1963 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: THE GHOST AND DEAD EYES OF LONDON

“From caves and sewers come The Slime People! They kill, kill, kill! There’s no escape from The Slime People! Nothing can stop the horror of The Slime People! For a new adventure in terror, live through the wild blood bath of The Slime People!”

The Ghost (directed by Riccardo Frida) stars Barbara Steele in another homicidal adulteress role. Hyped (misleadingly) as a sequel to Frida and Steele’s successful The Terror of Dr. Hichcock (1962), The Ghost, is woefully predictable and is not this director’s best work. However,  Steele is nearly at her best, and puts to rest any questions regarding her status as a genre cult icon.

Terminally ill invalid doc John Hichcock (Elio Jotta) is obsessed with seances, while his wife Margaret (Steele) carryies on a torrid affair with her husband’s physician Charles Livingstone (Peter Baldwin). John has a loyal governess in Catherine (reliable character actress Harriet Medin; a Mario Bava regular and memorable as the POTUS in Death Race 2000) who suspects that her mistress is up to no good. Impatient for John’s natural demise, Margaret plots with Charles to whip up a batch of poison. The dirty deed carried out, the philandering couple don’t count on a hitch in the will and an avenging ghost before their inevitable comeuppance.

Frida’s ho-hum scripting plods, but The Ghost is salvaged by Steele’s malevolent magnetism (Raffaele Masciocchi’s camera swoons over her). Flavorfully-filmed, unnerving vignettes include an animated wheelchair descending the stairs (prefiguring The Changeling), a nightie-clad Steele wielding a razor, a scheming feline Medin ascending the stairs, flaming annihilation, and a magical finale with betrayals galore. The Ghost is probably the only film in history that has you rooting for a murderess in a fur coat.

“Take a break. Add to your enjoyment of the show with the taste-tempting array of special treats available to you at the refreshment stand. Everything to temp your palate… And everything is fresh… and of finest quality. Pep Up! Fresh Up!  at our refreshment stand!”

“Let the light of faith shine upon you and your love ones. This week and every week … worship together in the church of your choice. ”

“If you should accidentally tear speakers off… turn it in at refreshment building, box office or to any attendant. ”

“Is everybody happy? Then let’s go…

Dead Eyes of London (directed by Alfred Vohrer ) is a smartly paced gem in the German “Krimi” genre. Based on the Edgar Wallace novel, it’s a notably superior remake of 1939’s The Dark Eyes of London (directed by Wallace Summers, which in itself is a slightly underrated opus in the Bela Lugosi canon, although hindered by ill-fitting comedy relief). This Vohrer remake improves on the simplified original with an aptly complex script by Egon Eis. Vohrer, who practically made a career of cinematic Wallace adaptations, has an affection for the material which is contagious.

Hairy, blind, Tor Johnson-like brute (Ady Berber) dispatches victims galore, frequently in the London fog, choreographed effectively to the famous first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Inspector Holt (krimi favorite Joachim Fuchsberger) finds the victims in the Thames. They all have braille writing on their persons and, it turns out, sizable insurance policies.

Heinz Funk’s idiosyncratic score aptly echoes a cast of equally idiosyncratic characters, including Eddi Arent as a knitting Scotland Yard sergeant, and so-slimy-he-leaves-a-trail (and also wears-his-sunglasses-at-night) Klaus Kinski. It’s outlandishly violent and spiked with queer humor (a mouthy water-pick view, a killer boob tube, a voyeuristic crucifix, a blowtorch-wielding priest, and a skull with smokey treat treasures). Vohrer makes memorable use of stylish sets and costume design, enhanced by Karl Lob’s crepuscular lensing. It’s probably a notch shy of being a contender for the 366 Weird Movie List, but it’s highly recommended for the locals.

“Please remember to place the speaker on the post when you leave the theater.”

This review, including the drive-in bumpers, refers to the double-feature DVD available from Sinister Cinema.

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WERNER HERZOG’S NOSFERATU, THE VAMPYRE (1979)

Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979) poster

F.W.Murnau’‘s Nosferatu (1922) rightly ranks on nearly every historian’s list of the greatest films to emerge from the silent era (as does his Sunrise). Murnau’s concept of the vampire manages to embrace its absurdities and simultaneously repel us. Probably as much “Varney The Vampire” as Dracula, Murnau’s demonic, Victorian count is more a diseased, toothsome, carnivorous rat than a crepuscular Valentino. Murnau, who served as his own cameraman, artistic director, designer, and editor, and did his own lighting, filtered this greatest of all vampire films through his perfectionist sensibilities (only Carl Theodore Dreyer‘s 1932 Vampyr has a comparable, but contrasting beauty.

Nosferatu (1979 dir. Herzog) Isabelle Adjani, Klaus Kinski

Of course, the vampire genre became increasingly ludicrous. Worse, Dracula and his cohorts became dull, repetitive, and insignificant. The Lord of the Undead became so tame that producers tapped Sheridan Le Fanu’s lesbian-tinged “Carmilla” (repeatedly) in an attempt to reinstate an edge, which suited the 1970s sexual revolution. Despite mixed results, it worked to a degree (We have yet to see buxom lesbo vampires selling breakfast cereal, but give it time).

Nosferatu (1979) Isabelle Adjani & Klaus Kinski

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KLAUS KINSKI’S PAGANINI (1989)

Films about composers are rare, and probably for good reason. Few can forget Hollywood’s sickeningly sanitized version of Chopin’s life, A Song To Remember (1945) with Cornel Wilde’s Hallmark-style portrayal of the composer literally (and hammily) dying at the keyboard (of tuberculosis) after a grueling tour for “the song to remember.” It was Liberace’s favorite movie for good reason. At the opposite end of the spectrum were the 1970 composer biopics by. Russell being Russell, these were, naturally, highly irreverent and decidedly idiosyncratic takes on Tchaikovsky (The Music Lovers), Mahler (Mahler), and Liszt (Lisztomania). Then came Milos Forman’s Academy Award winning film on Mozart, Amadeus (1984), which, though largely fictional, does capture the spirit, personality, and drive of the composer. If Forman’s triumph seemed to signal a new, respectable artistic trend in musical dramas, then along came Klaus Kinski with Paganini (1989) to prove that notion wrong. Script in hand, Kinski attempted to solicit  to direct the life story of the demonic 19th century virtuoso violinist, Niccolo Paganini. Kinski had long felt a strong identification with the famed musician and repeatedly implored Herzog to direct. Upon reading Kinski’s treatment, Herzog deemed it an “unfilmable mess.” Not one to be dissuaded, Kinski, for the first and last time, took over the director’s reigns himself . The result is absolutely the weirdest musical biopic ever made, and that is no exaggeration. It has aptly been referred to as Kinski Paganini since it as much a self-portrait as it is the composer’s portrait. Picasso once said “every work of art, regardless of subject matter, is a self-portrait.” Kinski Paganini is the second of two highly personal self-portraits Kinski left behind before dying at the age of 56 in 1991. The first is an actual autobiography, titled “All I Need Is Love.” Both works sparked an outrage amongst the status quo. Kinski’s written manifesto has since come to be regarded as one of the great maniacal bios.

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