Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Red Headed Corpse (1972): or, Love and Sex for Dummies

It's a truth we learn early: sometimes in order to get what you really want, you have to put up with something you really, really don't. You can have the ice cream, but only if you eat your Brussels Sprouts. You can buy those comic books, but only if you mow the yard. You might be able to get to third base, but only if you go antiquing for three hours and then sit through Love, Actually. So what's it gonna be? Is the cost worth the benefit? How bad do you want it?

Whether you will enjoy The Red Headed Corpse (aka The Sensuous Doll, dir. Renzo Russo, 1972) will depend on the results of your own personal cost-benefit analysis. Are you willing to spend a great deal of your movie-watching time staring straight into the haggard, leathery, alcohol-ravaged face of Farley Granger--his watery, bloodshot eyes filled with self-loathing, his lips foam-flecked with the hateful venom they spew whenever they're not wrapped around the neck of a liquor bottle--if every now and then, as your reward, you get to see Erika Blanc naked?

Don't answer right away. This one bears serious thought.

...for this?

Granger plays artist John Ward, the kind of misanthropic, irredeemable, apocalyptically assholic character that could only be the protagonist in an Italian exploitation flick from the 70s. In the opening scenes he all but spits on an art dealer who offers him 300 lira for a few slapdash drawings, then blows the whole wad on booze before going back to his studio to get catatonic. We see he's being followed by a mystery man on a motorcycle, who even goes so far as to break into Ward's house and steal a photo for later use--but after a couple of minutes the movie seems to forget all about him, and so should all of us.

Since he's clearly not rolling in dough from his paintings, we can only assume Ward comes from money--his studio is actually a decrepit gothic mansion, with acres of unkempt grounds. Walking off his hangover the next day, Ward runs into a gaggle of hippies who have crashed on his land, playing folk music, dropping acid, and having random hairy sex in the name of Peace. (God bless 'em!) Eventually one of the bearded brethren sees him and offers him spiritual freedom in handy, smokable form:
"Hey man, want to turn on?"
"Why? You like the world as it is?"
[venomously] "I DON'T GIVE A DAMN!"
"Seriously, man, try it--it intensifies your personality!"

"No thanks--I'm an asshole."

Seeing that their petal-pushing is unwelcome here, the hippies summarily split, but not before Ward's dialogue partner bequeaths a parting gift--a battered junk-shop mannequin with a flowing red wig! "You want a girl?" the Hippie asks."Well here's one you can make your very own. She's better than the real thing! She won't talk back, and she'll always be waiting..." How the hippies came by the figure or why they carry it with them remains unclear, but I'm sure it seemed like a good idea after four tabs.

Back in the studio, Ward sets up his plaster playmate and then proceeds to get plastered himself. A few drinks in he hatches the unsurprising plan to fix the doll's face into the most beautiful he can imagine, which of course he can do, being a painter and all.

"Relax--you're not the first girl I've spackled."

Later at a bar--where I can only assume he fled because he drank everything in the mansion, including cough syrup and drain cleaner--Ward runs into a gorgeous red-haired lady of the evening who proposes a for-profit body-fluid transaction. Dripping condescension and condemnation, Ward shoots her down and leaves--with the natural result that she follows him out of the bar, stops him in the street, and offers to forego her fee if this drunken, wrinkled, hateful little man will just bed her already! Because really, 70s Italian whores weren't in it for the money--all they really wanted was LOVE.

The more hateful and alcoholic the better, apparently.

His hardball haggling having paid off to a ridiculous degree, he accompanies the Gold-Hearted Hooker to her friend's apartment to seal the deal. Once there she gets needy and clingy, saying she'd like to wake up next to him and begging to be allowed to model for his paintings. "Aren't I beautiful enough?" she asks, displaying a gorgeously voluptuous Eurobod and Duke-Approved Free-Range Bush™. "Don't you think I can do it?"

You don't have to be a dummy to love him, but it helps.

Apparently the answer is no, because next we find him back at Chez Whiskey, working on his doll while unpacking some serious psychological baggage. "I'll make you lovely--a dream! You'll be lovely...pure...and FAITHFUL...Everything a woman SHOULD be!" If you guessed he's been burned before, and as a result now hates all women and sees them as soul-draining vampires bent on control and destruction of all men--well hey, you get a cookie! John finishes the touch-up, and before you can say "Pygmalion!" the doll has come to life!

Not one to look a gift mannequin in the mouth, Ward instead focuses on his new girl's bodacious ta-tas, as she silently sweeps through the house, miming childlike discovery at every piece of furniture. The love of a good woman-shaped object really works wonders, as soon he's happy and sober and selling lots of art. "You're an angel," he says to his artificial love, whom he's christened Christine (Erika Blanc). "You never ask for anything!"

Good work, John.
All good things must come to an end, however, as she proves to be a quick study for a dummy. After Ward screws the power of speech into her (don't ask), there's no shutting her up! First, first she only professes her love, but soon moves on to requesting flowers and candy, and later to demanding expensive dresses and nonstop attention. In the face of her constant nagging, Ward hits the bottle again, and Christine suggests he resort to painting lurid nudes in order to finance her newfound expensive tastes--with her as the model, naturally. At first he refuses, but she bullies him into it: "Aren't I beautiful enough? Don't you think I can do it?"

Pay attention, kids: that's a clue.

Soon his work catches the eye of the world's slimiest art collector, Omar Bey, who offers Ward thousands for each new painting. Meanwhile, bored at the mansion, Christine starts an affair with a greasy hunter who just happens to turn up, played by Venantino Venantini (Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye). When Omar conspires to come by while Ward is out of the house, he gets what he came for, but leaves behind a distinctive cigar butt, which Ward recognizes immediately.

"I don't know about you, but post-Impressionism gives me SERIOUS WOOD."

His jealousy reawakened, Ward confronts his cheating lover; however, he hasn't figured on her backbone of reinforced, aluminum-plated steel! "I'm free to take love if I want to--that's how it was when I found you! You feel like killing me? Then do it! Go ahead, big man! You're just like all the others...a pig, a disgusting pig!" I thought she was modeling macrame for hippies when he found her, but never mind. Cowed and emasculated, Ward drowns his sorrows while Christine becomes more and more brazen, flaunting her affairs--including a beachside tryst with a college kid in the highest-waisted swim trunks EVAR--right under his swollen red nose.

This can't go on forever, though--soon a reckoning must be made, leading to a final confrontation that teases at some unearned and wholly un-set-up supernaturalism, then dissolves into a fever dream of unburied corpses and meant-to-be-shocking plot twists that are in practice much less interesting than they sound. Oh, and the motorcycle guy's identity is revealed, and he narrates about five minutes of plot-hole filler before a sardonic cop gives us the head-scratching ending "twist." Fin.

No strings attached.

So all this doesn't sound too terrible, and maybe it's not, as long as you're the patient sort. Because let me tell you, it takes a lot less time to read a synopsis than to actually watch the movie. It starts off pretty strong, with all the weirdness of Ward's psychosis and the "mannequin inexplicably comes to life" stuff, but by the 40-minute mark all that's in the past. The next 40 mins are mostly Ward being drunk and hateful, Christine being nude and hateful, and Omar and the hunter being slimy. Not much else.

It wouldn't be half as tedious if you had an interesting character to latch onto, but unfortunately Russo strikes out there as well. Granger's John Ward is so hateful, drunk, and pathetic, he actively repels audience sympathy. Erika Blanc is aptly named--sure, she's gorgeous and often naked, but her acting skills are almost nil; she's a blank space where someone meant to draw in an interesting character, but forgot. (On the other hand, she *is* playing a mannequin, so maybe it was method.) The only other characters of note, the hunter and Omar, are likewise slimy and unappealing. The easily infatuated hooker is the only half-way sympathetic character, and she's in it for less than five minutes.

"Do that thing again where you hate everybody and call me a slut. That's HAWT."

This was Russo's last feature film, at it looks like that was no mistake. The editing is choppy, and despite periodic flashes of style in composition, the direction as a whole mostly comes across as merely adequate. Combine that with a plot that doesn't make sense half the time (and the other half is just plain stupid), and I'm afraid there's not much left in the "plus" column.

But there *is* Erika Blanc naked. A lot. The question is--is that enough?

Maybe for you. For me, it's enough for 1.5 thumbs, and not much more.


A few more images from The Red Headed Corpse (1972):

"God, how I hate this window treatment!"

"I just want to put a new coat of shellack on it, I swear!"

"Ooh, look at THIS attachment I could get! That could be fun, no?"

Little known fact: at one time, Erika Blanc was the leading European James Brown impersonator.

One for the ladies.

Farley Granger's Dylan phase

"Excuse me, have you seen the point of all this? We're looking for it."


Monday, May 16, 2011

The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Rock n' Roll Musical (2003): or, Some Things are Not for Us to Sing

It often seems to me, parishioners, that making an independent horror movie is like running a creative marathon--just finishing is a praise-worthy accomplishment. The only cause for shame would be if you give up before reaching the goal, or took such shortcuts as to sully the glory of the unearned participatory medal at the end. I try to think of independent filmmakers as self-trained, self-sponsored marathoners, determined to get their vision out there through hours of sweat, tears, and sore muscles. Even if they're limping badly in the last mile or soil their spandex through an ill-considered over-exerting sprint, I still have to applaud their efforts.

I can only imagine, then, that making an independent horror MUSICAL must be like training for the abovementioned marathon, but with a 50-lb. sack of flour strapped to each leg and a 1930's Victrola around your neck. Why would anyone want to do that to himself?

But ours is not to question why--ours is but to watch and judge. If director Andre Champagne and actor/songwriter/script writer Alan Bernhoft are driven by some inscrutable passion to create a rock musical based on one of the horror genre's most-filmed properties--in 2003, forty years or more since the heyday of the American movie musical--I can only say "Go Team Dreamer!" and wish them well. Then crack open a beer, plant a tubfull of extra-butter popcorn in my lap, and watch the race begin. (MORE MADNESS!)


Monday, May 9, 2011

Muerte de un Quinqui (1975): or, Momma Always Said I Was Pretty

We've talked a lot about the peculiar genius of Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy here on MMMMMovies--I mean, A LOT--and a great deal of our adulation has as its focus the limitless, almost child-like joy that bleeds through every frame of film in which the Mighty Mighty Molina gets to live out his boyhood dreams of becoming the heroic monster he idolized. As much a fan as a filmmaker, Naschy reveled in the glory of his Universal Monsters inspirations, while upping the sex-and-gore factors and adding his own Iberian spice. His joy is infectious: seeing him tearing up the scenery in those films never fails to put a smile on my face and a spring in my step.

But even Paul Naschy couldn't be all joy, all the time, and as I dig deeper into the voluminous depths of his surviving filmography, more and more I discover the counterpoint to that joyfulness, the "Dark Naschy" that lay just below the surface, sometimes overlapping (as in his wonderfully villainous turns in El Caminante and Horror Rises from the Tomb), and sometimes taking over entirely. Particularly in the late-70s/early-80s segment of his career, Naschy seems to have had some demons to exorcise, springing perhaps from his sense of insufficient respect for his work, or perhaps from a deeper, more personal space.  The "dark" movies sometimes lose that sense of fun that drew me to his spectacularly muscled bosom in the first place, but nonetheless show a fascinating complexity in the man I've come to know and love so well.
This sense of darkness is more pronounced for me in Naschy's non-horror movies, particularly his non-giallo crime-thrillers. In these Paul often plays ruthless, unrepentant criminals, murderers and rapists who display a disturbingly bleak misanthropy (or often, more appropriately and sadly, misogyny) that could be quite jarring to viewers used to his more audience-friendly monster mashes. One such film is Muerte de un Quinqui (1975, aka Death of a Hoodlum) written by Naschy and directed by frequent collaborator León Klimovsky (Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman, Vengeance of the Zombies, Dr. Jekyll and the Wolfman, etc. etc.).


As the movie opens we're thrown directly into the action, as a group of the quinquiest Quinquis imaginable executes a well-planned robbery on a jewelry store in downtown Madrid. Head hoodlum Marcos (Naschy, looking awesome in sunglasses and a brown leather trenchcoat) engages the clerk in engagement-ring shopping while his henchmen spread out to cover the exits. Things proceed like clockwork for a while--Naschy produces the hardware and orders the workers to hand over the loot, which they're more than happy to do. However, things take a slide to the "shit-we're-fucked" side when a prospective customer walks in off the street, surveys the situation, and abruptly karate-chops a gun-wielding guard! Not his best split second decision, as within seconds he contains more lead than a 1920s paint bucket.

Like a shark scenting blood in the water, Marcos goes all crazy-eyed and starts gunning down everything that moves, including the shop owner and several innocent bystanders. They grab as much loot as they can and hop into the waiting getaway car, driven by the Matthew McConaughey of Spain. After a quick confab it's decided Marcos will hold the loot while the others go to the big boss, Martin (silver fox Frank Braña, hot off a failed audition for the role of Johnny Quest's dad, apparently), and find out what (the fuck) they're supposed to do now. On their way the quinquis sum up Paul's character: "That Marcos is one mean bastard! I don't trust him! I think even Martin is afraid of him!" As well he should be, we'll soon see.

"Don't make me flare my nostrils!"
Turns out Marcos is tired of being Martin's little quinqui boy, and has decided to fence the loot quickly and skip the country with the proceeds. Unfortunately his connection won't be able to gather the necessary funds for three or four weeks, which leaves Marcos in a tight spot. He decides to lay low in the countryside until the cash comes through, and begins packing his belongings, most prized among them the large photo of his dear departed Mother, which he keeps by the bed and talks to almost constantly. We learn through flashback that as a child Marcos witnessed his mother's murder at the hands of her disgusting, philandering second husband (a vile creature who also caused Marcos' deafness in one ear via blow-to-the-head), an event which no doubt had a strong formative influence on his character.

Just how strong becomes clear when Marcos' girlfriend Isabel (smokin' hawt redhead Eva León) catches him packing and asks to go with him. Marcos, ever the gentleman, lets the lovestruck girl down easy:

Harsh, but fair
Isabel, understandably upset, calls Marcos a "son of a bitch"--clearly not knowing that she's just stumbled onto a foolproof trigger for all of Marcos' psychopathic tendencies. Paul turns on the crazy eyes and mumbles toward the photo, "Mother--this slut, this piece of trash, has sullied your name!" then lays the unholy smack down on his unsuspecting and defenseless lover. It's a pretty brutal scene, as Marcos beats the girl viciously for some time before finally lifting a boot and stomping her head into the floor! This last attack is implied rather than shown directly, thank goodness, but still--yikes.

So there we have it. Paul plays a psychologically scarred thief with no honor (even among his own kind), a vicious streak a mile wide, clear problems with women, and the tendency to go into a murderous rage any time someone says anything that could be even tangentially interpreted as a slight to the memory of his mother. (Interior, Quinqui HQ: "...and so I grabbed the cash, stuck the gun up the old man's nose, and pulled the trigger till it went *click*." "Damn, Marcos, you one crazy motherfucker!" "WHATDIDYOUAAUGHKILLKILLLKILLLLL!" "*gurglegurglediiie* -scene-) And he's our main character! A far cry from everyone's favorite Polish nobleman, you'll agree. More like Norman Bates with 'roid rage.

"...and a gun. A real big gun."

Marcos has a rather liberal interpretation of the phrase "lay low," as on his way out of town he speeds like a madman and unceremoniously takes out two hapless motorcycle cops with a machine gun. As his former gang makes plans to put him down like the mad dog he is, Marcos hooks up with an old flame (and mother of his bastard son) who helps him out by getting him a gig as groundskeeper for a reclusive and filthy rich family. He hides the jewels in some nearby ruins, planning to hold down the job for a month and then come back to make his final escape.

Predictably, the family he works for are a few tiles short of a Mah Jongg set themselves. Patriarch Ricardo (Heinrich Starhemberg) is a former target shooting champion now wheelchair-bound with a debilitating spinal disease, who compensates for no longer being a "complete man" by verbally abusing his wife and daughter while sporting a fabulous series of cravats. Wife and mother Marta (Carmen Sevilla, who played Mary Magdalene in Paul's screen debut King of Kings [1961]) is nearly at the end of her rope with Ricardo's depressive/aggressive attitude, to say nothing of her own sexual frustrations. Rounding out the family unit is immediately post-pubescent daughter Elena (frequent Naschy leading-lady Julia Saly), a total Daddy's girl who is nonetheless intrigued and attracted by the buff, handsome stranger in their midst.

Magic Eye™ Wall Tiles: The Dude-in-a-Cravat Pack

And who can blame her? While crime and thrills are the ostensible order of the day, the movie's actual purpose seems to revolve around showing Paul's finely sculpted musculature at every opportunity, and sometimes even creating opportunities where none exist. We get Paul all sweaty chopping wood, Paul wandering into the kitchen late at night wearing (appropriately) a wife-beater tee, the requisite "Paul lounging shirtless in bed" shot, and even PANTSLESS PAUL. It is to swoon! While some viewers might find this self-indulgent on Naschy's part, it has to be said that Paul is in fantastic shape here, as beefy and toned and dripping with roguish charisma as I've ever seen him onscreen. In fact, he'd be absolutely irresistible--if you hadn't just watched him stomp a mudhole in a waifish supermodel. Maybe that's why the scene was included--to keep his musky manliness from stopping the show entirely. You are a wise man, Klimovsky.

For a hardened criminal, Marcos takes the groundskeeping job surprisingly seriously, and to be fair, he's an excellent worker. He repairs things around the house, polishes trophies, cleans up laundry, and even risks life and limb to repair some fallen electrical wires, taking a tumble from the ladder as he does so. This is what leads to the shirtless-in-bed scene, as Marta dresses his wounds and thanks him for his effort. Of course Marcos knows when he's in there, and it's not long before he's turning the full force of his Molina Musk™ on the hapless, longsuffering MILF. Ricardo sees what's happening but can do little about it, other than obsessively oil his rifle and make outraged angry faces at Marcos. To her credit Marta resists as long as she can--about 15 minutes, which I think is a record--before finally collapsing into the ruffian's arms and putting an explosive end to her sexual drought.

"Don't just stand there, woman! GIT ON IT!"

Of course Marcos is nothing if not quinqui, and seeing the opportunity to score with two generations under the same roof, he starts putting the wolfish moves on Elena as well. Saly plays Elena as a girl on the cusp of sexual awakening, flattered and a little frightened by Marcos' attention and innuendo. Of course Saly is closer to Naschy's age IRL, so having her play an almost-innocent teen is a bit of a stretch, no matter how many teddy bears and Mick Jagger and Elvis posters you plaster her bedroom with. Still, she's as hawt as ever, and her chemistry with Naschy really sizzles.

One night, while the sated (and doubtless exhausted) Marta dozes, dreaming of PaulCock, Marcos slips into Elena's room to try his luck. Having seen what's going on with Mom, Elena makes the mistake of asking, "How would you like it if YOUR mother were a hussy?"--which leads not to a beat-down, but to a rather disturbing rape scene that gets only more off-putting when Elena starts to enjoy it. I'm a Naschyphile no matter what, but even I had to shake my head and say, "Dang, Paul--that ain't right."

Saly Got Back

Of course those tangled webs he's weaving tighten sooner rather than later: Marta discovers one of Marcos' cigars in an ashtray in Elena's room and quickly does the math, while Ricardo spies the hoodlum entering his daughter's inner sanctum (IYKWIM) and starts clearing a place on the wall for his next hunting trophy. Then the double-crossed gang (remember them?) tracks Marcos down by threatening his ex and her son, leading to a pretty wild final confrontation/gunfight at the hacienda as the Quinqui makes his admittedly spectacular last stand. No gang of thugs can destroy the Mommy-Obsessed killing machine that is Paul Naschy's Marcos, but there's something about Hell and a woman scorned...

Muerte de un Quinqui is not one of Paul Naschy's greatest films by any stretch, but it's not bad. Klimovsky's direction is solid and doesn't call attention to itself, and the flick looks good. The acting is more than serviceable as well--Saly shines as always, and Sevilla does a great job as the frustrated, downtrodden wife desperate for the attention and affection Marcos promises. Starhemberg is delightful as the mostly unhinged Ricardo, wavering between impotent rage and deep self-loathing with blinding speed. (He also has one of the best OMG OUTRAGE faces ever put to film.)

After witnessing first-hand the power of the Naschy Thrust, Ricardo lost hope of ever being able to compete.

It will shock you to read the next sentence on this site, but what keeps the movie from being really compelling is Naschy himself (GASP!)--or rather, Naschy's character Marcos as written by Paul (*whew*). Paul plays the hoodlum with all the devilish charisma and hatefulness the script requires, and I can't fault his performance on that count. However, Marcos' character is just SO hateful and amoral, SO scarred and misanthropic, it's hard to get really involved in what makes him tick. Of course his evil is nothing compared to Alaric de Marnac, but then we aren't asked to spend the entire movie with him; we've got other heroes to latch onto. In Quinqui it's all Marcos, all the time, and I have to be honest--he's not a guy you want to hang out with.

Still, the movie does have a respectable number of gorgeous Eurobabes, some wild sequences and a slam-bang ending, and a veritable buffet of Paul-Flesh on display, so I can't hate it too much. While I much prefer the Daninsky saga or Paul's pseudo-giallos, I still enjoyed watching the "Dark Naschy" at work here. Also, it's interesting to note how in true Naschy fashion, Paul reworks story elements of an earlier movie, 1973's Crimson (failed jewel heist and vengeful thugs) and then uses elements from Muerte in a later movie, 1976's Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (drifter wreaks havoc with dysfunctional reclusive family). Anyway, I own my bias: 2.25 thumbs. YMMV, etc.

" Fantasy Island."
More great images from Muerte de un Quinqui (1975)

"...and a woman ain't one."

Treasure Chest at the Gun Show

Check the other side, bro.

Hydration is Important

As Ricardo wheels slowly by, Paul contemplates a Leap Attack.


"Oh yes she can, Mick. Oh yes she can."


At least they're not kidding themselves.

"NOW whose Momma's fat, ya bastards? WHOSE MOMMA?!?!?!"


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