Friday, November 06, 2015

009. The Beach Girls and 010. Deep Red

Jump to Deep Red (1975)

009. The Beach Girls (1982)
Director: Bud Townsend
Writer: Patrick Sheane Duncan, Phil Groves
From: Cult Cinema

A young woman invites her two friends to spend the summer at her uncle’s fabulous beachside mansion where the girls decide to throw a massive party. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is trying to catch a band of drug smugglers who’ve just ditched a massive marijuana shipment. The weed washes up right near a certain stretch of coastline with hilarious results.

Sarah is staying at her real estate magnate uncle’s beach house all summer and has invited Ginger and Ducky to stay with her, which is the first curious conceit of the movie. These aren’t her friends. In fact, they make that explicit saying they’re coming just because she has access to this great house. You’d think this would become a point of conflict—“You’re not my friends, you’re just using me!”—but it never comes up even as Ginger and Ducky create ever more problems for Sarah.

In fact, there’s no real conflict in the entire movie. Ginger and Ducky arrive, decide to throw a massive party, the uncle shows up and says everyone has to leave by morning, but isn’t particularly mad. He tells Sarah, you’re young, you’ll have parties, but sometimes the parties have to end. Ginger and Ducky are having none of it, though, and decide to take turns trying to seduce him.

It’s a little hard to summarize this movie because it all felt so perfunctory. I found it almost as dull as The Creeping Terror, which says a lot. My notes even say, “23 minutes to get to the beginning of the set-up of a plot.” The movie imagines itself as a bold, brassy comedy, but there’s just no energy here, no sense of joy.

Joy is important. This isn’t quite a full-on boob comedy, but it’s operating within the same territory of gently venturing into transgression, a giggling sense that we’re all engaged in something naughty. That feeling is fun and, I’d argue, ultimately what carries the more watchable 80’s sex comedies. Moreso than the not-quite-porn nudity that they had, they conveyed a sense of sexuality and relationships as fun, of a fantasy where people eventually are freed from the burdens of their daily fears and personal hang-ups. Remember, the triumphant end of all these films (including this one) is the shy “good girl” ends up hooking up with the sweet guy who’s shown mutual interest in her. Relationships, so fraught in our daily lives, are simple things with little-to-no consequences here. The world in sex comedies is a little more relaxed.

The Beach Girls isn’t just relaxed, though, it’s on Quaaludes, and that laid-back tone doesn’t serve its purpose.

Everything in the movie seems perfunctory, every scene present because, “sigh, I guess we have to do this scene now.” Despite the premise—which is just supposed to provide a framework for za-a-a-any hijinks—there’s no sense of fun. The first party they have only lasts one night but is shot in such a way that it feels interminable and runs over the course of a week. There’s a subplot of the Coast Guard trying to catch drug smugglers that’s trying to be campy with ridiculous performances from both the officers and the smugglers, but it’s so at odds with the rest of the movie that it’s just bad (it’s also just bad on its own). Even the parts that feel like they’re going to be conflicts—Sarah interested in a guy who’s not immediately hooking up with her, Ginger and Ducky trying to seduce the uncle while his fiancĂ©e is due back at any time, the Coast Guard busting the party and finding all the weed—come to nothing and never feel like they have consequences. Nothing in the film has a sense of risk.

On the whole, it’s innocuous and inoffensive (except for the racist stereotypes of the gardener and chauffeur which introduce their own level of “why?”)—I wasn’t cringing while watching any of it—but it’s that very innocuousness that makes it fail and so hard to watch. It wasn’t worse than staring at a wall for 100 minutes, but it was very rarely distinguishable.

010. Deep Red (1975) aka Profondo Rosso
Director: Dario Argento
Writers: Dario Argento, Bernardino Zapponi
From: Chilling

A psychic detects a murderer while demonstrating her powers at a lecture only to be killed by the figure that night. Her upstairs neighbor, a pianist who witnesses the attack, tries to hunt down the killer before becoming the next victim.

I always forget my Marshall MacLuan, that the medium is the message, that the way something is communicated is almost as important, if not more important, than what’s communicated. This version of Deep Red is dim, muddy, and even has VHS scanlines. There’s a real possibility that this is the TV edit.

I was initially disappointed watching it because I enjoy Argento, I enjoy his visual style, and this seemed to lack all of it until about an hour in. Turns out, my copy is just so bad that I can’t see how fantastic each shot actually is. Check this tumblr post for real screen shots. That is really something and would have made the movie more interesting to watch. As it is, the acting and dialogue isn’t quite enough to carry the weight of the film.

Argento’s films tend to follow a bit of a fairy-tale or nightmare logic. Things connect imagistically or, repurposing Moebius’ comments on comic book writer-artists, events happen because they look good and then are worked into the plot. That makes for an arresting film experience, but, when you’re looking at the film on a plot level, can provide a lot of absurdity.

This movie has a central trio of characters—the killer, their next potential victim, and the reporter/investigator. This is a standard trio in most thrillers, but this drops the reporter relatively early even though she seems to be developing a romantic relationship with the potential victim (something, it turns out, that was cut from the US version of the film). Likewise, other victims arise, but it’s not clear why the killer goes after them or how the killer even learns about them.

At one point the film cuts to a cottage in the countryside featuring people I don’t recognizing talking about someone I don’t know. One person leaves, the other goes into the cottage, realizes she’s not alone, and gets killed. But she’s able to leave a message. Later, someone connected to the first victim comes to investigate, finds the message, but is killed in their home by the killer.

How did these things happen? They’re visually amazing. One death involves a giant marionette/puppet-thing rushing across the room at a victim. The victim destroys it and then the killer murders them. Why any of it? I don’t know but it’s super creepy.

According to Wikipedia, the US cut is missing 22 minutes, mostly involving the romance, the humor, and a subplot of a folktale about a haunted house where a children’s song is heard just before someone dying (something that is a nice touch that isn’t explored enough in this cut).

As for the version I watched, there’s some nice tone when it’s allowed to develop and compelling visuals, but it’s hampered by the things that have been cut and by being such a terrible print. If you can find one of the official DVD/Blu-ray releases of this, check it out.

It looks like this particular version has been posted to archive.org here and is public domain. I've added an MPEG2 copy here.

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