Monday, February 18, 2013

What Have You Done To Solange? (1972)



 NOTE: ALL THE POSTS HERE WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS, IF YOU BELIEVE THESE FILMS CAN BE RUINED FOR YOU BY KNOWING MAJOR PLOT DETAILS THEN, WELL, GO AWAY.

JLP Today on Killer Bs it’s back to business as usual. Or rather, back to the business of talking about films we actually have some affection for and know something about. After putting on our explorers’ gear  (including hard hats) and venturing into the strange and unknown world of teen romance that is TWILIGHT, this week we’re on much safer (and better acted with more attractive women, better music, better direction and, well, better everything really) ground with a movie from the subgenre of horror beloved of us both: the 1970s Italian giallo.

GA Could it be anything else? Within the first five minutes we have Ennio Morricone, a bearded Italian trying to get into someone's knickers and a leather-clad nutter stabbing some unfortunate girl exactly in the spot our previous Latin lothario had on his mind.

JLP Away we go with WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE?, made in 1970.

GA Shot in the UK. In 1970 the country was entirely covered in corduroy, damp and boiled cabbage. Of course people were bound to get stabbed.

JLP A quick look at the credits, and while the main stars aren’t familiar to me, the rather pretty Christine Galbo went on to star in Jorge Grau’s THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE. DP is Aristide Massacessi, better known to horror film fans everywhere as Joe D’Amato. I don’t think he had actually become Mr D’Amato at this point. And of course the music is by Ennio Morricone.

We kick off with Christine in a boat being smooched all over by a beardy man in a quite horrid jumper. I owned one like that when I started university. But not by the time I had finished.

GA You learned something while you were there then.

JLP In between having her face scraped by all that hair, she spots a horrible murder on the riverbank. Beardy doesn’t believe her, but she makes such a fuss he takes her home in his green car. 

GA Showing typical Italian lead sensitivity. 'How dare you not still want to have sex with me after seeing a murder. God, but I hate frigid girls...'

JLP Pause for a moment at the shot of a small child riding on a toy double decker bus past her house. I used to have one like that when I was five - I mean the toy bus, not the house, or the Christine Galbo - that would have been a bit redundant, really.

GA How sweet!

JLP We’re in London, and having dropped off one girl, Beardy is now pursuing another on a bicycle. Not in a Benny Hill type way but in an entirely more creepy way altogether. Are we supposed to be sympathising with him?

GA It's the same girl! He drops her off, she collects her bicycle and then they ride along together for a while.

JLP Ah!

GA Not that I'm saying you should sympathise with him... The man's a cast-iron shitbox.

JLP Now he’s putting his shirt on while the radio talks about murder. A girl who looks like a very young Sheila Keith from HOUSE OF WHIPCORD --

GA Except that Sheila Keith was never young... She was born powder-white, cackling and eager to kill.

JLP – changes channels and he gets upset. Then it’s back to the site of the murder. Now he looks rather smarter, although he could still do with a proper shave. 

At the exclusive girls’ school (oh yes!) where Beardy (actually gym specialist Professor Rossini) works, the police have arrived and are asking the usual motley assortment of teachers you would only find in an Italian exploitation school (Dodgy, Hairy, Creepy, and Priest) if they recognise one of their pupils from photographs of her tied up and stabbed. 

GA It's only when we finally see the pictures too that we realise that the majority of them are of nothing more than a black and white torso with a knife sticking out of its groin. The inspector insists that the teachers must study these pictures carefully as it's a 'necessary formality'. This is a very disturbed policeman.

'Please look at the pictures again sir. LOOK AT THEM! LOOK AT THE KNIFE! Thank you sir... That's a great help. Here's another one I need you to see. It's a baby being attacked with a cheese grater. LOOK AT IT!!!'

He's not the brightest spark either, asking Professor Enrico Rossini if he's of 'Italian extraction'. What a sharp deductive mind this man has...

JLP Sheila Keith also works at the school teaching German (surprise surprise) and it turns out she’s married to Rossini. Then we’re into Prof Rossini’s short-skirted gym class where he breaks the news to them all because that’s what gym teachers do in a film like this.

GA It could have been worse. PE teachers are not renowned for their sensitivity after all.

'Now then, now then... Settle down... We'll crack on in a minute but first I've a couple of announcements:  we're still a couple short for the after-school five-a-side, for God's sake get your name down before Friday or we'll never get a team up. Oh... And Hilda's been found face down by the river with a bread knife up her chuff. Right... Get your kit on, last one on the mats is a poof.'

JLP It’s been too long since we’ve seen a priest so another comes into the class, followed by a quick cut to - the confessional booth!

GA A well-worn little cupboard I imagine.

JLP Christine is a pupil at the school - naughty, naughty Mr Rossini! 

GA Luckily, in true Italian sleaze style she's clearly in her twenties. Perhaps she's shit at exams? Could she still be there, flunking her GCSEs and trying to cop off with teachers that are now much younger than her?

JLP The murder makes the headline in The Sun - they must have not had any bingo, sex scandal or celebrity constipation stories to run that day.

GA These days it would be in the Daily Mail, frothing with joy and blaming it on Romanian tramps.

JLP After last week’s TWILIGHT, yet another upside-down chest X Ray makes an appearance at the nineteen minute mark. 

GA Obviously I spotted it again too.

JLP The dead girl’s name is Hilda, and when answering the detective’s questions her parents sit far enough apart to make full use of the uber widescreen aspect ratio.

GA 'I never understand these girls,' admits the father before asking the detective if his daughter was raped. 

'In a certain sense sir,' says Inspector Bastard before presenting him with an X Ray showing the knife inserted up the man's daughter.

He really is the most insensitive little shit to carry a warrant card isn't he?

'It would have really hurt too sir. Oh yes. Your daughter would have died in agonised terror. Can I do you a photocopy? It's a necessary formality you see...'

JLP Rossini has rented a love nest from a man with, unbelievably, an even bigger beard than he has. He calls up Christine, who gets on her bike (literally). He has decorated the place in the kind of unassuming serial killer style we know & love - with horrid lava lamp style blue furniture in the lounge, pictures of naked girls on the walls of the bedroom, and her favourite Morricone track on the record player. The art on the walls of Rossini’s actual home is a different kind of rubbish - what is that blue and yellow thing meant to be?

GA Perhaps his wife paints?

JLP After that it’s time for a nicely executed murder sequence with one of Hilda’s schoolfriends being done in the same way as she was - all rather unpleasant  but really quite effective.

GA It's typical Giallo stuff in that it seems fine in context but is horribly difficult to discuss with someone who hasn't seen the film.

'Oh, what's that you're watching?'

'It's an Italian Giallo, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE?'

'Oh yeah... What's it about?'

'Erm... Schoolgirls getting stabbed in the vagina.'

*There is an awkward silence followed by the sound of law enforcement officers being telephoned*

JLP Christine has a dream in which she’s being held by a beardy man in an awful red jumper - oh no, that’s reality - sorry. Her dream is about the murder, and in that way that always happens in Italian films, it suddenly triggers her memory that the killer was dressed as a priest. 

GA David Hemmings will probably turn up in a minute and play some jazz.

JLP A gratuitous school shower scene follows which also allows for some product placement. Astor was to cigarettes what J&B was to whiskey in many of these movies (cartons of the things turn up in THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH). 

GA Smoking in the shower... Yeah... Fraught with complications but probably safer.

JLP Christine gets murdered in the bath, which I always found quite surprising as she’s been such a major character up till this point. 

The police capture Mr Massive-Beard and line up priests for him to identify.”Come on what denomination was it?” says the detective in a looney bit that doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the film. Mr M-B loses it, and the hunt is on for a bearded priest. 

GA Inspector Bastard is on form as he threatens his star witness with violence unless he remembers something. Policing at its finest and wisest.

JLP Mr M-B is released from New Scotland Yard and gives a performance of BBC pantomime proportions before being frightened away by yet another priest.

GA Trying to find a taxi 'at this hour' (it's broad daylight you loon... Perhaps the beard has blown over his eyes so he thinks it's nighttime.)

JLP According to the pathologist (and after all, he should know) Christine was still a virgin - which seems to make everything all right with Rossini’s wife.

GA Yeah... That is rather forgiving. 'I know you've been knocking around with schoolgirls, darling, but as you haven't actually penetrated any of them let's just kiss and make up.'

JLP The caretaker of their building exhibits the second terrible English accent in this film (the first having been used by the killer to lure a girl to her death earlier on).

GA Perhaps he's the murderer! Mocked all his life for his stupid voice, he has finally lashed out.

JLP By the way, is the chap dubbing Rossini the same one who dubbed Alberto de Mendoza as mad monk Pujardov in the marvellous HORROR EXPRESS? The voice is very similar.

GA It is rather but I couldn't tell you...

JLP “Have any of you seen a priest with a beard?” the detective asks a classroom full of schoolgirls.

Meanwhile Jimi Hendrix is doing a photo shoot for a milk promo featuring a naked redhead covered in white paint. As you do. 

GA I'm thinking of entirely new ways to cultivate a milk moustache...

JLP Jimi tells Rossini about the clique some of the murdered girls were involved with and at the 71 minute mark we get the first mention of Solange. 

GA Who was a real 'turned on swinger, man...' 

JLP Meanwhile the detective is questioning some priests who have the best accents I’ve heard in a long time. 

GA This proves my theory. A clique of wrong-voiced lunatics are behind it all... It worked for Lucio Fulci after all...

JLP The hunt is on for Solange.

GA And Rossini is drinking a glass of milk without quite knowing why... Advertising works!

The concierge now appears to be trying on a Scottish accent. It's as successful as if he was trying on a pair of leather shorts four sizes too small.

JLP A message is left for Rossini that, in a rare instance for an Italian exploitation film, is uncharacteristically in English. Off he goes to Mrs Holden’s farmhouse only to discover a dead dog and a dead Mrs Holden. At least no-one has killed the owl.

GA Inspector Bastard will see to that shortly as a 'necessary formality'.

JLP Anyway, you know what it’s like. You’re searching for a girl that might be the key to a murder mystery and she just wanders into shot while you’re having a day in the park. This was one of several movies Camille Keaton made during her ‘Italian period’ before she became infamous for starring in Meir Zarchi’s I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE. Next, the surviving girls go to the fair and find Solange riding a carousel. Joe D’Amato has a blink and you’ll miss him cameo as one of the plain clothes policemen in the park, which makes me wonder if the others are members of the crew as well. 

GA One of them, after two of the girls have been driven off, shrugs off any criticism from Inspector Bastard by saying 'I saw the car... There was a priest driving... I thought it was probably one of ours...'

They all went to the same training college this bunch.

JLP It’s almost time for the sepia tinted flashback, told in true giallo style (and it really is stylish) by a blonde girl tied to a chair by our black-gloved killer. And what happened to Solange really is all a bit unpleasant, actually, with the trauma of her presumed septic abortion (as it would have been called in 1970 even though it’s not mentioned in the film) driving her insane. 

GA It's genuinely horrible isn't it? Excruciating viewing...
JLP There’s just time for some bondage and gratuitous nudity before we find out who the killer is. 

GA And given that, once we find out what's been going on, the list of likely contenders is limited it doesn't come as much of a surprise. 

JLP Solange really is one of the better gialli - it’s well made, competently acted, and the script is actually very good. The murders are horrible but are certainly justifiable within the context of the revenge motive that powers the film. Apart from a few nods to the exploitation requirements of the time, the movie never feels especially gratuitous or sensational and it’s a surprisingly sober affair. While Massimo Dallamano doesn’t display the stylistic flourishes of Argento, the cruelty of Fulci or the sexiness of Martino, he’s certainly more than a competent storyteller and WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? is certainly a memorable film for all the right reasons.

GA All true, though I have to admit I miss the stylistic elements. It's a good, grimy, little revenge thriller that stays the right side of what is an incredibly fine line given the subject matter. 
Let's be honest though, it was lucky that Inspector Bastard got his man... 

THE KILLER Bs WILL RETURN IN A FORTNIGHT WITH...SOMETHING THEY HAVEN'T QUITE DECIDED YET!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Twilight (2008)

NOTE: ALL THE POSTS HERE WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS, IF YOU BELIEVE THESE FILMS CAN BE RUINED FOR YOU BY KNOWING MAJOR PLOT DETAILS THEN, WELL, GO AWAY.


JLP Today on Killer Bs, a quite momentous occasion. Usually the films we comment on have at least one of us as advocates. But today is different. Today is special. Today is the day Guy Adams and I subject ourselves to the first TWILIGHT movie. It’s a film I know little about and a quick perusal of the credits reveals that I know virtually nothing about the key personnel involved. I have never seen anything directed by Catherine Hardwicke or written by Melissa Rosenberg. I have never seen Kristen Stewart ‘act’, and my only screen experience of Robert Pattinson (or RPatts as he will be hereafter known) is from David Cronenberg’s COSMOPOLIS, where he received a prolonged rectal examination. Let’s hope that watching this film doesn’t feel like that.

GA I rather liked him in COSMOPOLIS, it is the one beacon of hope I have here. Like you I have only the vaguest of knowledge. It’s been impossible to escape the phenomenon over the last few years so some of it has crept in... it will involve romance with vampires and possibly werewolves. Some wag (I have no idea who) described the whole saga as ‘A young woman forced to choose between bestiality and necrophilia.’ Whatever turns you on... I suspect that sentence makes it sound much more like our sort of movie than it actually is...

JLP I haven’t read the books either, in fact all I have to go on is the sheer disdain meted out to this picture by many (actually all) of my horror-loving friends and colleagues.

So, with no expectations whatsoever, it’s time for...

TWILIGHT

We kick off with a pre-credits nod to Bambi...

GA And a glimpse of the sprightliest zoophiliac in North America.

JLP ...while Kristen Stewart’s bland voiceover talks about love and dying. Let’s hope this film isn’t going to be like this all the way through. 

GA 'I never really thought about dying' says Kristen. Clearly neither have we. Devotees of Twilight, a franchise responsible for more tears and frantic, guilty masturbation than David Cassidy could ever have dreamed of, are known for their ferocity. Prepare for a Fan Fatah, Lord Probert.

JLP KStew (as she shall be known) plays Bella. She’s leaving Arizona because her mother has decided to dress up and star in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2.

GA She will be leaving her mini cactus, I presume, brandished as if it were her very heart and soul as she marches, in angst, trowel in hand, to commit it to the dirt.

'I hate you mom! You made me abandon Spikey!'

You can just imagine the director on the morning of this symbolic breakthrough... ‘How better to signify her leaving Arizona behind than having her bury her pet cactus?’ 

It’s a small but worrying sign of what may lie ahead.


JLP She travels to a town in Washington called Forks (Spoons would have been funnier, but I would have cheerfully contributed half the budget of this film if it had been called Speculum)...

GA A TOWN CALLED SPECULUM... That would make an excellent specialist porn western. Just a thought...

JLP ...to live with her Dad who is the local sheriff. As a welcome gift she gets the kind of pickup truck usually used to abduct unsuspecting children.

GA It’s tailgate rusted from the frantic tears of diner waitresses.

JLP She also gets to meet Jacob the Native American, who looks even more like a girl than she does, and his wheelchair-bound Dad.

GA The dads indulge in the seemingly compulsory 'ironic use of teenage vernacular' with one another. This is a strange phenomenon, all adults in teen movies seem contract-bound to try and prove they do understand kids and are not entirely a species apart. Does someone think the target audience would throw something at the screen if Token Grown Up didn't use the word 'boss' at some point?

JLP Off to school goes expressionless KStew, where she get to meet the usual kind of friendly multi-ethnic community you would never find in a million years in any real school.

GA And Eric, who one day will grow up to be a scary rapist cannibal. Probably.

JLP She also gets to meet Edward Cullen (RPatts). The room goes silent as they regard each other, the only sound the sigh of a million pubescent females (and twenty million very post-pubescent ladies in their mid-forties if the gossip is to be believed).

GA Believe it at once, I have seen evidence of this firsthand. This is catnip to some ladies.

JLP Bella has to sit next to Edward in biology, where the TCM vibe continues with a gratuitous shot of an armadillo.

GA What a bizarre scene! KStew sniffing her hair as RPatts rocks on his stool and tries not to lick her.

JLP Edward disappears from school for a couple of days, during which time ‘some kind of animal’ murders someone not in this film. When he gets back we get another biology class filled with smouldering looks but also useful information on cell mitosis, even if they get anaphase and metaphase the wrong way around.

GA Yeah! I noticed that!

(A lie... Obviously.)

JLP So far the entire film has been shot with a blue filter, KStew’s expression and tone of voice have not altered by one micrometre, and RPatts appears to be very, very worried about something. I wonder if we’ll find out what it is?

GA The voice over script? I wonder if it's taken from the novel? It sounds exactly what would have happened if Charlotte Brontë had grown up in California.

JLP Some seriously bad van driving by an Afro-American gentleman (no stereotyping there, then) endangers Bella’s life. But it’s ok because RPatts is there with his humongously strong hand that somehow mysteriously dents the metal! KStew narrowly escapes death, showing about as much concern as if her morning sugar puffs were a bit too soggy.

GA KStew exhibits emotion entirely through small breaths. Sometimes these even go as far as half laughs. I think she did dish out a couple of huffs.

JLP At the hospital Edward’s rubbish doctor dad (or possibly younger brother)

GA The part is played by a fourteen year old pre-rolled in a Weinstein coke-wrap. Like a Thorntons truffle bored with its life. 

JLP ...who can’t even put up a lateral chest XRay without getting it upside down, gives Bella the all-clear, then tells off Edward, who gets to pout even more than he has been already.

GA I think RPats is doing his best with what he's been given. He's by far the best performer in the movie. Being the old horror diehards we are, we've seen this all so many times before so we're jaded beyond words, but he’s perfectly serviceable in the role.

JLP The school goes on a trip to a manure-making plant (this feels more like the school life I remember!) and during the whole trip Edward exhibits all the maturity and experience of a hundred year old man who has spent his entire life in a small box

GA A small box with Morrissey tunes pumped into it.

Bella checks Google for the legends of the indigenous Native American. One of them appears to be The Legend of the Slapping Beaver. I bet you'd rather hear all about that wouldn't you?

JLP Bella goes with two of her girlfriends to watch them try on dresses in a scene so cheaply filmed I almost thought I was watching Channel 4 for a moment. 

On her way back from the bookshop she gets waylaid by four blokes but Edward arrives in his car. The men run off, presumably feeling sorry for Edward’s inability to drive in anything approximating a straight line, or possibly intimidated by his moody stare. “You don’t know what they were thinking!” he tells Bella in the car. “Vile, repulsive things!” Mind you, Edward probably hasn’t seen ISLAND OF DEATH even though he’s had plenty of time to.

GA Imagine what he'd do if he bumped into us. 

'Who is this... Edwige Fenech? And what is that she’s doing?’

JLP It’s food time! The waitress looks a bit like Fiona Lewis’s sexy dragon lady nurse from Michael Laughlin’s STRANGE BEHAVIOUR, yet another film probably everyone involved with this has never heard of. Bella eats mushrooms, Edward watches her. We’re forty minutes in and this really is taking its time about everything. When’s the actual story going to start?

GA Thing is... and yes, I'm playing Devil's Advocate a little... This movie is not for us. It's for teen girls who, by this point, are loving the whole angsty romance of it all. We've seen so many spins on this kind of thing so we're bored, we just want it all out in the open in the hope that they might take the mortal girl meets vampire thing somewhere new. I have doubts they will, mind you... Buffy queered this patch long ago by being able to please more of the people more of the time. But the target audience never saw Buffy; to them this is all new.

Wherever this film leads it's always going to be in the context of an audience that is Not Us and I think we need to just accept that and open another bottle.

JLP Edward takes Bella off to a forest where he shows her how strong he is, how fast he is, and how like a 1970s UK glam rock star he is when he’s exposed to sunlight. Despite the fact that he might be the immortal lead singer of the Sweet, Bella falls for him anyway. Cue several long sequences filled with stilted dialogue and nice scenery for those of us who can’t quite fathom what the appeal of either of these main characters is. Dr Tom from ED WOOD has been killed by a girl with ginger hair, a black guy and a buff gay model (no stereotyping yet again) but Edward says that was another bunch of vampires altogether, honest. He tells her how he got saved from influenza by the vampire’s bite and has been 17 since the early 1900s. He doesn’t ever sleep, which again makes me wonder how he can only play the piano to Grade IV standard and hasn’t worked out that appearing 17 doesn’t mean you have to act 13 in front of girls.

GA I'm only thirty seven but I'm still doing it...

I actually like the stuff where he takes her to his family for dinner. They're trying to cook Italian because of a presumption based on her name. They've never used the kitchen before but they're trying to be normal. She's already eaten because she knows they don't do 'dinner'.

The family have clear issues about the relationship because it's going to reflect on all of them if Edward loses his shit and slaughters the local sherif's daughter.

Then there's the huge collection of graduation caps because that's all these kids ever do.

For a few minutes the movie offers a few gentle bits of fun and observation.

JLP Throughout all of this Bella stares at him, open of mouth and unvarying of expression.  Even when he runs up a 100 foot tall tree those two front teeth remain stubbornly partially exposed, the lips unsmiling, the eyes just this side of vacant. I can honestly say I have never seen a more non-horror treatment of a horror inspired theme in my life, something that sucks all the blood, and all the life, out of the vampire subgenre. We’re seventy minutes in and is really isn’t looking good for TWILIGHT.

GA It's not a horror film though. It doesn’t even remotely want to be. It's a teen romance with vampire trimmings. He's the misunderstood bad boy, his fanged proclivities are just window dressing. I think you're watching this with the hope that you're going to get something you’re not. You may as well watch a Haneke movie for the chuckles as watch this for horror.

JLP The police are on the trail of the killer. Well, they’ve found one foot print. Luckily there aren’t any one-legged vampires around so presumably everyone can rest easy. “He looks at you like you’re something to eat,” says Bella’s boring bloke friend who probably wishes he was watching Norman J Warren’s PREY.

GA Him and us both, naturally.

JLP Bella rings her mum but Edward appears in her bedroom and admits he’s been creeping in there for the past couple of months. “I like watching you sleep,” he says, just like the psychotic pervert of Jaume Balaguero’s SLEEP TIGHT, but presumably it’s all right here because it’s RPatts.

GA But it is for them because it's misguidedly romantic and sexy when you're a young teen. I mean, we all know that this slow, repressed relationship is probably terribly out of date. We hail from a country whose young ladies are notorious for being chemically composed of one third Bacardi by the time they’re thirteen. Still, here we have a terribly safe, terribly traditional flirtation with passion for those that have yet to really experience it. 

JLP Bella has no trousers on and Edward gets carried away for all of 0.00000001 seconds.

GA The perfect boy, you see? Moody and sexy but, for all the pretense, safe. He does want her but he must resist... Lust but not challenge. He's not just after her for her body. It's perfect fantasy stuff.

I hasten to add I'm generalizing awfully here and don’t mean to tar all teenage girl’s psychology with the same brush. But there's no doubt that a big chunk of the book and film's success is because it taps into that dualistic teen dream. Sex but no sex. Bad but not really. Edgy but protective. Something that resonated with a LOT of the market.

JLP Then he sits there with her for the rest of the night in a way that is neither romantic nor sexy but oddly creepy.

GA I think you're coloured about it because of the way the ladies scream when you do it. Maybe it’s the torch and goggles that put them off in your case.

JLP Bella tells her dad about Edward while Dad loads his great big shotgun. Edward drives Bella to a muddy field next to a waterfall, but instead of rubbing her barely clad body in the mud and then forcing her to dance herself clean beneath the gushing torrents, he and his vampire family play baseball with her. I mean with a ball - not her head or anything. What on earth is going on here?

GA The baseball idea is a strange one. I would personally have thought of some other way of getting the whole family together and letting them show off. Something that still hits that balance between 'Look at me I've got super powers' and 'Aren't we sweet? We're being a family!' 

But then... I would never have written this in the first place so why am I even speculating?

JLP The baddie vampires turn up looking ridiculous, lightning flashes, a stray baseball is returned, there’s a tiny face-off over Bella, but nothing interesting happens at all. 

Edward tells Bella they have to leave Forks (perhaps to go to Speculum?) or the baddies will eat her. A bit of tedious father-daughter interaction later and Bella’s in her pervy pickup truck with Edward. The gay model and the ginger girl are apparently the real villains, so Edward packs her off to safety back in Arizona, a journey which should take at least 24 hours but seems to take only a couple of minutes.

GA The whole structure of the film makes the storytelling aim crystal clear doesn't it? Three quarters of the film is dedicated to burgeoning teen romance, the final quarter offers a bit of hasty action before dedicating just as much time to the prom because THAT'S WHAT THIS AUDIENCE WANTS.

JLP The baddies agree to meet Bella in her old ballet studio but of course no one involved with this will have heard of Dario Argento, or even Darren Aronofsky, so it’s the cue for yet more bland visuals with a blue filter, but this time with mirrors. Quite why these vampires want to chase boring old Bella across half the country when there must be far more interesting (and tasty) fare along the way is beyond me. 

GA That is a major problem, I wonder if it makes more sense in the book? Maybe living forever makes you terribly petty... What's running thousands of miles for the sake of a personal slight offered over a baseball match?

JLP It’s Edward to the rescue in a pouty starey male model smackdown. With some jumping about. 

Bella gets bitten by the bad guy & at last we get to see a bit of blood. Edward bites her again and makes her go cross-eyed, which in KStew terms is a performance-stretching piece of Oscar-worthy proportions. 

GA She is a bit monotone isn't she? That said, I believe her as a character, I just don't like her all that much. Perhaps it's a terrible, judgmental view on my part but she seems about right as a sulky teenage girl. All internal. All hormonal. All frowns. 

(Again... can we accept I’m generalizing? Teenage girls are not all like this, just as neither of us probably fitted the stereotype when we were at school. Most of the boys were concentrating on growing hair and staring at sports. You were in your velvet cloak and monocle, I was in my Doctor Who scarf and NHS glasses, both of us waiting for the inevitable beating and upside-down hair wash in the school lavs.)

JLP We’re in a hospital and I’m starting to fall asleep. The two leads demonstrate just how little direction, emotion or feeling their performances have been graced with and then we’re off to the prom with KStew sporting her lovely orthopaedic boot. 

Jacob pops up wearing a tie but still looking like a girl. “My dad paid me to talk to you,” he says, emphasising the rent boy aspect not one jot. He wants her to break up with RPatts but of course that’s not going to happen. They dance and it turns out Bella is wearing a tennis shoe. The orthopaedic boot would raise one foot so it’s an ideal opportunity to wear something fashionable and yet she just can’t be bothered. What is it with today’s pseudo youth who are actually in their twenties? And WHY is RPatts still in school? Is he so thick he’s had to repeat his exams 95 times? And he still hasn’t passed?

GA Maybe the later books and films allow RPatts to be more of an old man in a young man’s body? Oh dear... that sounds terribly wrong, but you know what I mean.

Thing is, if you do let the character do that he’ll always seem a bit... well.. predatory. It’s hard to sell a ‘wholesome’ relationship between a pensioner in disguise and a schoolgirl.

JLP And that’s the end of the film. I have to say I thought TWILIGHT was terrible, with no redeeming features for the discerning movie connoisseur. The prospect of watching three more of these fills me with more horror than if I had to watch ISLAND OF DEATH three more times. Awful, awful, awful. I am never, ever going to suggest watching a pile of mainstream poo for Killer Bs ever again!

GA Nor should you, it was a fun idea but we have strayed far too far from our usual waters.

I honestly think the film was fine judged on its own terms. But those terms are not ours. I have no interest in watching romantic comedies starring Jennifer Aniston but there are those who do and they enjoy them. Same here, millions responded to this diluted orange squash with gusto. It resonated with them and they adored it.

But it's so far beyond our cup of amaretto that we were never going to get that from it. Going in I hoped it was either going to be surprisingly good or so awful it was funny. Of course, it was neither. It was a movie presented entirely in a foreign language to me. I didn't enjoy it but I can't criticise it quite as you do because there are those who speak that language only too well and they loved what Meyer and the filmmakers had to offer.

It’s easy enough to say that they shouldn’t have done. That there are better vampire stories out there, better books, better films... But that’s neither here nor there really. Questions of subjective quality aside, the TWILIGHT franchise is terribly successful, not just in financial terms (that’s a side effect) but in appreciation. For reasons neither of us can wholly relate to, this story really flew with a certain type of audience. They obviously work for those people. All we can do is shrug and return to the stories that please us.

I suspect they will involve Italians and J & B whisky.

THE KILLER Bs WILL RETURN NEXT WEEK WITH WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hawk the Slayer (1979)

 NOTE: ALL THE POSTS HERE WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS, IF YOU BELIEVE THESE FILMS CAN BE RUINED FOR YOU BY KNOWING MAJOR PLOT DETAILS THEN, WELL, GO AWAY.

It is night. The dark, impenetrable obsidian night of a land far from here in both space and time. A place where sorcery once thrived and is now dying, a land once filled with heroic deeds and actions which now, many hundreds of years later, are merely the stuff of myth and fairytale.

There is a rumble in the heavens. A storm is brewing. A flash of lightning illuminates a crumbling stone tower, the only other source of illumination for miles around the flickering candle in its topmost room.

Inside a figure garbed in black is poring over ancient texts, and examining some of the ancient artefacts he has taken from the weathered oak chest in the corner. He pauses as he hears a noise, a step upon a stair. He brings the candle close as the heavy door to this repository of ancient knowledge swings open and there, standing in the doorway, is a man wearing a cowboy hat and a 'Franco Nero Fan Club' badge.

ADAMS: What on earth are you doing up here, Probert? And what are all these cans of Silly String, coloured torch bulbs and bits of crap on that table next to you?

PROBERT closes the book, puts away the treasured things, and hands ADAMS the magical silver disc that possesses the sacred knowledge that is the only surviving example (the only example, actually) of late 1970s British sword and sorcery cinema.

PROBERT: It's this week's Killer B, young Adams. Now you go and warm up the projector while I tell everyone at home about it.

ADAMS disappears into the darkness while PROBERT takes out the lovely fountain pen he got for his birthday, dips it into a pot of fresh fairy's blood (musing to think what a lovely girl the fairy was until she displeased him) and begins to write...

This week's Killer B is a film close to my heart, as it is to many others of my generation. And that's quite a curious thing because I can't honestly say that it's actually a very good film at all. Leslie Halliwell called it 'the poorest of the sword and sorcery mini-boom' and in comparison with big budget epics of the day like CONAN THE BARBARIAN and even lower budget fare like Brandon Chase's THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER it's really not very good. And yet, more than thirty years after it was first shown in the seedy fleapits we as boys called home, there are many, many of us who still love HAWK THE SLAYER. It's a film that is by turns quite terrible and quite wonderful, and sometimes it manages to be both at the same time.

GA Being ever so slightly younger than yourself (by a scant couple of centuries) I missed the movie at the cinema but owned it on video (GEEK WARNING: where perhaps it was always destined to thrive, having been bizarrely shot in 4:3). I watched that Video Gems (probably) cassette many times and while it wasn’t quite KRULL it did the job.

JLP I understand. Annette Crosbie isn’t really Lysette Anthony. But hey! Bernard Bresslaw’s in both!

GA Many years later, the original long lost, I bought a VHS copy purely because I felt nostalgic and it had a wonderful 3D embossed, foil cover. As I didn’t have a VCR anymore I wasn’t even able to watch it again... until now!

JLP Why is this film, produced during possibly the worst period in British film production history loved by so many?

Let's find out...

We kick off with a rather awkwardly phrased...

GA And narrated...

JLP ...opening caption, followed by the strains of Harry Robertson's zither-tinged Jeff Wayne-wannabe music as Voltan (Jack Palance in his black helmet) rides very slowly through a forest. He enters a castle, bashes some poor bloke, and stabs Ferdy Mayne, an actor with a fine rich deep voice that here is dubbed very poorly indeed.

GA He is after a mystical secret, a secret that should be his by right as “eldest son”. Pull the other one Palance, you are (checks online) THREE YEARS younger than Ferdy Mayne and frankly, that windblown, elephant-hide, Hallowe’en mask face of yours looks a fair bit older. It looks like a haunted house built to scare lizards. It is a dry riverbed of sorrow through which a lonely, cigar-tainted, wind blows. You are wonderful, in that whispery, grotesque way of yours but you’re fooling nobody.

JLP The set's not very inspiring either - it looks a bit like the gold-painted walls from the set of a local pantomime.

GA I suspect Ferdy Mayne was about to have a bath. It looks like a set built for a Cleopatra sketch written by Cannon and Ball.

JLP Hawk (John Terry) gets there too late to save him but Ferdy gives him the mind sword (or wobbling on strings sword) and Hawk swears to avenge his father's death.

GA By thrusting said sword, with vigour, into the flagstone floor. NOT how you look after swords, Hawk old thing.

The names are interesting aren’t they? Picture the day when the three year-old Ferdy Mayne looks to his infant wife and the craggy, dry root of a baby she’s holding and decides: “Voltan, that’s a nice name.”

“Oh yes,” she says, “like a particularly potent drain cleaner.”

“Or Japanese cartoon about robots!” he laughs, pinching her cheek with his chubby little fingers.

Then, let’s say fifty or so years later, the next child is born.

“Let’s call this one something nicer,” the mother suggests, “the first one turned out a right little shit.”

“Agreed,” says Ferdy, looking longingly at his freshly prepared steam bath, “how about Thrush? Or perhaps Sparrow?”

“He’ll be bullied at school,” the mother insists, “let’s go for a cooler, more masculine bird...”

“Puffin!” shrieks Ferdy, half undressed and en route to Imperial Leather goodness.

“Shush darling,” says his wife, “we’ll call him Hawk.”

JLP One fairly poor flash of animation later and it's the credits. I have this music on CD you know.

GA Masochist.

JLP: Most people already know that composer / producer / co-writer Harry Robertson was aka Harry Robinson of Hammer film music fame. Director and co-writer Terry Marcel had just the year before produced the Norman J Warren-directed lesbian alien horrorfest PREY, which isn't like this film at all. Bernard J Kingham would also act as executive producer on THE MONSTER CLUB, another could-do-better British film. And look at that cast!

GA Well, we’ve seen how they can afford them. They only hired Ferdy for an hour and didn’t even bother to unpack a microphone.

JLP We'll be talking about all of them a bit more in due course, but for now let's enjoy the cheapest battle scene ever shot for the cinema, which consists of one man running away and some sounds effects.

GA That is brilliant! Just W. Morgan Shepard going for a limp while someone plays LIBRARY EFFECTS L.P. VOL 5. - WAR THROUGH THE AGES

JLP The chap has got himself to a nunnery run by Annette Crosbie before she had to put up with Victor Meldrew. It's not an Italian exploitation nunnery though, Adams, so there are no skimpily clad young ladies engaging in flagellation here, oh no.

GA BORING.

JLP No there’s none of that either, Adams. This is that rarity amongst Killer Bs - a family film.

GA Here’s this week’s Probert Surgical Suggestion: You must quote Crosbie’s line, “With the help of God and a sharp knife we may yet save the rest of the (insert body part here... no, not literally you fool, wipe that screen down before it melts).”

JLP There's some (very inexpensive) description of the battle we just haven't seen before we get to see Jack again. It would be unfair of me to suggest that Jack was a bit the worse for drink throughout this film, but the less charitable might wish to bear it in mind as they watch.

GA He is OUT OF HIS MIND on a potent silt of cocaine and gin.

JLP Voltan and his gang crash the nunnery after Jack has his face buzzed by some kind of EVIL THING.

GA Who is very polite and refers to Voltan The-Dark-One by his unwieldy, double-barreled surname. Do you think he added it when at school because people kept laughing at his christian name?

JLP They kidnap Annette, intending to hold her to ransom. And if the gold isn't here when he comes back, Jack threatens to cut in half every loaf of bread in the land. Or perhaps just the nunnery - he isn't very clear about that.

GA Look! Shane Briant is Voltan’s son! I think I’m one of the few people in the world to rather like Shane Briant, he did some good work in the later Hammer movies.

JLP Our wounded war veteran goes for help at the local glass painting / monastery where Harry Andrews lives. Now it might just be me but what are those weird faces doing on the wall of an abbey.

GA Screaming mainly. At their agents perhaps.

JLP Never mind - Harry has the answer to the problem.

He is called.....Hawk!

Hawk rides very slowly through a forest that is obviously in the depths of winter to more pseudo Jeff Wayne music.

GA The python! There to make things look exotic, dumped on a branch to dangle -- in fear for its life -- over a river in Cumbria. To all concerned it is just window dressing, but to the python this was the biggest adventure of its life.

Python’s Wife: Where have you been, Sid?

Python: You’ll never believe me... First thing this morning I was snatched out of the tank, dumped in the back of a van and driven off to a freezing bit of woodland. I thought... ‘This is it, Sid, you’re a goner... the shoe factory’s finally found you.”

There were all these people standing around, British character actors mainly, checking their watches and bits of paper with numbers written on them. There was a funny looking thing wearing a waste paper bin on its head, some sort of giant lizard I thought, judging by the skin on it. It smelt of chemicals and fury but I tried to make friends with it anyway.

‘Listen, my cold-blooded brother,’ I said, ‘if we work together we might just get out of here.’

It screamed something indistinct, throwing white powder at its face and drinking water that made it roar.

I didn’t try and make friends with it again.

Then after another hour or so. Some bloke grabbed me and took me towards this river. I was barely able to move by then as you might imagine, I was so bloody cold!

This evil no-scale waded across the river and dumped me on some thin branches. Tiny they were, I could barely get a grip. Then he ran off!

I was hanging there, the freezing cold water rushing beneath me. If I fell in I knew my days would be done, my love, I’d have frozen to death, washed away to whichever icy hell we go to when we die. The branches were bending, they couldn’t take my weight! Lower and lower I fell, the water getting closer, the cold seeping into every part of me, making it so hard to think...

Some bloke rode past on a horse and I shouted out to him, desperate for help. He was too busy looking noble for the likes of me. Off he rode, not giving me so much as a glance.

‘This is it,’ I said, ‘this is death.’ I fell...

And that nutter that stole me in the first place grabbed me and shoved me back in the van. Apparently it was only for a bloody film! That HAWK THE SLAYER.

Python’s Wife: Ooh! Did you meet Roy Kinnear?

Python: Did I fuck.

JLP Now that Mr Adams has managed to get all that python stuff out of his system (and without a single joke about trousers), evil Warren Clarke and his chum are torturing witch Patricia Quinn but not for long!

GA Because Hawk is going to kill him with his eyes!

Oh God! Now they’ve kidnapped a lizard and dumped him on a tree trunk!

Lizard’s wife: Where’ve you been Lionel?

Lizard: Well... you won’t believe this but... I met Roy Kinnear!

JLP Meanwhile our war veteran gets set upon by some villains, including Barry Stokes, last seen planning to eat some children in PREY and soon to be bumped off by Suzanne Danielle in Hammer House of Horror's “Carpathian Eagle” episode.

GA Ah... Suzanne Danielle... Why is she not in this? Everyone else is.

JLP I think she was busy being in SIR HENRY AT RAWLINSON END, Viv Stanshall’s very odd sepia-tinted movie from around the same time. Anyway, it's Hawk to the rescue again while meanwhile evil Voltan menaces Roy Kinnear. Voltan's son Drogo is played by Shane (FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL et al) Briant and helps his dad beat up a few extras.

GA So it is! I hadn’t noticed...

JLP Oh yes you had! But let’s keep the pantomime theatrics on the screen - for now, anyway. It's flashback time! Hawk and Voltan are brothers and Hawk was engaged to Catriona MacColl before Lucio Fulci stole her away, dumped her in a coffin, covered her with maggots and had her chased around the basement of the HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY by Dr Freudstein. They all look happy enough in this bit of the flashback. Let's hope nothing awful happens!

Meanwhile HAWK is on the search for some friends to help him defeat the ultimate evil that is stalking the land (according to that opening caption).

GA Heading through the Forest of Weir no less. ‘But beware my friend,’ he tells his new friend, Demi Handshake, ‘the shortest route is often the most dangerous.’

Really? I’m not utterly sure that’s true.

Still, it is your next challenge: the next time someone asks you for directions. Tell them, then grasp their arm, look at them intently and say that line.

JLP He starts off with a giant, who is actually Bernard Bresslaw, made to look all the more huge by playing opposite tiny Graham Stark.

GA Another five minute filming slot filled!

Lovely Bernie isn’t all that “giant” is he? They could at least have sprung for some platform boots. 

JLP Next up is Crow the elf (Ray Charleson) who has a bit of a run-in with Christopher Benjamin and his chum.

GA That ‘chum’ is Derrick O’Connor, one of those actors who has had a career so full of work that most actors would kill him on sight out of jealousy yet... nobody really remembers his name. The sign of a creditable character actor. He was particularly memorable beating up Mel Gibson in LETHAL WEAPON II, he played a psychotic little South African, deputy to the glorious Joss Ackland.

So there.

JLP I do remember that now you mention it. Is he the chap who says ‘I was just making sure I wasn’t standing on plastic’ after another dastardly Joss plan has been defeated by hunky Mel and Patsy Kensit with no clothes on?

GA That's the one!

JLP Next and best is Baldin the Dwarf (Peter O'Farrell) not because of the character himself, but because he's about to be sacrificed by the mad and mighty Patrick Magee as some kind of druid wearing what look like silver Doc Martens.

GA ‘Bestial, ugly one, it is a great honour for you to die this way.’ This film really does take the Amicus principle and run with it doesn’t it? If you have a small budget you can either buy cheap or script for lots of small parts. You can then get decent names which bolster your poster and publicity because none of them have to be paid for more than a day’s work. It’s a solid principle and it pays off in spades. The greatest pleasure in this film is counting off the guest turns one by one, like picking all the nice bits out of a plate of slightly stale Bombay mix.

JLP So now there are five - giant, elf, dwarf, one-handed man and Hawk, who are going to take Voltan on.

There's a nice little bit here about how the land we're in is obviously in its last days - echoes of Jack Vance's Dying Earth perhaps? The gloomy wintry British locations add to this and definitely help to make Hawk a special film.

GA And the stolen reptiles, don’t forget them...

JLP How could I after you keep going on about them?

It's flashback time again! Catriona burns jealous Jack in the face and he shoots her with a crossbow. For some reason I feel I have to apologise for the rubber crossbow bolt that wobbles noticeably when she falls over.

GA I don’t blame you. Neither, I’m sure, does she.

JLP Back at the nunnery the goodies (no not them)...

GA You’d hardly be surprised though with this cast list... Behold, Dwarf Oddie and his Blue Tits of Doom! The apothecary Graeme and his diabolic potions!  And... er... Tim the Suitmaker and his needles of... balls, I’ve run out of steam. Carry on while I top up my brandy.

JLP ...are planning how to get Annette back. - she's currently in a big bird cage in Voltan's tent. They get some gold from a hunchbacked slave trader who sells very cold nearly naked men to extras from The Young Ones.

GA It’s a living.

JLP Drogo comes to the nunnery to get the gold. Hawk says no and so they have a fight.

GA Drogo’s surname isn’t as impressive as his father’s. When he introduces himself as Drogo Son-of-Voltan he can’t have failed to notice nobody seems impressed. He should have gone for the dark motif like his dad. Not too much -- Voltan strikes me as the sort of insecure chap who would kill his son if the lad chose a better name than his own -- but a touch of it would do no harm. Drogo The-Rather-Murky-One or Drogo The-Can’t-See-A-Thing-In-Here.

He plans to kill Hawk and keep the money for himself, saying “And then Voltan, we shall see who is lord of the dance.”

I can’t help but feel there is more going on here than we know... long evenings at Castle Voltan as Palance  foxtrots his son into tearful submission. “Lift... your... feet... lad...” he whispers, “your arm... extensions... are as limp... as a spent mule...”

These two are WEIRD.

JLP Drogo is fatally wounded and Jack gets the opportunity to emote a bit.

GA Well, he shouts “Drogo!” in a strangely casual way at Shane Briant’s face then kills a couple of extras and stumbles off in search for another barrel of gin.

JLP There's another battle, this time outside, the paucity of its participants concealed by lots of smoke in another bit of low-budget genius.

GA Aside from the cumbersome jump cuts used to make Ray the Elven seem faster on the draw than he really is, the battle is shot rather well! As you say, a superb exercise in making the little you have seem much more than you could hope for.

JLP USELESS Cheryl Campbell the nun drugs our heroes and is rewarded by Jack Palance's sword inside her.

Patricia Quinn the witch arrives and kills someone with Silly String (no - don't ask me).

Then it's time for the final battle!

GA In which Patricia Quinn unleashes her full power... the power of disco! The soundtrack bleeps like Pac-Men mating as green lights flash and false snow flurries.

JLP Nuns die, the dwarf is killed, as is the elf, some more nuns get strung up but in the end Voltan gets his bottom kicked like that naughty man he is.

GA In the most enthusiastically slow-mo sword fight ever! They had no other choice, by this point in the filming Palance didn’t even know what country he was in.

JLP But Hawk and Bernard live to fight again! And they would have if HAWK THE SLAYER hadn't been rather less successful than all involved were anticipating.

GA Did you know there was a rumour of a sequel last year? HAWK THE HUNTER. Don’t get excited, only in that “we’ve set up a blog and are trying to raise money” kind of way. Apparently Tom Hardy was going to play Hawk. I wonder if he knows that?

JLP So there we are - a zero budget fantasy film utilising many of the out-of-work actors who had just come off many a Hammer / Tigon / Carry On film, and some who were about to enter into the wild world of Italian exploitation. But as I said above, it's the (thoroughly accidental I'm sure) feel of the film depicting a dying land that will soon be no more that is one of the major reasons Hawk works for me.

GA For me it really is down to the joy of the bit parts, who doesn’t enjoy Patrick Magee whining his way through cod-religious clap trap or Christopher Benjamin rolling out his “Forsooth sirrah!” gentleman traveler performance?

I’m not sure the whole is ever the sum of these parts but there’s a jolly ninety minutes to be had nonetheless. It’s like a variety performance filled with old character actors, a slightly incoherent panto kept aloft by enthusiasm and experience.

JLP Hooray for panto! Hooray for incoherence! Hooray for old character actors! It’s Killer Bs in a nutshell! (Well us, anyway).


THE KILLER Bs WILL RETURN NEXT WEEK WITH THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE!