There is another America, o children, just a few dimensional hops away from ours, where no one campaigns for the highest office in the land (which in this America, O children, is God-Emperor). Instead, they are nominated by the electoral college, and they spend their time actively campaigning for the other God-Emperor candidates and denouncing their own views, accomplishments, and visions. During the last electoral cycle, O children, a woman named Brenda was nominated to become the new God-Emperor; she had successfully been the governor of a the Gulf-Coast megalopolis, and was well beloved by her constituents.
"Do not vote for me," Brenda said into a microphone during the first debate. "I would be an awful God-Emperor, because my brain is riddled with worms. I am addicted to painkillers, and I am a sexual deviant. My paltry, weak, old, diseased body would be rejected by the souls of the Founding Fathers. Vote For Andrew-- he is as strong as a horse, all of his hair is real, and he is in no way beset by madness, as he claims."
Despite her protestations, Brenda was elected to the God-Emperorship in a landslide. She immediately attempted to flee to Cuba (which in this dimension, O children, is a socialist republic without a figurehead), but was stopped at the border and forced to return to the capital, where she was kept secure under guard. While sequestered, she underwent the rituals necessary for the coronation and inauguration: memorization of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights; full-head laser hair removal; ritual botox, facial tattooing, and branding; and one-on-one interviews with all media outlets, current cabinet members, agency heads, and international world leaders.
At the God-Emperor inauguration, which took place at the end of December, Brenda was fitted with the new God-Emperor crown, a full-head mask made entirely of platinum, gold, and titanium, set with precious stones, and decorated and filigreed to the utmost degree. (It is not removable, O children, as the locking mechanism is placed behind the right ear, inaccessible once closed, though there are openings at each orifice large enough for physicians and dentists to aid with any ailment or infection.)
Brenda had been kept awake for thirty-six hours prior, and had been given psychotropics and amphetamines by the handful in preparation for the rituals. Even through all this, she performed the torch-passing admirably. In accordance with the Constitution, she leaned over and listened to the whispers of the outgoing God-Emperor; then brought the sledgehammer down, crushing the old crown and accomplishing the Founding-Father Soul-Transfer with a single blow. She had been well-trained by the priest-senators, and was carried through by rote muscle memory. Once this was complete, she was no longer Brenda. She was only the God-Emperor.
She held the bloody sledgehammer high to massive applause.
God-Emperor is an honorable role, and a six-year term as God-Emperor is full of earthly pleasures and all-encompassing power. God-Emperors reside at the top of the Capitol Ziggurat at the center of the national capital megalopolis, surrounded by hedonistic pleasures: only the finest cuisine, prepared by the finest chefs in the world; the most beautiful and/or handsome courtesans; servants by the score to fulfill every whim and desire; and the leadership of the most powerful country on the planet.
If she wanted to meet with the governor of one of the nation's megalopoli, she would clap and they would appear within the hour. She could speak with any head of any country on earth via videoconferencing within ten minutes. If she disagreed vehemently enough with a senator or representative, she could have him publicly flogged or beheaded; she chose to do this infrequently, and preferred tempered debate, although there were times when a display of power was necessary.
In this way, the God-Emperor was able to affect positive change, pass new legislation, and accomplish several longstanding political goals.
She took lessons to become a helicopter pilot. She personally murdered and replaced the lead singer of her favorite band, and went on a month-long world tour. She became very good at racquetball, despite the limitations in peripheral vision caused by the crown. She spent a week hiking Yosemite Valley. She worked with the World Wildlife Foundation and the national Institute of Science to clone the extinct Megatherium from soft-tissue discovered in Bolivia; she created a refuge for them in South Texas, in her home district, and ate the first one.
The God-Emperor never wanted for anything.
On the eve of the torch-passing, O children, the God-Emperor sat atop the Capitol Ziggurat and gazed across the megalopolis, sipping her hot mint tea (as tradition dictates). She pulled her Megatherium-fur coat tighter against the chill, and looked back over her life. Not bad for a dumb street kid from Houston, she thought.
The next day, bound to the stone slab altar, she watched as the newly-elected God-Emperor took wobbly steps up the brick steps and slowly approached. As he bent down, she noticed the small differences in his crown-- the filigree beneath the eyes was a different pattern, the cheekbones were more pronounced; a small chain dangled across the forehead, where hers was encrusted with emeralds.
With his face inches from hers, she quietly whispered the ceremonial words that had been passed along from her predecessor, and his predecessor, all the way back to America's first God-Emperor.
She closed her eyes as he lifted the sledgehammer.
Image by the inimitable Bill Latham.
So, I hit 31 horror movies watched this October. I'm still writing up a review of The Editor, which will post in the next day or two, but other than that-- finito. Here's the complete list, with links to the individual reviews where applicable. I reviewed everything unless A) I'd already seen it (Dark Crystal, Pontypool, The Thing) or B) I didn't think it was good or remarkable enough to warrant one (Jeepers Creepers 2, Fright, Black Sunday) or I just didn't have the time and don't have the energy, despite the movies warranting a review (Bone Tomahawk, Green Inferno).
01. Persona (1966)
02. We Are Still Here (2015)
03. Frizzi 2 Fulci
04. Pieces (1982)
05. Nosferatu: The Vampyre (1979)
06. Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)
07. Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)
08. Cat O'Nine Tails (1971)
09. Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)
10. The Dark Crystal (1982)
11. Blood and Black Lace (1964)
12. Whip and the Body (1963)
13. The Final Girls (2015)
14. When Animals Dream (2015)
15. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2015)
16. The Editor (2015)
17. Death Game (1973)
18. Knock Knock (2015)
19. Cooties (2015)
20. Deathgasm (2015)
21. Inferno (1980)
22. Pontypool (2010)
23. Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003)
24. The Thing (1982)
25. Fright (1971)
26. Tenebre (1982)
27. Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971)
28. Profondo Rosso (1975)
29. Black Sunday (1960)
30. Bone Tomahawk (2015)
31. Green Inferno (2015)
I think I managed to hit all the goals I set out in my initial goal-outlay. I only watched three movies I'd seen before; I ran the gamut from weird to mainstream; I blogged reviews more times than I hoped I would.
That said, I am hella glad to be done with this. Until next year-- hearts.
As I wrap up my #31DaysOfHorror, I'm getting to some interesting things indeed. I'm a big fan of Dario Argento, but it's really just been for Phenomena and Suspiria, two incredibly beautiful Italian horror movies. I discovered Suspiria in high school and it changed my life, the way a handful of horror movies have. However, up until this month, those were the only Argento movies I'd seen. That felt shameful (rightfully so), and so this month I've really been taking the opportunity to step up my Argento game. Earlier this month, I caught up on my old Dario Argento gialli, with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Cat o' Nine Tails, and Four Flies on Grey Velvet.
Today, I'll talk about three more of his movies that I watched this month: Profondo Rosso, Inferno, and Tenebre. I've now seen everything he directed up through 1985, but I'm leaving a few unwatched at this point; word on the street is that there are a few more good ones, and then a great big pile of schlock. Anyway, the three I watched were all pretty good. Let's go from newest to oldest (which also happens to be least to best).
Although I referred to this movie one sentence ago as the "least" of the three, that doesn't mean this wasn't a good movie. It's a gripping story, full of murders, twists, and turns; the blood flows tempera-red and plentiful. An American horror author, Peter Neal, comes to Rome, which has been racked with a few murders. The murderer's most recent victim was found with pages from the author's most recent novel stuffed into her mouth. The murderer himself calls Neal and threatens him.
Argento had this to say about the basis for the movie:
[S]omebody called me... to talk about Suspiria... [and] called again the next day to ask if he could meet me. He confessed that Suspiria had made a very strong impression on him, like a jolt of electricity, and he wanted to ask me if making the film had given me the same sensations. That put me on my guard. Day after day he called me to confide more and more horrible things and, at the end of the fifteenth call, he told me that he wanted to kill me. He was insane... He swore he would have my skin.
This movie is incredibly deliberate in its construction and progression. Every character serves multiple purposes; each societal role is fulfilled by more than one character, and each character fulfills at least two societal roles.
Ideally, I'd have time to watch this again and do a more thorough deconstruction (and maybe at some point I will), but it's already the 30th, and I have two more movies to watch, and two more movies to discuss in this blog post.
Here's an image of a dude getting an axe to the skull.
I didn't include any animated gifs for Tenebre because I wanted to maintain at least some semblance of brevity while still discussing three films, but there are a number of choices, had I gone that route; there are a number of incredibly shocking and beautiful death scenes, and a single two-and-a-half-minute uncut crane shot that circles and swoops around the outside of a house. A two-and-a-half-minute animated gif would break the internets, so I'll just put a YouTube link here.
Four out of five stars.
Of the three, this is the movie that I was the most looking forward to watching. The direct follow-up to Suspiria, this is the second movie in Argento's proposed "Three Mothers" trilogy (the last movie, The Third Mother, came out more than a quarter-century later, in '07, and I have not seen it). Additionally, it's one of only two of Argento's pre-1990 ventures into supernatural horror (the other being Suspiria), although I'd make an argument for Phenomena as well.
The world of the three mothers has its own, Argento-built mythology, which is itself based on a tiny scrap of feverish, opium-addled writing by Thomas De Quincey. There are three mothers-- Maters Lachrymarum (tears), Suspiriorum (sighs), and Tenebrarum (darkness). Each of them has a horrible, evil house in which they dwell, and from whence they spread suffering and sadness. In Suspiria, the antagonist was Mater Suspiriorum; in Inferno, it's Mater Tenebrarum, who occupies a massive, odd apartment building in New York City.
Rose, a poetess, finds a book about the three mothers, and pieces together that she is living in one of the mothers' houses; that screenshot at the top of this blog entry is from her initial discovery. She writers a letter to her cousin Mark in Rome, asking him for help. He tries to read it in his music class, but is distracted by this daffy broad staring at him:
Mark leaves the letter behind and bails. The letter is found by a friend of his, Sara; she reads the letter, is alarmed, and tries to express this to Mark. Eventually, he makes his way to New York, to aid Rose.
By the time he makes it there, a whole lot of people are already dead, caught in various nightmarish scenarios.
Once in the building, he befriends another resident, and the owner of the pawn shop next door, but his path is already beset and plagued by Mater Tenebrarum. The rest of the movie plays out beautifully. While it lacks the supersaturated color of Suspiria, the set pieces retain their creepy beauty, and the fairy-tale, dreamlike logic of the film follows its predecessor masterfully. All of this was helped by the fact that Argento had Mario Bava on hand to handle a fair amount of the special effects and matte work. Two masters at their craft, creating a gorgeous nightmare.
Four and a half out of five stars.
Profondo Rosso (1975)
This is the one of the three that I was most curious about. It had always been held up as one of his masterpieces; my friend Jay maintains that it's his favorite, even over Suspiria, which made me question his taste altogether. Alternately, I had hoped that he'd be right. Although I've thoroughly enjoyed all of the other Argento movies I've seen, nothing comes close to Suspiria. Well, after watching it, I can understand Jay's point completely. The movie is beautiful, it's really well acted, the sets are outstanding, and the plotting is tight.
Nothing can touch Suspiria, but this comes the closest of all the Argento movies I've seen.
The movie's about an Marcus, an English piano teacher in Turin. While walking home, he can see her from the street, banging on the window and screaming for help. As he watches, unable to provide assistance, her attacker forces her halfway through the window, where she lands neck-first on the jagged broken pane. Marcus rushes up to provide assistance, but it's... too late.
Haunted by the murder, and certain that he holds the key to the identity of the murder in his memories of rushing up to the apartment, Marcus begins to investigate alongside the police. A number of people meet their ends in various beautifully horrifying ways: a woman is scalded to death in a hot bath. A man has his face-- his teeth, really-- bashed into various pieces of furniture until he's senseless, at which point he's given the coup de grace.
These death scenes are pretty rough, man.
The movie uses a number of interstitial flashbacks and dreamlike sequences to masterful effect-- there was an inciting incident years in the past, involving a small child who may or may not have grown up to become the murderer, and a number of low-and-slow pans over childrens' toys and other objects.
Eventually, through convoluted research methods, Marcus tracks the killer to an old abandoned villa, and tracks a killer-- and is tracked in turn-- through a darkened and beautiful shambles.
Eventually, things boil to a head.
This movie is fucking great.
Five out of five stars.
I watched The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, Sergio Martino's first film. It's a murdery mystery giallo about a lady with a weird blood fetish. She's since married respectably, but then her old bloody lover shows up and she gets scared, so she decides to embark on a new affair with a square-jawed fellow, because of course she does. Also, there's a razor murderer on the loose, and people around her start dying.
It's a fairly odd entry in the giallo annals. The plot is surprisingly convoluted, with a lot of characters to keep track of, a number of pretty great death scenes, a huge locale change halfway through, and then a very twisty-turny (but great) ending. This movie stars Edwige Fenech as Julia Wardh. Fenech is a mainstay of gialli from this period, and it's easy to see why-- she is beautiful. The problem is that she can't really act very convincingly. She's good at expressing turmoil and anguish, and that's about it.
The standout in this film for me was Ivan Rassimov, who plays her old flame, Jean.
Here's an interesting side note. For all of the Italian horror movies I've watched this month, I've preferred to watch them in the original Italian, with English subtitles. For this one, technical problems precluded the inclusion of the subtitles, and I watched it with the English dubbing in place-- and then when I took the screenshots, I included the subtitles (different device, no technical problems). It led to this interesting little tidbit. In the above screenshot, Julie Wardh is at the police station, confronting Jean. She expresses her negative feelings toward him, and that's part of his response.
However, the reason I wanted to include it at all was because the line as delivered was pretty incredible. The dubbing was actually better written than the subbing. Here's the dubbed version, preceded by Julie telling Jean, "I loathe you."
The only thing I cannot bear is indifference. Your best emotion is violent, raging hatred. Love is nothing compared to that.
And here's the subbed version, preceded by Julie telling Jean, "I hate you."
The only thing I can't stand is indifference. Hate is a good feeling, it's fiery and violent; like love, only more so.
Weird, right? I wish I spoke Italian, so I could actually take a listen to the original and compare it to both translations.
This is a weird-ass movie, man. I don't know how I keep stumbling into these bizarro S&M gialli; eroticism (and gratuitous nudity) is a hallmark of the genre, but this one, coming on the heels of The Whip and the Body, takes it to some weird places. The two follow similar trajectories, for their female leads: in both cases, the ladies have moved on, remarried, and attempted to leave their (perceived-as) troubled pasts behind them; in both cases, they get drawn back into their perversions, unable to resist that intractable fetishism.
And hoo boy, that fetishism.
This particular gif comes from a dream sequence, but it's fairly representative of the domination-driven sex scenes in this flick. In fact, it's fairly tame, in comparison with others. A flashback shows us another instance of Julia and Jean getting freaky, only this time he breaks a wine bottle first, flinging the shards onto her; then he falls on top of her and they do the deed whilst grinding the broken glass between their writhing forms.
Holy balls, man.
Another thing this movie does pretty well is provide arresting visuals. Not great, but better than good. The dream sequences are filmed in a sort of gauze fisheye style; the long shots are filmed with a great eye and scope; the action sequences are gripping and well choreographed.
The soundtrack is also pretty good. Tarantino took chunks of it for Kill Bill vol. 2.
So. What are my thoughts on this movie overall? I didn't hate it, but I couldn't quite bring myself to love it. I guess you could say I thought it was...
So, here's a thing about me: I love rock 'n' roll horror movies. I love them. I can't get enough of them. They can be amazing (like Black Roses or Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare). They can be awful (like Slaughterhouse Rock, co-starring Toni Basil, or Dead Girls). Mostly, they're mediocre (like Paganini Horror, or Lone Wolf, or Deadline, or... well, most of the rest of them). If it's a horror movie and there's a rock band in it, I'll watch it.
The thing about rock 'n' roll horror movies is that they really peaked in the 1980s. The right-wing majority was decrying the moral turpitude of that hard rock music, Metallica and Judas Priest were incorporating backwards-masked satanic messages, and there was a fear and misunderstanding around rock 'n' roll that allowed filmmakers to really easily import the trappings wholesale and base a horror movie around them. Plus, you know, mad style. Leather! Studs! Spikes! Makeup!
Because they peaked in the 1980s, there haven't been a lot of really good rock 'n' roll horror movies that have come out since then-- there were a handful in the 1990s, some of which were decent, and then about a baker's dozen since the turn of the century. (Full disclosure, here-- I have most of them, but I haven't watched them. I'm talking about Suck, Neowolf, Reverb, Studio 666, 13 Seconds, and other movies of their ilk. I haven't watched them because 1) I'm pretty sure they're going to be terrible; and 2) I don't want to watch a terrible rock 'n' roll horror movie unless I'm with someone who will also enjoy a terrible rock 'n' roll horror movie (probably with a couple of beers).
Anyway. I'm delighted to say that there's a new, modern entry in the rock 'n' roll horror canon, and it's a masterpiece. That movie is Deathgasm, a New Zealand comedy-horror flick about a couple of metalhead teenagers who summon a demon. So, yes, double-whammy: rock 'n' roll horror AND a Kiwi comedy-splatter flick.
It's pretty magical.
I don't really need to explain the plot to you. Teen metalheads summon demon, must try to banish demon before extinction of earth. There's some surrounding set dressing and frippery, but no one's watching this movie for the plot. They're watching it for the performances, the special effects (gore and demons), the humor, and the metal.
And hoo boy, does it deliver.
The titular heavy metal band is a group of angry surly high-school-aged kids. Whoever did the casting here did an amazing job-- the bassist and guitarist look like every metalhead I knew in junior high and high school-- one hulking angry dude, one skinny frenetic dude. The keyboardist is the nerdy bespectacled kid, and the drummer is the chubby one. They nail that stereotypical / archetypical High School Metal Band aesthetic. The main character gets a crush on a popular girl, who reciprocates-- at which point, Bill said "They even have the popular girl who lets her freak flag fly!"
Beyond the acting, there's a pretty good plot point revolving around a specific bit of weird bullshit high-school drama, which causes a bit of a rift in the band-- and the bit of drama is exactly the kind of drama that I saw happen in multiple high school and college bands.
These guys absolutely nail the dynamics and characteristics of teenage bands.
Also, it's hilarious on many levels.
When they can't find other weapons to use against the demons, they come out swingin' pipe like this (and a string of anal beads).
The antagonist is an honest-to-goodness satanist who wants to summon the demon for his own ends, and who employs a number of idiotic cultists, who can't manage to get anything right. They behead a fellow on a really nice rug, for instance:
And that isn't even the funniest part of that particular beheading scene.
This movie even has a bit of poignancy, albeit wry, smirking poignancy.
Also, it's metal as fuck.
This movie, upon its emergence, has taken a rightful place in Keef's Top Five Rock 'n' Roll Horror Movies of All Time. If you like super-goofy Kiwi splatter horror, you probably also like rock 'n' roll horror, and you should shell out for this movie.