May 31, 2006

DECENT GIALLO - DEATH WALKS AT MIDNIGHT – REVIEW 15


So this movie doesn’t have the Kudos as Profondo Rosso or the drug induced delirium of ‘A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971)’ but ‘Death Walks at Midnight’ does have its’ merits.

This is director Ercolis’ follow up to his previous giallo; the wonderfully titled ‘Forbidden Photographs of a Lady above Suspicion’, and like this movie ‘Death Walks….’ is an ‘unusual’ for a giallo as it contains less explicit sex and violence than others from this stable of genre.


The heroine does not feature nude in any sequence with only a bit of dress ripping at the end by some thugs.

‘Death Walks…’ moves along quite merrily and tantalises us with odd splashes of crimson but they take second fiddle to the intensity of plot knee deep in red herrings.

The murder weapon is quite a bit of genius and the misogynistic psycho-sexual representation is that of a spiked glove. This is used to bash the unfortunate victim into oblivion and can be explcitly viewed in the films terrific opening premise.


What the film is guilty of is the tendency to ‘plod’ for about 45 minutes in the middle of the movie. There are some saving graces however, Susan Scott plays the titular heroine and she plays the character with refreshing emancipation and hot headedness.

Susan Scott (real name Nieves Navarro) is very likeable in her characterisation of ‘Valentina’. It could be argued that this film is a vehicle for her talents and it is no surprise that she was in fact the wife of director Luciano Ercoli.

This gave Ms. Scott plenty of ‘exposure’ opportunity though she still didn’t quite manage to steal Fenechs’ crown.

Scott also was used as a fellow contemporary thesp up against ‘Edwige Fenech’ arguably one of the most well remembered of the giallo heroines.


Personally I preferred Susan Scott’s outing, although Fenech can play ‘wierded out’ very well and adds so much to the giallo atmosphere she also, personally, gets on my nerves after a while.

With Scott this didn’t happen and I found my interest in her role and character never waning even if shittily dubbed on the region 2 version I picked up.


Scott is definitely no ‘carcase for show’ and tears away from the ‘dumb cannon fodder/clothes horse’ we have come to known and love in Giallo and instead goes for a more ballsy portrayal.

The soundtrack too is fabulous and pulls out all the stops when it comes to some classic funky vibe only found in movies of this ilk courtesy of Mr Gianni Ferrio.

THE PLOT

For the plum story in a magazine, beautiful model ‘Valentina’ agrees to ‘trip’ under the influence of a new powerful hallucinatory H.D.S

At the peak of her trip and as Valentina looks out of her flat window into the flat opposite, she witnesses the horrifying slaughter of a young woman.


The woman is being repeatedly smashed in the face with a spiked glove which looks distinctly ‘medieval’ as well as a vicious means of dishing out punishment.

The perpetrator of this spiked fist fury is a small chap in a trench coat sporting some very ‘retro’ looking shades (dear, dear, early 70’s!)


When ‘Valentina’ returns to our world she begins seeing this little man cropping up all over the place leaving her baffled, bewildered and very edgy. Along comes ‘Veruschka’ (Claudine Lange) in her ‘covet from afar’ Rolls Royce and asks Valentina to help her find her sister who has mysteriously disappeared. Then she is whisked off to a mental asylum and in a rather ‘uncomfortable’ sequence of events gets left there.

Surrounded by madness and thinking it won’t before long she finds herself in bedlam Valentina asks the help of her boyfriend the chain smoking, instantly likeable Gio Baldi. (Simón Andreu).

With another death imminently looming Valentina finds herself in the thick of things and in a true femme fatale fashion way, out of her depth completely with all things nasty.

RETROSPECT

I wonder if Valentina was either a very popular name for feisty emancipated females of the 24-35 age bracket or a flash in the pan ‘heroine’ similar to dear Emmanuelle. This isn’t the first time I have come across this name in similar character format and I can draw parallels between this and ‘Baba Yaga’ (1973) Corrado Farinas’ smashing s/m tinted late ‘pop art’ entry.


Both feature Valentina as well as the mysterious ‘older’, melancholy but foxy aristo. In Yaga Valentina is a fashion photographer in this Valentina has switched to becoming the muse. I would need more evidence to back this up so will trawl away and see what I can find. Unless anyone in cyber land can help me out?

Plus there are the works of fabulous s/m comic strip cartoonist Guido Crepax to consider which may have had some significant cultural hold of Italy at the time? ah, questions , questions.

I believe there is a superior print as part of an Ercoli box set on region 1 but I sat through the Mondo Macabro Region 2 version, the print was clear but at certain points I noticed two bands of brown/yellow colour filtered on to the print so although no action was obscured the dip in clarity over these scenes were noticeable.


Region 2 is also dubbed and its a poor show with this and due to much translation loss it would’ve been a ‘nice to have’ and I find its’ better to follow subs in Giallos as I find the plot sinks in more making better sense of some of the most convoluted yarns.

Despite the couple of flaws, even if the ratio seemed slightly to cock and the print seemingly stained with gravy at irregular intervals, I don’t think it would improve on the main crux of the movie if it was the whistle and bells version or something less superior you were watching.

It’s an enjoyable bit of viewing but it is a good example of giallo done well and doesn’t seem to want to be anything more or anything less really. Borrow a copy.

The Movie; Death Walks at Midnight (a.k.a Morte accarezza a mezzanotte, La, Death Caresses at Midnight, Muerte acaricia a medianoche, La )

The Year: 1972

The Country; Italy / Spain

The Director; Luciano Ercoli

The Music; Gianni Ferrio

The Players;

Nieves Navarro (Susan Scott) as Valentina

Simón Andreu as Gio Baldi

Pietro Martellanza (Peter Martell) as Stefano

Claudie Lange as Verushka Wuttenberg

Carlo Gentili as Inspector Seripa




May 30, 2006

CLASSICS OF THE HORROR FILM - MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933) REVIEW 14




I recall first viewing this movie in its two-tone glory on Channel 4 one late Friday night. It was part, as I recall, of a clutch of similar movies such as ‘Doctor X’, ‘Dr. Cyclops’ and hefty dose of ‘Fu Manchu’ that were shown as part of a season what must have been ‘Deco Terrors’ or something instantly as forgettable.

Even as far back as then, and we would be talking many moons ago, I was fascinated by it, it grabbed my attention as it was a well balanced ‘comic strip’ style piece of ingenious thriller.

It seemed surprisingly ‘modern’ for it’s’ time, then I realised it was in the 1930-34 of pre-Hays code filmmaking. The Hayes code crippled freedom of expression when this twisted piece of legislation spat its’ moral venom on a reasonably coy but ‘forward thinking’ period in Hollywood’s history.

Some of the quotes such as ‘boy, what I wouldn’t do for a slug of gin’ would simply be such a taboo under the new regime. To see it freely vocalised in a humorous ‘down to earth’ way is enlightening for this period. Glimpsing a society not to dissimilar to how it was (with the low key tendency towards the depression of course). Not a ‘christian friendly utopia’ it tried to become (I say tried as after the Hayes code was introduced directors used ingenious ways of getting around such puritanical bollocks).

It is also refreshing to see one of the main protagonists as a strong female character to counteract Fay Wray’s more ‘demure’ screecher. The women in the film are all independent characters and are so strong especially Glenda Farrell’s’ wise cracking sleuth/reporter ‘Florence Dempsey’.

One can only wonder what possible movements and developments would’ve occurred if it was not for the Hayes code. This movie could be used as a slice of what was emerging at the time before censorship intervened; where it would’ve ended up we remain unknowing.


What is also of interest is the beautiful ‘erotic’ artwork advertising the movie. This also demonstrates the liberalised and openness of such times. The emphasis is mainly on the breasts than on the Technicolor process of the actual movie itself, could be one of the earliest examples of sex allure and a welcome site for most I am sure.

At this time sociologically the depression was affecting American society; I am sure the last thing the public would have wanted would be oppression as well as the other load of misery at this point in history. It’s probably a good thing that the Hayes code surfaced when it did preferably not at all.

What’s most fascinating about this superb, once thought ‘lost’ classic is the way two tone Technicolor has been used. Many of the creepy visuals benefit from a process not to far away from ‘Friese-Greens’ technique practiced almost a decade previously and as highlighted in a recent BBC2 documentary.


As I haven’t viewed the 1953 3-D remake ‘House of Wax’ I will take the pleasure in avoiding comparison.

Such an important movie and treasured addition of the horror genre cycle of films is worthy of an article in its’ own merit anyway.

The last prints of the movie were thought destroyed in 1953, unusually at the same time of the re-make? Anyway it wasn’t until 1969 when a 35mm negative was found amongst the personal collection of Jack Warner.

It received the attention it deserved but this came to an abrupt end as ‘The Old Dark House’ was also discovered at the same time and the attention was drawn to that instead. Instead of a‘re-pristine’ in two-tone wonder - a monochrome print done the rounds or when televised a shoddy remastered edition capable of negatively impacting the two-tone method and losing much of the pastel credibility on display.


This also happened to the ‘first’ movie to use this technique ‘Doctor X’ a year before. This movie also cast Wray and Atwill and featured a ‘Moon Monster’ as well as a cannibalistic ghouls wandering around in the middle of the night murdering young ladies.


Despite the ‘priority’ switch I guess at the time it was great to see something of so much rarity especially unearthed when such a fascination with monsters and macabre was at a boom with the mainstream.

Although the loss of the two tone was not such an impediment to ‘Doctor .X’ it could be considered such for ‘Wax Museum’. Gone would be the bubbling green waxen ooze and the grand finale would have also suffered maybe not too dramatically but significantly less.


It truly is an absorbing view, the story is pure nightmare mechanique and was the first in setting the trend for many, many imitators and according to numerous film scholars remains one of the best and definitive examples.

THE PLOT

London 1921 – Gifted sculptor ‘Ivan Igor’ (played with skill, pathos, melancholy and madness by Lionel Atwill) tends to his exquisite waxwork masterpieces. Despite admiration from an elite of appreciates this does not generate much income.


Ivan is visited by his backer who tells him that he has a £10,000 insurance policy should the premises be burned to the ground. This is what he wants to compensate (albeit an over inflated guess) for lost revenue. An argument between the two leads to a brawl where a fire is started it begins to engulf the London Waxwork property.

‘Ivan’ is left for dead in the enraging inferno and Worth his business counterpart goes missing ………………..


New York 1933 – Amidst the New Year celebrations something mysterious is occurring in the city. Scandalous socialite ‘Joan Gale’ dies from an overdose of drugs and her millionaire boyfriend, George, is locked up for questioning regarding the death and possible foul play.

Desperate for the scoop of the century, journalist ‘Florence Dempsey’ (played brilliantly by gutsy Glenda Farrell) becomes involved with George and believes in his innocence.

When Gale’s body goes AWOL from the morgue whilst George is incarcerated Florence decides to snoop further leading her to the grand opening of a new Wax Museum.


Florence shares with Charlotte Duncan (played by one of scream queens first Fay Wray) conveniently her fiancée, Ralph, works as a sculptor at the museum enabling Florence to investigate further. She discovers that a current exhibit ‘Joan of Arc’ bares an uncanny resemblance to the currently vanished ‘Joan Gale’.

When Florence, Charlotte and Ralph are introduced to the proprietor it is none other than a wheelchair bound ‘Ivan Igor’ rendered a cripple due to the intense fire ; his hands rendered charred claws.

Ivan seems transfixed by Charlotte and asks if she could pose for his ‘Marie Antoinette’ waxwork. Flattered Charlotte agrees but with a small amount of discomfort ……..


Florence on the other hand makes more discoveries and is well on the way to unravelling the mystery of the wax museum and achieving the scoop of the century but in doing so jeopardises the lives of her friends at the mercy of a madman ……..

RETROSPECT

As highlighted at the beginning Farrell definitely steals the show. Admittedly Fay Wray is beautiful and as graceful on the screen as ever but Farrell’s’ gum chewing, spade-a-spade character is an absolute marvel.


She comes out with some wisecracking remarks that win on two counts the first is that they are genuinely amusing, well written and delivered in perfect time. The second is that they are, thanks to the lack of the Hayes code, surprisingly ribald and perfectly down to earth ideal for this barnstorming characterisation.

Most of the settings are contemporary and flashes some beautiful examples of Deco, especially the entrance of the Wax Museum. Anton Grot creates some wonderfully moody settings and the light interior of the museum seems to animate via well crafted shadow play.


Michael Curtizs’ direction is well paced and blends perfectly with the smooth, fluid pans of Ray Rennahans camera technique.

There are flaws such as the twitching replicas, although not that apparent it can be seen fleetingly in a couple of instances.

We have to remember that this was due to the virtually unbearable hot temperature in the studio causing the wax statues to melt and therefore needed people substitution. Although this prevented continuity problems and a general ‘mess’ some ‘replicates’ actually fainted.


The movie flows hauntingly with that mystery, that eerie sense that in all the dark corners there hides something unseen. Dominating the purple shadows and providing further answers to the mystery.

This though is one of many layers of the film and is expertly balanced causing chills and intensity where absolutely crucial without dominating all the time, paving way for the quirky, the surreal and the wittiness delivered in an up front ‘30’s style, all necessary but dished out evenly and fluidly over the running time.


It wasn’t until the 1980’s did the UCLA clean up and restore the print even further, revealing the print as to how it should be viewed with the colourisation correctly balanced. Making its’ correct two tone debut on Channel 4 in 1994, we could all finally witness Wax Museum in all its glory.


A poignant chapter in the development of colour cinematography and the development in horror cinema neglected for so long and finally available.

Sadly justice has still not been done to this movie in a digital age, the only way Wax Museum can be seen digitally is a ‘tucked away’ extra on Warner Brothers ‘House of Wax’ DVD for region 2 custom.

The print is possibly the most watchable I have seen despite lines and glitches , but being so aware of technology available for film restoration be it sound or visual, I am most surprised this has not had a bells and whistles release ages ago in the U.K.


With such a history, with such an important ‘genre’ impact and with such cinematic importance it beggars belief why this hasn’t been available in a newly restored digital package it really is a crying shame and as big a mystery as the wax museum itself.

Most Outstanding Moment;


When Fay Wray smashes the wax mask to reveal the twisted disfigurement beneath is awesome stuff. The effects are quite gruesome to. Most suspenseful and chillingly rewarding on all counts.



The Movie; The Mystery of the Wax Museum

The Year; 1933

The Players;

Lionel Atwill - Ivan Igor

Fay Wray - Charlotte Duncan

Glenda Farrell - Florence Dempsey

Frank McHugh - Jim

Allen Vincent - Ralph Burton

Gavin Gordon - George Winton

The Director; Michael Curtiz

The Producer; Henry Blanke

Art Director; Anton Grot

Available in an o.k print as a bonus feature on Warner Brothers ‘House of Wax’ (Region 2).