Saturday, January 13, 2018

241. Night Club

241. Night Club (1989)
Director: Michael Keusch
Writers: Michael Keusch and Deborah Tilton from an idea by Nicholas Hoppe and Bevin Chu
From: Cult Cinema

A couple hopes to open a night club, but six months later find both their business and marriage in dire straits.

I’m curious if I can make this the shortest summary of any movie on the Misery Mill.

Nick and Beth want to open a night club. Six months later, the club still isn’t open because of asbestos and old chemical waste on the lot. Nick whines about needing to repay Eddie the mobster’s $200,000, but spends most of his time imagining having sex with Liza, a fantasy version of his wife. In the end, Beth leaves to do a photo shoot in Europe and sends Nick a video congratulating him on finally opening a club but says that she’s not coming back. Cut to Nick opening the club and it filling with people. THE END.

80 minutes of whining and sexophone-backed nudity. I have nothing to say about this movie because literally nothing happens. I even have the impulse to go through each little bit of scene just to have something to talk about, but that would give the impression that something is happening. Eddie appears at the beginning and end to threaten Nick over the $200,000 Eddie invested in the club and Nick periodically hooks up with Liza, his mistress who’s actually his wife but actually a fantasy and maybe some other problem… I don’t know. All I know is when Eddie shows up at the end to rough up Nick, Liza shows up and screws Eddie in front of Nick which then suggests that even Eddie was imagined. So the one element of plot the movie had didn’t exist either. Great.

The movie is constantly going into fantasy and dream sequences and never communicating a concrete timeline. Nick promises Eddie word on the money in 24 hours. Then Eddie arrives at the end of the movie so the entire thing has been 24 hours. Only it turns out Eddie was imagined, I think, so who knows how long any of it has been?

Two things are going on. First, narratively, Night Club is the movie version of this guy’s story. Nick is an aspiring novelist who, so far as the movie tells us, has no experience running a club. The entirety of the movie is him whining: whining about people not loaning him money to get him out of this bad situation, whining about the people who leased him the place screwing him over, whining about his wife not having sex with him at precisely the moment he wants. 80 goddamn minutes. Imagine Tommy Wiseau’s most self-pitying moments from The Room, but lose the accent and affect and you’ll have Nick’s voice. How could we possibly care about his fate, let alone his club or novel?

Oh, did I not mention he’s an aspiring novelist? Oh yeah, he’s an aspiring novelist which adds an additional layer to the movie since he’s periodically working on his book. Is it unclear if we’re seeing dramatizations of his novel or the actual events of his life? Does he look at a manuscript sitting on a table with only a cover page that is later revealed to be blank pages? Does he fling said manuscript out a window in a moment of rage-y release? You better believe it! Which leads to the second thing:

The movie’s trying to be arty. God save us from aspiring creatives (like me) who think they can make something. The movie is constantly toying with levels of fantasy and delusion and dream and I suppose our confusion as members of the audience is supposed to reflect the mental breakdown Nick’s going through, but it doesn’t work. Something I left out of my write-up of Killpoint was that parts of the movie reminded me of David Lynch and the same is true of this movie.

I know. Let me justify that statement.

Killpoint has a lot of disjointed scenes of Leo Fong walking around with only strange white noise in the background. Night Club has characters playing with videocameras and tapes, watching footage of themselves that don’t make complete sense even to them. Lynch used these elements in Lost Highway as well as other films, but he’s doing it intentionally to unnerve the audience and create a setting where conventional narrative and physical rules don’t apply. The white noise is present in Killpoint because they forgot to put actual bed music in and Night Club is playing with levels of reality but to no larger purpose. Lynch uses those elements as the bedrock of his films. You’re supposed to feel discomfited by them. Here, they’re an afterthought if not an accident.

I wanted to start drinking halfway through this movie and the only thing that stopped me was that I’d donated platelets earlier in the day. Don’t watch this movie. While it’s not hallucinogenically dull like The Creeping Terror, that’s not to the movie’s credit. To put it another way, it fails even at failure. A dull, dull film that imagines you’ll endure its endless white boy whining for the thoroughly un-tittilating repetition of nudity. It’s not offensive, merely interminable. Stay away.

Friday, January 12, 2018

240. Hot Target

240. Hot Target (1985)
Director: Dennis C. Lewiston
Writers: Dennis C. Lewiston from a story by Gerry O’Hara
From: Cult Cinema

A rich man’s wife starts having an affair only to learn her partner is a criminal who may have specific plans for her.

An erotic thriller that’s neither erotic nor thrilling. Shock of shocks, the Cult Cinema set offers up another mediocre flick. In brief:

Christine meets Greg in the park when their dogs get into a minor fight. He reveals that he knows she’s the wife of a major business guy who does business stuff (80’s!). Rather than start flirting with her, he immediately goes into creepy stalker mode by getting her number from her vet, calling her, and then demanding she meet him at his apartment. For some reason, she does. He gets an impression of her keys while she’s cleaning up after sex and tells her that he’s a crook. Even the apartment that they’re in belongs to someone else.

They continue to hook up until he breaks into her house one night to steal all her jewelry. He wakes her up and tries having sex with her in the billiard room, but her husband catches them. A scuffle ensues and the husband gets killed. Greg tells Christine to stay quiet and that he’ll sort it out, but the police inspector is being really aggressive and getting close to the truth. Greg goes back to the apartment where he stashed the jewels, but the original owner is there. Another scuffle, Greg gets stabbed in the belly and kills the owner with a candlestick (“billiard room,” “candlestick.” Was this movie was plotted on a Clue board?).

Greg calls Christine, she rushes out and drives him to a criminal doctor on the docks. Her car is surrounded echoing a dream she had at the start of the movie, but it’s only the doctor and his associates. They take Greg from the car and tell her to leave. Three weeks later, she arrives at Greg’s funeral. We know it’s three weeks because the cops shadowing her say so. The chief inspector gives the rest of the story: Greg was found dead in the ocean, there’s no positive ID of Christine or Greg at the scene of the second murder, and Christine is not going to be pursued for the death of her husband. They leave and the camera pans back to reveal Greg, still alive!, watching Christine put flowers on his grave. Rather than approach her, he walks away. THE END.

You can get a sense of what the movie’s going for: a woman seduced by a roguish stranger and then caught up in a criminal conspiracy. Only the movie imagines Greg has sincere feelings for Christine. In fact, the movie wants you to like, maybe even sympathize with Greg, when he’s a real creeper. I mean, this isn’t Going Steady-levels of creepiness, but he’s immediately stalking her and ignoring her demands that he stop. I think the movie wants us to believe that the erotic tension between the two of them is so intense that she’s not sincerely telling him to back off, but there’s no sense of tension here. It just feels like she wants him to stop following her.

Then the rest of the plot just doesn’t work. Maybe it’s because I don’t buy them as a couple, but a lot of the drama, post-murder, depends on him trying to be with Christine when it seems more likely that he’d be cutting loose to let her take the blame. It’d be a more interesting movie if, rather than being overcome by desire for her and having to see her one last time while robbing her house, his entire plan had been a sadistic mind game to have her take the fall for her husband’s murder. Alternately, because an early scene in the movie features the husband screwing over a business rival, I halfway expected Greg to be working for that guy as part of some larger corporate espionage scheme. Two words: better movie.

So the movie’s dull, imagines its characters as sexier than they are, and is front-loaded with a lot of nudity that just feels sleazy. On top of that, no big moments of camp or crazy so it’s not even like I can tell you to find a copy on YouTube and jump to this or that point. Skip it—it’s just “blah.”

Saturday, January 06, 2018

239. Low Blow

239. Low Blow (1986)
Director: Frank Harris
Writer: Leo Fong
From: Cult Cinema

The daughter of a wealthy industrialist is inducted into a cult and a scrappy PI is tasked with finding her.

The second part of my birthday gift to myself and I wish I’d just bought socks instead. As with last post’s Killpoint, this is a Frank Harris film starring Leo Fong and Cameron Mitchell (our lord and savior), and I was made aware of it by a Best of the Worst episode. I have to say, they liked the movie far more than I did.

We open with the credits—bold move—which indicate that not only are Leo Fong and Cameron Mitchell in this, so is Stack Pierce, Nighthawk from Killpoint. Pierce was my favorite part of that movie and I was excited at the prospect of seeing him in this one as well. In fact, a lot of the actors from Killpoint are here as well. Nothing comes of it, but it was neat to notice.

In terms of content, the movie opens with armed gunmen holding up a sandwich shop. Fong, playing ex-cop and now private investigator Wong, (not to be confused with Lt. Long, his character from Killpoint) somehow hears the commotion from across the street, walks in, and shoots all the gunmen.

Meanwhile Karen Templeton, daughter of the head of Templeton Industries, is being inducted into a cult headed by Cameron Mitchell. Mitchell is the charismatic focus, but it’s actually being run by Karma, a young woman recently released from prison and running the cult as a scam. This becomes the first, but not last, instance in this movie of “the movie I’d rather be watching.” The cult being explicitly run as a scam that the leader themselves isn’t aware of is great. I’ve never seen that movie. Plus Cameron Mitchell is wearing a cloak and blackout glasses the entire time. His whole routine is just odd, much like his role in Killpoint. Best of the Worst made fun of his performance because he was always sitting down, but he doesn’t come across as drunk or lazy here, he honestly seems to be camping up a gonzo role.

The Templetons find out their daughter has been absent from college for two weeks and John Templeton sees Fong retrieve a woman’s stolen purse. That’s enough for Templeton to go to Fong’s office, which is a sty, and hire Fong to find his daughter. Sidenote: the thieves Fong stops pop up a couple more times in the movie to get beat up as one of the running gags that doesn’t work. The others are that Fong’s car doesn’t work and that he can’t park. They’re not funny and they don’t fit with the movie.

Anyway, Fong finds out the girl is at the cult, he sneaks in as a reporter but is outed and beaten, and then he escapes. He gathers a team of various toughs, sneaks in at night, and saves the girl as every guard gets killed and Karma shoots Mitchell in the head. Templeton is reunited with his daughter and Fong decides to take his girlfriend to Vegas, but his car won’t start. THE END.

I skipped a lot of the middle because it doesn’t matter and is boring. Nothing in the movie seems to connect to anything else, not just narratively, but visually. I was constantly confused as to where characters were or how shots related to each other spatially. Honestly, it felt like they forgot to shoot coverage so it started to feel like characters just appeared and then suddenly were somewhere else.

Also, as I noted above, there were several moments where I would rather have been watching the movie suggested by Low Blow as opposed to the actual movie. A big one was when Stack Pierce shows up as an underground boxer trying to make money in unlicensed fights. He gets in trouble with the local mob for not taking a fall. Fong finds him while Pierce is contemplating his next move and gives him his card. This happens several times, by the way. Fong sees someone being an impressive fighter and gives them his card. As Best of the Worst points out, he’s constructing a team before he realizes he needs a team.

Only, when Fong realizes he needs a team to raid the cult, he doesn’t call all the people he’s been contacting, he holds a “Tough Guy” competition with a $25,000 prize… which then features all the people he gave his card. The competition is held in a dirt pit in the middle of nowhere and when Fong has gathered all his fighters, he says they won’t get their money until they do the raid.

As I’m thinking about it, there’s a lot that happens in the movie that would warrant discussion: the Tough Guy competition, the fight at Fong’s home that’s apparently a dilapidated farm, Fong cutting the top of some goons’ car off using an angle grinder. There are moments that are laugh-out-loud funny just for their incongruity, but they’re placed amidst all of this disjointed nothing.

In fact, the movie’s really boring despite these oddball moments. To give just one example, I had to rewatch the raid on the cult three times because I kept falling asleep—and that features a shot of Fong crushing a guy’s head by stomping on it (dude’s head turns to cake. It’s hilarious). The movie weirdly required constant attention to follow but in no way rewarded that attention.

So, surprise surprise, this isn’t a recommend. As with Killpoint, Best of the Worst basically hits all the good moments obviating the need to actually watch it. If you’re really inclined to check out either of these flicks, I found full copies of both on YouTube. Knock yourself out.

Friday, January 05, 2018

238. Killpoint

238. Killpoint (1984)
Director: Frank Harris
Writer: Frank Harris
From: Cult Cinema

A National Guard armory is robbed and the weapons start showing up on the black market. Police Lt. Long must marshal all his investigative powers to stop the violence from spiraling out of control.

This is my birthday weekend so instead of randomly selecting movies, I’m doing a goofy 80’s-action double-feature. Specifically, it’s a Frank Harris-directed, Leo Fong & Cameron Mitchell double-feature. The companion piece will be Low Blow!

Don’t you hate when your birthday gifts turn out to be crap?

I thought I knew what to expect from this movie due to seeing it reviewed on Best of the Worst, but that didn’t give me a proper sense of how dull the movie would be. In fact, their take it made it seem a lot more entertaining than it was.

To get to the movie itself, we open with Nighthawk, the enforcer/second-in-command to Cameron Mitchell (our lord and savior), shooting a guard at a National Guard armory and stealing all the weapons. Mitchell gives the order to make sure no one besides him is selling guns in town so Nighthawk takes a few goons to a Chinese restaurant and shoots up the place. You’d think this would lead to a plot about a gang war jumping off among the local gun-runners, but it doesn’t. Nothing comes of the shooting.

Likewise, Nighthawk then sells some guns to a few criminals who proceed to shoot up a grocery store. Nighthawk gave them instructions to leave no witnesses so they kill everyone in the store even though it’s just a simple robbery. While these criminals come up again later in the movie, this event also has no lasting impact.

We’re still in the introductory part of the movie, by the way. We haven’t even met our heroes and we’ve already seen two gun-heavy action setpieces. The movie does not maintain this pace.

Eventually our heroes arrive: Lt. Long (Leo Fong), and Agent Bryant (Richard Roundtree). That’s right, the movie got Shaft. They don’t make good use of him. Long and Bryant are supposed to be working together, but rarely even share a scene. The investigation keeps getting stymied since anyone who may be a lead gets immediately killed by Nighthawk or someone hired by Nighthawk (who Nighthawk then promptly kills). The movie never has a sense of movement. Not only does it never feel like the cops are closing in on the villains, it never feels like the villains are moving towards some goal of their own.

Bryant gets killed just as Long is posing as an arms-buyers and arranging a meeting with Mitchell and Nighthawk. On the day of the deal, Nighthawk cuts Mitchell’s throat and handles the deal himself. Once the guns are presented, the police spring their ambush, killing all of Nighthawk’s men. Long and Nighthawk trade shots with each other with Long finally shooting Nighthawk… as does Mitchell. Turns out he’s not dead and ends up contributing the killing shots. When Long starts reading Mitchell his rights, Mitchell dies. THE END.

The movie feels like a giant shrug. The energy’s highest when Roundtree, Mitchell, or Nighthawk (Stack Pierce) is on screen. Not only are they the best actors, they’re doing the most interesting things. Roundtree just has presence. He only needs to be in the shot to make it more interesting. Meanwhile, Mitchell is playing his crime boss as a weirdo sociopath. He has a black poodle that he dotes over early in the movie that simply disappears later. We learn in a rambling monologue Mitchell has that the dog is dead (we never learn how). Even that monologue is so strange—no other character has one and Mitchell’s isn’t until his penultimate scene—that we’re in delightfully WTF territory as it’s playing out. Finally, Nighthawk is just cool. He’s the character that’s actually out in the world setting events in motion and he can’t be stopped. He even gets shot early in the movie and doesn’t flinch! When you place him alongside Mitchell, you have the kind of glorious unpredictability that makes exploitation cinema so compelling.

Unfortunately they’re absent from the majority of the middle. Instead we have Leo Fong and the limp direction of Frank Harris. I thought Fong was mumbling all his lines until I heard all the actual non-actors from the police station they filmed at reading their parts. The characters are so flat and affectless in this middle portion that I kept pausing to see how much time was left. While this part of the movie has fight scenes, they’re shot so poorly—generally long shots with no dynamic edits—and performed so slowly that I couldn’t get excited. I honestly spent the majority of the movie waiting for it to end.

It may be redundant to say at this point, but I don’t recommend this movie. Listening to Best of the Worst go over it was more entertaining, but also gave the impression that there’s more bite to the movie than there is. Their video pretty much hits all the key moments from the movie, the most watchable ones at least, which saves you the work of watching the whole thing. If you choose to watch it anyway, I’d suggest riding the fast-forward button just to see Roundtree, Mitchell, and Pierce’s scenes. The rest just doesn’t offer much.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Year in Review: 2017

Misery Mill Year in Review: 2017

2017, Jesus. Even without politics it's been a year. I'm having difficulty remembering what movies I saw this year, specifically remembering that they were from this year. Spider-Man: Homecoming was only just this summer, as was Get Out, which seems impossible. As I'm writing this, I still haven't managed to see the new Star Wars and I probably won't for a while yet--not because of any of the vitriol, though. Frankly, all the complaints make it sound like something I'd like. I'm putting it off because there will be time to see Star Wars and I'm more concerned with seeing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri before that leaves theaters. I did manage to catch a few screenings at this year's Philadelphia Film Festival, which was nice since it'll be my last one. Of course, most of the movies I saw came from the Graveyard Shift, aka the festival's genre offerings. Three stood out:

Takashi Miike's Blade of the Immortal was nice, but felt like it was trying to make too many nods to what are larger plots in the manga and anime. One very nice aspect of the movie was its repetition of every character having their own story, but having to recognize that this story isn't their story.

A movie I enjoyed a bit more even though narratively it's a bigger mess than anything I've seen recently was Jeong Byeong-Gil's The Villainess. The opening sequence had a higher body count than most films I've seen, and I've seen some monstrous movies. The plot is profoundly absurd and all the better for it. Plus the action sequences aren't just brutal and inventive, they necessitate a making-of documentary. If there isn't a visual effects special on the Blu-ray, it's not worth buying.

The final movie I'll mention actually comes out next year: Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead's The Endless. The only thing I'll say is don't watch any trailers, don't read any descriptions, just go in cold. The movie has a turn that I'm sure will make a lot of people check out, but it's best to go in and have the elements unveiled for you the way they are for the characters. What I can safely say of the plot is the starting point: two brothers escaped a UFO cult ten years before. After receiving a video from the cult, the two decide to go back to answer lingering questions. I really loved it.

In my personal life, for a variety of reasons, I decided to quit working in higher ed and pursue teaching English overseas. I'll be getting my teaching certification in the next few months and, hopefully by August I'll be in Korea starting a new job. I'm excited, nervous, and reconsidering a lot of my life. On a less introspective note, I've also started hosting a bad movie night at a local bottle shop, specifically The Bottle Shop. Trash Tuesdays every Tuesday at 8. I only started this December, but I'm hopeful it'll be a thing by the time I leave in August. I can guarantee several peak pieces from the Misery Mill will be screened.

Anyway, what all this means for the Misery Mill itself is very little. I'll have all the movies with me and will continue to watch and review them at the rate of two a week, hopefully getting everything done in a reasonable time. All that said, let's get to the purpose of this post, the Misery Mill Year in Review:

So far I've watched 237 of the 400 movies, but, because some of the movies are on multiple sets, I've actually knocked 292 movies off the list (because my list includes the movies from the Sci-Fi and Horror packs that I watched before, the number is actually 392 out of 501). I said when I started this project that it would take me until August 2019. Last year, I said the final date will be March 15, 2019. The current end point is January 18, 2019. The thought that I'll be finishing off most of these box sets in the next year is staggering.

Fun movies of note from this year:

A Bucket of Blood
City Ninja
Click: The Calendar Girl Killer
(kind of)
Fighting Mad
The House That Screamed
The Kidnapping of the President
Memorial Valley Massacre
Ninja Champion
The Patriot
Top Cop

Here, as of 31 December, 2017, are the movies currently available through the Internet Archive. Links lead to the Misery Mill posts which have links to streaming copies:
All the Kind Strangers
The Amazing Transparent Man
Anatomy of a Psycho
Atomic Rulers of the World

The Bat
Battle Beyond the Sun
Beast From Haunted Cave
The Big Fight
Black Cobra
Black Fist
Blood Mania
The Bloody Brood
Bloody Pit of Horror
A Bucket of Blood

Carnival of Crime
City Ninja
Curse of Bigfoot

The Day the Sky Exploded
Death Machines
Death Rage
Deep Red
The Demon
Devil Times Five
The Devil’s Hand
The Disappearance of Flight 412
Don't Look in the Basement
Doomsday Machine
The Driller Killer
The Dungeon of Harrow

End of the World
Eternal Evil
Evil Brain From Outer Space

Fighting Mad

The Giant of Metropolis
Good Against Evil
Grave of the Vampire
Green Eyes
Guru, the Mad Monk
The Guy From Harlem

Hands of a Stranger
Hands of Death
Horror Express
Horrors of Spider Island

I Bury the Living
I Eat Your Skin
The Image of Bruce Lee
The Impossible Kid
Infernal Street
Invaders From Space
Invasion of the Bee Girls
Iron Angel
It's Alive

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter

Keep My Grave Open
Kung Fu Arts

The Legend of Bigfoot

Mama Dracula
Man in the Attic
Manos: The Hands of Fate
The Manster
Mesa of Lost Women
The Mistress of Atlantis
Moon of the Wolf

Night Fright
Night of the Blood Beast
Ninja Death
Ninja Heat

Prisoners of the Lost Universe

Radio Ranch
The Real Bruce Lee
The Return of the Kung-Fu Dragon
The Revenges of Doctor X

The Sadist
Scared to Death
Shadow Ninja
Shadow of Chinatown
Shaolin Temple
Silent Night, Bloody Night
Sisters of Death
Slashed Dreams
Star Odyssey

Throw Out the Anchor!
TNT Jackson
Track of the Moon Beast

War of the Robots
The Werewolf of Washington

Saturday, December 30, 2017

237. It's Alive

237. It’s Alive (1969)
Director: Larry Buchanan
From: Sci-Fi Invasion

Three people are captured by a backwoods trapper who plans to feed them to the prehistoric creature he discovered.

Another movie where the blurb really sums it all up. A couple is driving across the country on a road trip because the wife hasn’t been outside of New York City. Her husband, Norman, is a prick. Not just to her, to everyone, so at least he’s consistent. He dies, which is not unexpected or unenjoyable. Before we get there, though, they take a wrong turn while heading for a national park. As they’re running low on gas, they get directions to a farm down the way. When they arrive, the owner says his drum is dry, but the truck will be by any time and invites them in.

And I’m not going to detail this because you know how it goes. The owner is a master trapper and has caught a prehistoric creature. He imprisons the couple and the man who gave them directions, in the cave that leads to the creature’s lair. Norman gets et which, as I noted above, is pleasant so I decided to mention it again, and the other two try to figure out how to escape.

Part of their plan involves Stella, a woman the owner has kept in a state of servile terror for the past two years. She overhears the owner tell the new woman that he might let her take Stella’s place, which is the proverbial straw. Stella tells her story in an extended flashback that only has narration and bed music, no dialogue, not even when Stella and the owner are talking. She agrees to smuggle in dynamite to help them escape, the owner realizes something’s up and doses their coffee, but Stella manage to stand up to the owner as the creature approaches, lights the dynamite, and the couple escapes as the cave collapses. Stella and the owner are dead and the fate of the creature is unknown as the words “THE END?” appear on screen.

So it’s a bad movie. That’s not impressive. What is impressive is just how bad it is. The pleasure of this movie is its incompetence. There’s the long opening sequence of people driving with narration over it. There’s the long middle section that’s a flashback with only narration and bed music. And there’s the monster. Oh my, the monster. It’s the Creature’s nerdy little brother. This monster isn’t threatening the characters, it’s looking for its inhaler.

The movie is a made-for-TV piece by Larry Buchanan who made several low-budget goofball TV horror films, among them Attack of the Eye Creatures, Zontar: The Thing From Venus, and Curse of the Swamp Creature. He’s a seminal figure in the so-bad-it’s-good canon and it feels like he’s a poor man’s Roger Corman.

And if you’re thinking, Roger Corman ain’t pricey, you’re right. Still, generally speaking, Buchanan’s pictures are small, simple affairs that are competent enough to entertain for 80 minutes. It’s Alive is really low-budget, really stripped back, and is a hairsbreadth away from being Manos: The Hands of Fate. In fact, it’s probably films like Buchanan’s that made Harold P. Warren think he could pull off Manos. However, that hairsbreadth matters and it’s the difference of being watchable or unwatchable. This movie gets pretty close to the latter, especially during that extended flashback, but remains on the side of the angels. As a bonus, it’s in the public domain. Unfortunately, my copy has a BS copyright claim stamped on it by Mill Creek claiming it as the “Retromedia Special Edition.” There’s nothing special about this edition. However, someone else found a copy without that vandalism on it and uploaded it to here. I wouldn’t recommend this for casual viewing because it does get so dull, but it’d be a hoot to riff and maybe even do some interesting editing projects with.

Friday, December 29, 2017

236. Trauma

236. Trauma aka Rings of Fear aka Enigma rosso (1978)
Director: Alberto Negrin
Writers: Marcello Coscia, Massimo Dallamano, Franco Ferrini, Stefano Ubezio, Alberto Negrin, and Peter Berling
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In

A young girl’s body is found brutally violated. The investigation into her death uncovers a sordid situation at a nearby private school.

I’ve read a few descriptions of this movie and it seems like there are a variety of versions with events in different orders. I’m not wholly surprised by that since this was a Spanish/Italian/German co-production which means there are potentially translations to English from each version. Also, with six credited screenwriters (IMDB offers a further two for the German version), I’m not surprised that there’s confusion over what the movie’s about or what happens. I’m going to describe the version I watched, although it sounds like “sordid” is a fitting description no matter what version you stumble across.

The movie opens with the girl’s body being dumped from a car. Then the car and a motorcycle leave the scene. Since the movie is trying to keep the identity of the killers a secret the entire time, it constantly cuts back to this motorcycle and car pair to indicate “something is up.” Police arrive at the scene and call in our hero, Inspector Di Salvo, played by Fabio Testi. Since “Testi” is more fun to say, that’s what I’m going to call him.

The girl has deep abdominal wounds caused by a blunt object and the autopsy reveals that she might have been pregnant. I say “might” because the audio wasn’t great and I couldn’t tell if Testi was saying that she was, had been, or at least wasn’t. “This point wasn’t made clear” is the leitmotif of the movie.

The girl went to an elite private school where she was part of a group called “The Inseparables.” The girl’s little sister gives Testi a satchel from the girl’s locker that’s filled with money. Meanwhile, in a shower scene involving several young women in full-frontal nudity, one of the Inseparables starts feeling sick.

Things start moving forward: Testi is abrupt and rude to all his potential subjects, moving the investigation forward more due to accident than through active investigation. The little sister continues to provide him with evidence and information from within the school. As this is happening, someone keeps attacking the surviving Inseparables.

I’m not going to go into more plot details because it is as mystery/thriller and part of the pleasure is seeing that plot unfold, even if it makes no sense in the context of this movie. Obviously the Inseparables are having sex for money—the sick girl is pregnant and has to get an abortion—but the nature of the situation and who’s involved unfolds in an interesting way. I’d almost recommend this as a companion piece to The Silencer since that movie also dealt with moving through a child sex ring member-by-member. The difference here is Trauma actually focuses on the victims and perpetrators as characters instead of the weird drama of their hunter.

On the one hand, I feel like I’m giving the movie short shrift. I was pretty tired when I was watching it and had to rewind several times to catch parts I’d drifted off through. That said, I set my alarm to wake me up because I assumed I’d be falling asleep constantly and largely didn’t need it. The movie is visually interesting enough, establishes questions and ramps up tension largely through the cinematography. Plus it’s over-the-top in a way that borders on camp, but not so much so that you can only take campy pleasure in it. You can watch this as a serious thriller, although with a bit of the surreal logic giallo films tend to have, or you can watch this ironically to riff on and laugh at. The line, I think, is between if you want to be shocked at the attempts at titillation or laugh at the idea that this is titillating.

I’ll admit that I was surprised by the ultimate villain, but most of that was due to the fact that there was no way for you to know that this character was behind everything. Then it turns out there’s a twist, which I’d called early in the movie, only I had the motivation wrong. So I have to give the movie credit for that: it surprised me, although not for the reasons it meant to. Ultimately I’d give this a light recommend. It’s not a movie I’d encourage anyone to seek out, but it’s one of the better ones from these sets. As a flick, it’s watchable, riffable, and executed with more than a minimum of competence. It’s just not anything remarkable.