Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jean Rollin's Lèvres de sang (1975)

TWILIGHT made buckets of money this past weekend, and while I don't wish the film any ill will, I do intend to ride out this wave by taking refuge with some more daring, subversive vampire film. Who better to go to than Jean Rollin, the subversive French film-maker who made great contributions to the reinvention of the vampire in the 1970s? In THE VAMPIRE CINEMA, David Pirie suggests that Jean Rollin takes "the vampire out of a narrative context and plac[es] it in an essentially visual frame of reference." Even as he gives Pirie gives Rollin serious critical consideration, Pirie ultimately suggests that the lack of narrative structure marks a certain weakness in his films, making them somewhat inferior to, say, Harry Kumel's DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS. However, I find myself returning much more often to Rollin's films, most recently Lèvres de sang (known as LIPS OF BLOOD to Yanks like me.)

Arguably, Rollin focuses more on narrative here than he does in many of his other films. Rollin foregrounds childhood and innocence with a narrative that begins with a photograph of tower ruins by the seaside. This photograph calls forth memories in the protagonist, leading him to remember a mysterious, waifish woman imprisoned in the tower. He grants her a brief escape before she becomes just a vague, bittersweet memory. The rest of the film documents his quest to find the elusive tower and, effect, his childhood.

The whole film comes across as a unspooled fairy tale, complete with archetypes like a "terrible mother" and "shadow figures" in the form of female vampires awakened by the protagonist's desires. In fact, the vampires appear simultaneously lethal and pitiful in the film, just as the protagonist's quest to recover his childhood appears paradoxically as a dangerous sort of innocence, leading to unpleasant revelations about his own family.

Rollin uses stunning imagery here, including the seaside images he favors in all his films. The Kinoeye web page includes some excellent Jean Rollin resources that come highly recommended.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Gothic Nights (1995)

Recently, Kitty LeClaw, the dark mistress of the horror blogosphere, gave us an an excellent posting on SPLATTER #1, an anthology comic that featured what appears to be an early installment of Tim Vigil's GOTHIC NIGHTS, here titled "The Countess." The story follows the doomed romance between Tanya, a truly demonic vampire woman, and her werewolf lover, Anton, who falls victim to bloodthirsty mob. Mourning the loss of her lover, Tanya turns to Dr. Frankenstein for help.

The above graphic comes from SPLATTER, but notice how Vigil revised these frames when he later published the story in the two issues of GOTHIC NIGHTS.

These issues are favorites of mine, as they give us what is essentially a Universal/Hammer story hopped up on a cocktail of steroids and Viagra.

At some point, the story was available as a graphic novel, but I've only been able to track down the individual issues of the comic book. Below, I've scanned the striking cover art, and apparently, Broken Halo still sells copies. Trust me, these are well worth seeking out.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

BLACK MASS: a 1920s obscurity?

Someone on the Classic Horror Discussion Board called attention to this strange little kinky film. I'm half inclined to think that it really originates later than the silent era--in fact, with sound and color, it could easily be a 70s production--but perhaps it's a dirty little obscurity from that earlier period. Any theories? WARNING: It's definitely not work safe.

UPDATE: According to Gary L. Prange in a post on the Classic Horror Discussion Board, the clip comes from a 1928 French stag film called MESSE NOIRE.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Monster Art: Punk Rock Style

Take the pioneering 1960s pop art of Basil Gogos and James Bama. Throw in a dose of punk rock. Result: the work of Bryan Baugh and David Hartman, two artists who carry on the tradition of featuring classic and contemporary horror characters.

Both give us representations with a delightfully nasty attitude and high dose of sexuality. Check out Baugh's colorful images of the Creature from the Black Lagoon lusting menacingly for Julie Adams, or Hartman's interpretations of Rob Zombie's Devil's Rejects.

Find Baugh's work at Cryptlogic, and Hartman's at Sideshow Monkey.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Random Stuff: The Sweet, the Bloody, the Sublime

Dig this iconic image from Lucio Fulci's seminal 1980s film, THE BEYOND. Often celebrated for creating chunkblowing masterpieces, Fulci's best work combined grotesque, over-the-top imagery with sublime images like this one. Romero has given us zombies that function as social metaphors, but Fulci's zombies reflect the nightmare of human existence: that a truly spiritual dimension is nothing more than another waste land (as seen here) that offers no escape from our material existence as meat. And what is a zombie but just meat?

As most readers of this blog will already know, Fulci created much of his best work in the early 1980s, as he followed up ZOMBI 2 with THE GATES OF HELL, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, NEW YORK RIPPER, and THE BEYOND. These films often draw our attention to the eyes as the spiritual center, the focal point of human existence. Yet, the eye also becomes subject to tearing, to destruction, to blindness. I recently revisted THE BEYOND courtesy of the new Grindhouse DVD, and while I still find that the graphic violence has impact, I feel more and more drawn to the film's surrealism and its ability to make me feel like I've visited a truly otherworldly place. Those blasted out and blinded eyes Fulci shows us? He was trying to say something about our place as viewers.

Meanwhile, I also recently revisted Jess Franco's, BLOODY MOON, a 1981 film that borrows heavily from the America-style slasher film in vogue at the time. Nevertheless, this viewing left me with the sense that Franco accomplished something more in line with the Italian giallo, with its red herrings and emphasis on voyeurism. At the risk of making the film something more than it really is--basically something Franco did for a pay-check--it still manages to seem more artful than the American equivalent at the time, with (BEWARE SPOILER) an ending that calls to mind Mario Bava, who also gave us endings that presented more than one perpetrator

For a Franco film, the effects work looks more professional than the painted-on blood often seen in some of his scaled-down, more personal productions, like VAMPYROS LESBOS or VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD. While I generally prefer those more personal films, I still have fun with BLOODY MOON, which stands well above most of the other stalk'n'slash films of the early 1980s. Plus, it features a truly cruel "must-see" moment with a circular saw.

Lastly, a confession: the film adaptation of TWILIGHT opens today, with me about two-thirds of the way through the novel. I told myself I didn't have to read it, that I had other things more worth my time. But when a horror (lite) novel captures that much attention, I feel like I just oughta know what's going on. I have to say that it's not changing my life, and I'm not ready to start decorating my Facebook page with Flair images of Edward. Nor do I think we really need yet another instance of the "romantic" vampire (another confession: I only made it through the first two books of Rice's Vampire Chronicles). Still, I can see why young readers go for this stuff. I even feel strangely connected to my inner teenage girl (though I'm a 39 year old straight guy). And, I have to say, the book's kind of . . . hot, though in a really chaste, Mormon kind of way. As a vampire, Edward's drawn to Bella's bouquet, her scent, and I'm struck by how just about every page of the novel contains something wet and moist--just not what you might expect. Still, after finishing it, I think I'll need a good chaser to wash it down--maybe I'll finally finish VARNEY THE VAMPIRE.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Lovecraft For Your Ears

Well, the plague came to the Tomb, and at the most unwelcome time possible. I spent the week before and after Halloween utterly sick and haven't been able to bring myself to write much. Hence why you heard little unholy howling this Halloween season. The holiday months ahead will have to make up somehow, and we're going to start with Lovecraft . . .

If you've looked at the links in the sidebar, you may have come across the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, an organization that, among other things, has produced a sterling 1920s style silent film production of THE CALL OF CTHULHU. In addition, they have gone on to produce a handful of adaptations in the style of "old time radio" of Lovecraft's stories, beginning with AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS. I spent some of my convalescence time catching up with THE DUNWICH HORROR, another story in Lovecraft's "Cthulhu Mythos." A prior audio adaptation of the play found listeners in 1945 thanks to the radio show SUSPENSE, and thanks to DataJunkie, you can listen to that program by going here.

While I love programs like SUSPENSE (along with THE WITCH'S TALE, WEIRD CIRCLE, and others), it's still a shame that they seldom turned to Lovecraft's work for material. With that in mind, it's refreshing to find the HPLHS bringing us new adaptations of such professional quality. THE DUNWICH HORROR stands as one of Lovecraft's more chilling stories, where libraries and old books become sources of terror and paranoia. We also see the author's signature anxiety over miscegenation, and as outmoded and silly as such fears rightfully appear today, Lovecraft's "Old Ones" still come across as brilliantly conceived.

Definitely check out this production, which the HPLHS store offers both as a CD and as a downloaded MP3. The CD comes packed with pseudo-reproductions of newspaper clippings and pages of archaic tomes. Your hard-earned dollars will be well-spent.