone entertained.


Amer (Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani, 2009)

There are a string of neo-giallo films that could ostensibly be featured in the series: Eyes of CrystalBlackaria, Argento’s own late-period Giallo. But while those films generally feel like a simple homage to the genre, Amer is a film that stands tall on its own merits. Clearly inspired by such films as Suspiria – the red and the green lighting! – Amer is an exploration of one woman’s sexuality through three scenes from her life. We see the woman as a young girl, discovering her mother in the throes of pleasure in a creepy, possibly haunted house; an adolecent, when she starts to realize her own erotic power, particularly compared to her aging mother; and as a woman, alone in an abandoned manor. Amer is like a more sophisticated version of a golden age giallo: filtered through postmodern feminist thought, and infused with three decades of horror imagery to gain inspiration from. It’s clearly one of my favorite films.

Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, 2014)

With my 2014 Top 10(ish) list basically set in stone, I was pleased to finally be able to see Clouds of Sils Maria, hoping it would be the film to make me rethink my list. Unfortunately, it’s not the bracket-buster I was hoping it would be; it’s full of good ideas, but none of which are pushed far enough to actually break waves on the movie’s smooth, beautiful surface.


Juliette Binoche is Maria, an aging actress who is on her way to Switzerland with her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) to publicly present an award to her notoriously reclusive mentor Wilhelm. While on the journey, Maria and Valentine are hit with the news that Wilhelm has died, turning the celebration into an impromptu wake. While Maria is resistant to the idea, and wants to return home immediately, Valentine convinces her to stay and pay tribute to Wilhelm. While at the accompanying dinner, Maria is introduced to a director, Klaus, who wants to remake Majola Snake, the film that made Maria famous twenty-odd years ago; only this time, Maria would be playing the older, broken woman, while It starlet Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz) will be playing the role that originally made Maria famous.


Much of the film takes place at Wilhelm’s estate in Sils Maria, where Maria and Valentine retreat so Maria can learn her lines, and prepare her psyche, for the stage version of Majola Snake. The scenery is breath-takingly gorgeous; the isolated nature of the place plays into the seemingly isolated lives of both Maria and Valentine. While the play Majola Snake is about a conniving young woman and the pathetic older woman who is in love with her, Maria and Valentine’s relationship doesn’t play as an analogue to that – I’m not sure if that was supposed to be the idea, but Valentine never seems much more than an impressively loyal employee to me. She’s not devoted to Maria – she disagrees with her often (which contributes to the film’s climax) and goes off to party with friends she meets along the way. In the same vein, Maria needs Valentine, and tells her as much, but never takes an unseemly interest in her. They both have secrets that they will not reveal to each other. Both women are an island, which takes away the kind of Persona/3 Women-esque psychological codependency this movie honestly could have used.


The ending (spoilers in this paragraph) is unsatisfying, to say the least; Valentine abandons Maria as they are finally about to see the mythical snake of mist, and then she is never mentioned again. I’m not necessarily a person who needs closure in every film I see, but the final third of the film doesn’t feature, or even mention, Valentine once. Valentine’s presence can be felt in Maria’s decision to go ahead with Majola Snake, and in Maria’s refusal to run lines or discuss the play with her new assistant, but there’s a sense of loss that isn’t even acknowledged. But perhaps, it’s as Moretz’s Jo-Ann tells Maria: once the audience knows something is over, they want to move on. No point in dwelling on the past.


The meta-texual elements of the film are the most interesting to me. I don’t see Binoche in English-speaking films very often, so her accented English and short hair reminded me very much of Asia Argento (who I recently gushed about here), with a softer edge. And it must really have been strange for Kristen Stewart to do this movie, when Jo-Ann Ellis is a weird mashup of Stewart’s public persona/career choices, with a bit of Lindsay Lohan thrown in for good measure. Moretz gives my favorite performance of the film; she’s very young, insecure, in love, sure of herself, blase, scared, and very used to fame, all at once. It’s a difficult balance to get right, and I think she nailed it. Binoche and Stewart are also solid in the film, but their characters have so little depth, ironically enough, that it’s hard to engage with them on a deeper level. I found it very unbelievable that a lauded, experienced actress like Maria would find it so hard to dig into Majola Snake and find the relatable pieces of Helena, even if she is still connected to Sigrid. She’s not a woman who seems stunted in any other way, so why this stubborn resistance of the character of Helena?


The film is unequivocally beautiful, using Sils Maria as a perfect backdrop for the characters’ personal dramas. And I absolutely love seeing a mature film about strong women with great performances – it’s one of my favorite things! I do recommend the movie, but I was really hoping it would knock me out of the park.