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The Fine Art of Tactical Retreat

Apr. 10th, 2019

11:46 am - For clarity's sake

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Dec. 2nd, 2016

08:26 pm - Past Misdeeds: The White Buffalo (1977)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

(Charles Bronson) returns from his showbiz career to the West to fight against destiny. Hickock is plagued by a recurring nightmare about battling a gigantic white buffalo (that looks very much like the mechanical construct it is) on a snowy, disquietingly artificial looking plateau. He usually wakes up from the dream with guns blazing. Hickock believes that his dream enemy really exists and that he has to find and kill it or be doomed in some inexplicable way.

The gunman has too much of a history in the West, and so uses the pseudonym of James Otis, but he can't help meeting old enemies like Captain Tom Custer (Ed Lauter) or his former love Poker Jenny (Kim Novak), saying goodbye to various parts of his old life in one way or the other.

Hickock's also quite good at making new enemies, like Whistling Jack Kileen (Clint Walker, in the Western surroundings a much more convincing actor than in any of the non-Westerns I have seen him act in), who follows Hickock into the mountains when the gunman and an old acquaintance, the trapper Charlie Zane (Jack Warden), move out into the mountains where Zane was nearly killed by a rock fall caused by the white buffalo.

Also hunting the strange animal is Crazy Horse (Will Sampson), now going under the moniker of Worm. The animal had attacked one of the Oglala villages and killed the war chief's daughter, leaving him without his name and position until he can wrap her body into the buffalo's pelt.

Despite Hickock's racism and Worm's distrust of white people, the two men recognize the kindred spirit in the other when they meet and help each other in their desperate hunt as best as men like them are able to.

The White Buffalo surely is one of the weirder Westerns to come out of the US, and not at all the typical late 70s Bronson vehicle I would have expected from a director like the usually very down-to-Earth J. Lee Thompson. It's as if Thompson and his star (also not exactly known to feature in flights of fancy) had had a very peculiar dream of making a sort of movie they didn't usually make themselves.

The film is a strange mixture of the scepticism and semi-naturalism of the revisionist Western and the feeling of utter irreality one usually only finds in dreams, the naturalistic elements so peculiar in and of themselves that they are only bound to strengthen the dream-like aspects of the movie.

I suspect this wavering between the hyper-real and the completely unreal will be what truly makes or breaks the film for a given viewer - either you will be sucked in by the mood of mythical doom by the way of both Moby Dick and Jaws embedded in a semi-cynical (and very dirty) interpretation of the Old West, or you will just be annoyed by the way everything in the film feels just a little bit off. Often, the two antithetical impulses of The White Buffalo seem to wrestle each other until either the naturalism or the irreality decide to give up for a scene or two and let its enemy do its own thing.

This feeling of two forces fighting each other runs through the whole film. It is there on a plot level with the obvious duel between the men and the animal (which sometimes seems to stand in for a self-destructive part of their nature, sometimes to want to say something about the nature of the Old West it just can't bring into precise words), and in how the older, less dumb Hickock fights against the consequences the actions of his brash younger self still leave him to deal with decades later.

It can also be found in the film's handling of dialogue full of realistic (or rather realistic sounding, I certainly don't know how people of the time and place actually spoke) jargon and phrases my modern ear needed to work hard on parsing, that is spoken in a consciously artificial sounding way that permanently points out its own artificiality.

And this feeling is also there in the contrast between some fantastic (well, if you're like me and like to look at snowy mountains and Bronson Canyon) looking location shots and the beautiful yet obviously fake sets that make up most of the movie's night sequences and interior scenes.

Somehow, all this strangeness and contradictoriness comes together to form one of the most dream-like Westerns I have ever seen, the sort of film that dreams itself being Moby Dick as written by an opium-addicted Western pulp writer.

Apart from being as damn peculiar as films come, The White Buffalo is also a very slow film without the clear and strong plotting that is typical for most US Westerns, though not necessarily those of the revisionist type. Here, again, the slow drifting feel of a dream comes to mind. I find it difficult to imagine a rhythm that would fit this movie better. Its mixture of myth, historical figures which carry their own myths around their necks, and a still romantic view of an historical era that pretends to be a sceptical and unromantic view would fit badly into something straight and fast.

That also seems to have been what Thompson thought, and so his camera work tends to the unhurried and slow throughout, giving even shoot-outs something ponderous, as if time in The White Buffalo would not function in quite the same way as the audience understands it. I suspect the influence of especially Leone's Spaghetti Western here.

Thompson, or probably Richard Sale's script, also point out the moral complexity of the life at the frontier from time to time, in short political discussions between Hickock and Worm, or the rather sobering way Zane isn't able to treat Crazy Horse as a fellow human being at a point where most other films would have the frontiersman and the warrior become grand friends, but as thoughtful as these moments are, they only make the film's actual thematic core more muddled, like that of Moby Dick after 150 years of interpretation. Say a dozen things and each and every one of them can be found somewhere in the movie, but don't expect any of them to be "what the film is about".

To me, that's not a bad thing in a dream-like semi-naturalistic Western about Wild Bill Hickok and Crazy Horse hunting a supernatural white buffalo; it's rather what I want from it.

Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,j. lee thompson,charles bronson,will sampson,jack warden,clint walker,fantasy,western,past misdeeds,reviews

Dec. 1st, 2016

09:24 pm - In short: Camp Fear (1991)

A bunch of young women – most of whom have no connection at all to the rest of the movie – shower and walks through what I assume to be their sorority house bare-breasted, for, as all pubescent boys know, girls always walk around in the nude when members of their strange and frightening species are alone with one another. I was kinda missing a pillow fight there, but the film follows up with the girls who will be our actual main characters first spending some time in class with hawt archaeology and/or anthropology professor Hamilton (Vincent Van Patten who is about as convincing a professor as he is an actor), so there’s that.

Afterwards, it’s off to a nightclub for a musical number, some lambada and the introduction of some evil biker dudes. During the long and painful course of these scenes, we learn that one of the sorority sisters is apparently the professor’s girlfriend, so add dubious professional ethics to his lack of acting ability and his hair. Then, finally, it’s the next morning and our protagonists are off for some sort of vague archaeological project with the professor at a place called Mystic Mountain. The gang encounters George “Buck” Flowers, a native American shaman (Jim Elk) standing in for Crazy Ralph who warns them off the mountain, and meet the bikers again, who have taken a rapey shine to the girls.

After more bullshit, our protagonists find themselves isolated from any potential help by the powers of handwaving plot developments and not just in trouble with the bikers but also a big guy with bad dressing sense (embodied by one Tiny Ron). The big guy is, it seems, a druid trying to avert the millennial end of the world by offering up human sacrifices, and has an embarrassing pet lake monster.

All this – except for the rape – does make Thomas Edward Keith’s fortunately only feature sound rather fun, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, this is one of those films that sound much more fun than they are when one has to actually sit through them. Camp Fear’s problem is not so much the complete lack of talent among the people involved than the fact that their lack of talent manifests with a total lack of charm, making much of the film terribly dull instead of terribly entertaining.

Which, come to think of it, might have something to do with the fact that the film’s first twenty minutes are bound to lull one to sleep with some of the most awkwardly filmed female nudity outside of Playboy Mansion, as well as with much pointless filler. It doesn’t help that the following twenty minutes are so dull not even the hilarious lake monster or the druid can wake one up again, nor that the film’s attempts at mixing two types of backwoods horror are crushed by the sad and tragic fact that its director couldn’t film a suspense sequence to save his life. On the positive side, um, the thing ends?

Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,in short,thomas edward keith,vincent van patten,betsy russell,horror

Nov. 30th, 2016

08:01 pm - The Wax Mask (1997)

Original title: M.D.C. – Maschera di cera

The year 1900, Paris. Young Sonia Lafont survives the brutal murder and mutilation of her parents by hiding under a commode. Twelve years later, Sonia (grown up to be played by Romina Mondello) is living in Rome. She’s trying to get a job designing clothes in the city’s new house of wax. Once he’s taken a (creepy) look at her, the wax museum’s (creepy) boss, Boris Volkoff (Robert Hossein), is all too happy to hire the girl, despite her lack of practical experience in her chosen field. One can’t help but think there’s more and worse to the man’s decision than just Sonia’s pretty face – even though she’s certainly a very fetching young lady.

Sonia’s new place of employment, being a wax museum in a horror movie, does of course harbour more than just one dark secret - and would you believe it? The wax figures on show in it may very well contain only a very small amount of wax, and more of a rather more…human ingredient! Might there be a connection to some curious disappearances that started happening in town ever since Volkoff has arrived, or even a connection to the murder of Sonia’s parents? Obviously.

Initially, The Wax Mask was supposed to be a film made by the great Lucio Fulci, even involving Fulci’s old nemesis Dario Argento on the production and story side, but in the end, Fulci died before shooting began, and Argento’s input looks to have been very minor too. The job of replacing Fulci fell to the maestro’s favourite effects man, Sergio Stivaletti, who made his debut on the director’s chair, with very little too follow.

As a director, Stivaletti is no Fulci, not even the late hit or miss Fulci making cable TV movies. It’s not so much a lack of technical expertise – Stivaletti clearly knows more than just the basics of the whys and wherefores of directing – but one of spirit. Particularly the film’s – very pretty in the Italian style created by Stivaletti – gorier sequences suggest to me that Stivaletti is just a little too nice, lacking the curious mixture of nastiness, all-around misanthropy and plain surreal weirdness that made Fulci as great as he was. Given that he’s working off a script made for and in part written by Fulci for Fulci, Stivaletti does of course have little opportunity to find something of its own to replace the Fulci mix, so that the film often feels less like an homage to the maestro made by another great than like a somewhat reticent attempt at copying the maestro’s weaker late period style. Luckily, it’s a weaker attempt at copying the great man made by a guy who actually worked with him, and seems interested in more than just the gory bits of his film.

Consequently, The Wax Mask does feature quite a few good parts beside its problems, too: some of the film’s locations are beautiful and creepy and while Stivaletti could do more with them, he certainly isn’t wasting them; while the violence doesn’t feel quite right – except for the pig attack (don’t ask, just watch) which does feel absolutely wrong/right – it does rise above the gore for gore’s sake style you’d probably suspect from an effects artist by actually having a degree of style, perhaps even a sense of moderation; and the film’s final twenty-five minutes or so are absolutely bonkers in the best Italian horror tradition, with the villain demonstrating his true mad scientist qualifications by turning into more than just your usual horror movie wax museum proprietor, developing a Fantomas-style ability at disguising himself (enabling a wonderful minute or so spent with the good old doppelganger motif), and turning into a thinner version of dear T-1000.

Technorati-Markierungen: italian movies,french movies,reviews,sergio stivaletti,robert hossein,romina mondello,horror

Nov. 29th, 2016

06:19 pm - In short: H.P. Lovecraft & The Frozen Kingdom (2016)

I’m not the kind of orthodox Lovecraft fan who clamps his tentacles in horror at the mere idea of an all ages animated film concerning the man (or as in this case the boy) and his yog-sothery, so in principle, I have no problem whatsoever with the basic conception of Sean Patrick O’Reilly’s animated feature. Unfortunately, I do have quite a few with the film’s actual execution.

The animation side suffers from all the problems you might suspect when confronted with low budget computer animation: movement is often jerky, characters lack personality thanks to their painfully generic design and a minimum of detail, and the lack of background detail here borders on the absurd.A more creative approach to these technical and budgetary limitations could have turned into a style of its own for the film, but the way things end up on screen, the characters and environments just looks tacky and cheap. That’s certainly not a way to get sucked into the film’s world – unless bad digital animation is cosmic horror for kids.

The voice acting is weird. On paper, the film features a perfectly capable cast (with the bigger names of course playing the smallest roles), yet the style of the performances fluctuates wildly, one third of the actors aiming for an 80s Saturday morning cartoon style, another third sounding as if they were reading directly from a script the have just encountered for the very first time, and only the last third turns out something that actually fits the tone of the film they are in. It’s so all over the place one might question if there was any voice direction involved at all.

The concepts for the film’s world aren’t half bad, though you can hold it against The Frozen Kingdom that half of its Lovecraft references are mere namedropping without any actual use for the narrative, whereas much of the other half is used in often terribly un-Lovecraftian ways. The latter isn’t a problem for me, but the more conservative Lovecraft fans among the audience might get somewhat annoyed. And it’s not as if there’s much to distract anyone from any annoyances here, what with the lack of visual power, and a plot that is a very basic quest set-up presented with a lot of convoluted detail to make it look more complex than it actually is - and failing at that. Frankly, it’s a waste of a good idea, or the rough draft of a movie waiting for someone to actually polish it up.

Technorati-Markierungen: canadian movies,in short,sean patrick o'reilly

Nov. 28th, 2016

06:47 pm - Music Monday: Gone Edition

Nov. 27th, 2016

07:30 pm - Lake of Dracula (1971)

Original title: Noroi no yakata: Chi o suu me

aka Bloodthirsty Eyes

Ever since she was small, Akiko (Midori Fujita) has had a terrible recurring nightmare. In her dream she runs after her little dog towards a creepy western style mansion. Inside the building, she finds a beautiful dead woman at a piano, and is attacked by a blue-faced man (Shin Kishida) in black with blood on his face, very sharp teeth and yellow eyes she can’t forget.

Now, more than fifteen years later, Akiko tries to exorcise the dream by using her holidays in a nice modern house close to a pleasant looking lake to turn it into a painting. Alas, that dream will turn out to be a repressed memory once the mandatory amount of strange stuff begins to happen around Akiko.

A coffin is loaded off at the close-by tourist centre (hut), and soon, the friendly old guy working there is turning into a blue-faced somewhat rapey Renfield, Akiko’s sister Natsuko (Sanae Emi) starts acting like different person, and Akiko’s dog is murdered. Either our heroine is losing it, or some evil from her past has come to get her. Fortunately, her boyfriend, the doctor Takashi (Choei Takahashi) is one of those rare horror movie boyfriends who actually listen when their girlfriends are starting to tell strange stories, so at least, she doesn’t have to fight against the vampire who wants to make her his bride alone. Which is a good thing, what with her not being much good at the whole vampire fighting business.

The second film in Toho’s and director Michio Yamamoto’s western vampire non-trilogy (sometimes also known as the “Bloodthirsty Trilogy” because that word is in each of the Japanese titles) is the weakest of the three. There are a couple of reasons for that: the pacing is just a tad too slow even for a gothically inclined horror film of the early 70s, the plot is not terribly eventful and the general set-up is just not quite as interesting as in the other films of the trilogy.

It’s still a nice example of gothic horror from Japan, mind you. I particularly enjoy how Yamamoto mixes a mostly modern setting with very classical gothic horror patterns, with a nervous and appropriately beautiful heroine who could have stepped right out of the pages of a gothic horror revival novel stumbling panicked through a world that very suddenly and quite literally turns into a nightmare for her, and where the people closest to her apart from her boyfriend turn into evil mirror images of themselves.

The film seems more interested in the personality changes in the people under the vampire’s spell than in the more typical sexual angle (which is there but not really a point of emphasis – there’s not even the scene of undead Natsuko trying to seduce Takashi you’d expect, particularly since the film appears to set it up a little earlier). The film’s not so much afraid of foreigners stealing a gentleman’s wife or of anyone getting sexually liberated than of the people around you stopping to repress their worst sides, sex apparently not falling under the description of bad for once in a horror film. It’s an interesting choice I wish the film had done a little more with, but it’s certainly there, and it plays nicely with Akiko’s fear of her reality turning into her recurring nightmare.

Interestingly enough, the film never actually threatens this kind of change for Takashi, nor does it ever go down the route of having him think Akiko is crazy. In fact, the guy generally seems to assume his girlfriend is just as strong and competent as he is – though she alas really isn’t – and treats her accordingly; not exactly a concept of relationships one encounters often in Japanese movies of this era, and it’s certainly welcome, though I rather wish the heroine treated this way were actually a bit a more proactive.

On the visual level, I don’t find Lake quite as strong as The Vampire Doll but there are still quite a few moody scenes, most of them hard-won out of shooting and lighting modern (by the standards of the early 70s) interiors as if they were part of an old crumpled castle. At times, the film also manages to mirror Akiko’s panic in her surroundings, becoming dream-like more literally than we use that word normally. Even the film’s flatter moments demonstrate the usual high technical standard of Japanese genre film of this time.

So, while I’m not as crazy about Lake of Dracula as I am about The Vampire Doll, I still think it’s a fine example of cultural appropriation doing its good work.

Technorati-Markierungen: japanese movies,reviews,horror,gothic,michio yamamoto,midori fujita,choei takahashi,sanae emi,shin kishida

Nov. 26th, 2016

08:25 pm - In short: House of Dracula (1945)

Erle C. Kenton’s House of Dracula is the last adventure of the classic Universal monsters before they finished their decline in the most traumatic manner possible, by meeting Abbot and Costello. It’s not a terribly good one, as last hurrahs goes, but it’s also not as bad as it could be. At the very least, House of Dracula (a film not at all concerning the house of Dracula, not even metaphorically, of course) is a watchable and mostly entertaining film if you go in with the appropriate lowered expectations and do have a degree of patience and sympathy for this stage of Universal’s development.

The film’s main problem, as always with the monster mash phase of Universal, is a terrible script that is episodic for no good reason, can’t be bothered to make even a lick of sense, and seems afraid of doing anything even vaguely new with its characters. So Lon Chaney Jr. whines, John Carradine’s – bad but not as bad as in his last outing – Dracula maybe has evil plans or not, and Frankenstein’s Monster (this time around Glenn Strange who is no Karloff, nor a Chaney Jr.) wakes up for a thirty second rampage. The more interesting and sort of new elements of the plot and cast, consisting of actually friendly Mad Scientist Edelmann (Onslow Stevens) turning into an alter ego I can only dub Evilmann while his sympathetic pretty hunchbacked assistant Nina (Jane Adams) nearly becomes the film’s heroine, could have made for a nice film of their own – particularly since Kenton suddenly shows himself as a stylish old-style Universal director whenever Evilmann is on screen. Alas, this is late period Universal, so the usual tired creature pool and the Jekyll and Hyde plot rob each other of the screen time they’d need to breathe.

Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,in short,horror,erle c. kenton,lon chaney jr,john carradine,onslow stevens,jane adams

Nov. 25th, 2016

07:10 pm - Past Misdeeds: Blood Massacre (1988? 1991? Yesterday?)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Murderously deranged Vietnam vet Rizzo (improbably cast Don Dohler vet George Stover in what just might be the only time in his career in which he's basically playing Rambo) and three sort-of buddies rob that favourite victim of all such criminal efforts, the local video store. Who would have believed that the video store owner has a handgun and a female employee willing to use it? Welcome to Maryland. Fortunately for them, the gangsters survive the ensuing confrontation and only the needlessly heroic video store employee has to die, but that's no consolation for our protagonists, who are now being hunted for murder instead of armed robbery as they had expected. Hope the 720 Dollars are worth it.

The mandatorily moustached cop Micky McGuire (Herb Otter Jr.) is picking up their trail, connecting Rizzo with another murder the man committed at the beginning of the film while he's at it.

While Micky's investigating, the gangsters' flight is stunted by their car breaking down in the middle of the woods. They're in luck, though, for they manage to grab themselves another car and a useful hostage in the form of country girl Liz Parker (Robin London) in the space of only a few minutes. They force Liz to drive them to her, her sister's and her parents' home even deeper in the woods and plan on holing up there for a bit. The Parkers seem harmless enough, perhaps a little too harmless, but a nice warm dinner for everyone and blood-letting sex with Liz for Rizzo are nothing to sneeze at.

All is well until our protagonists take a look inside the trunk of Liz's car. There, they find a dead psychiatrist and papers that declare the charming young lady to be a murderous maniac. They will soon realize that Liz is not the only one of that sort in her family. In fact, these people are all cannibalistic murderers - as well as cooks of a very famous stew - always on the look-out for new food sources.

Now only Rizzo's Vietnam vet expertise in killing people can save the day. At least until the final ridiculous/awesome plot twist.

We're back in Baltimore, Maryland and in the arms of its greatest son, Don Dohler. Blood Massacre should become the last film Dohler directed in the 20th century, but it's a fantastic way to end the first part of a career.

What could be better than a creaky, yet strangely intense variation on backwoods horror crossed with (the more harmless) elements of movies whose titles begin with "Last House on" as an end to anything, really?

If you just thought to yourself "Nothing!", then Blood Massacre features a lot to recommend it to you, beginning with dialogue full of odd non-sequiturs and the type of bizarre tough guy talk one can usually only find in the English dubs of Italian movies. The ride to bliss this movie is continues with reaction shots consisting of people lit from below (often in Hong Kong blue or red), staring directly into the camera, their faces either unmoving and expressionless or grimacing as if they were in a silent movie. Though, perhaps surprisingly, the acting is much less wooden than in most of Dohler's earlier movies. It's not "good" in any conventional sense, mind you. Everyone's line delivery is way too off for that, but it's off in a lively amateur acting sort of way that fluctuates between being quite charming and being frightening like pictures of monkeys with guns.

The film's sound mix is just bizarre with sound effects that are sometimes insanely loud compared to the dialogue - possibly in the hope to sell the film on to the US military as a sound weapon - adding to the impression that something just isn't right with this movie.

Since Nightbeast, Dohler seems to have forgotten much of what he knew about conventional filmmaking technique, but instead of making Blood Massacre worse, everything that should look incompetent, Dohler's skewed editing, the wonky camera angles and even the messed up sound, lends the movie a quality of weirdness Dohler's earlier efforts didn't aim for. Everything seems less competent but is also much more lively. The editing might be rough and just feel a little wrong, yet it is also much more dynamic than anything Dohler did at the cutting table before. Instead of the rather glacial pace of the director's past, Blood Massacre possesses a hyperactive rhythm at odds with my expectations for Dohler's work.

Visually, the film is dominated by unpleasant close-ups and claustrophobic framing that push the mood even more in the direction of a low-budgeted dream. Consequently, the script's lapses in sanity and basic logic aren't weaknesses here, but are an essential part of Blood Massacre's nature; the normal would only hurt itself on a sharp and pointy object wielded by an over-acting maniac.

Speaking of pointy objects, Dohler also manages to surprise me with the nature of the film's violence. There's a rough and rather nasty feel to it that fits the tradition of the backwoods cannibal horror movie perfectly, and isn't like anything I've seen before from a director who always seemed a bit afraid of going to any extremes in his films. Typical gore hounds won't be too shocked by it - they, as well as I, have seen much worse - but anyone expecting Dohler's more typical reserve will be in for a surprise.

Even if you ignore the violence, there is something raw and uncontrolled about the movie I honestly wouldn't have thought Dohler had in him. Where films like Nightbeast or The Alien Factor were attempts at re-creating only very slightly updated classic monster movies and their tropes belonging to the 50s, and Fiend his late 60s suburban arty gothic film, Blood Massacre is Dohler's sudden arrival in 70s horror (if a decade too late). He shows himself to be quite at home there, turning from the loveably square budget-deprived competent director of his early work into one of those slightly mad savants who made all the best films of the 70s.

Technorati-Markierungen: horror,reviews,american movies,don dohler,george stover,past misdeeds

Nov. 24th, 2016

06:31 pm - Mute Witness (1995)

Mute special effects make-up artist Billy Hughes (Marina Zudina) is working on a rather entertaining looking slasher her sister Karen’s (Fay Ripley) boyfriend Andy (Evan Richards) directs in Russia. When she’s accidentally locked in the shooting location, Billy witnesses what some of the Russian crew get up to with the equipment when everyone else has gone home. It’s not pretty, for the guys are shooting a snuff film. Worse, they soon realize they aren’t alone in the building and start chasing Billy.

In a series of tense scenes, she manages to evade capture and ends up in the arms of Karen and Evan who proceed to contact the police. The bad guys manage to convince the police that they weren’t shooting a snuff film, though, so things should come to an unpleasant end, yet still an end. Unfortunately for Billy, these guys are only tiny cogs in a big prostitution, drug, and snuff film racket, and their boss, only known as The Reaper (the upper body and head of Alec Guinness in a tiny cameo) doesn’t like loose ends. Even less fortunate for Billy, there’s also a McGuffin involved the bad guys think she possesses for no reason. So soon, she has to fight for her life again.

In part, Anthony Waller’s Mute Witness is a huge, sloppy kiss on the mouth of all the things the films of Alfred Hitchcock teach about making a thriller. Indeed, the film is pretty much, and rather showily, adapting the textbook the creepy genius never got around to writing. For the first half of the film or so, until the film leaves the shooting location, things work out rather excellently. There’s a tight focus on Billy, her plight, and the inventive ways she uses to avoid her would-be killers, with intense editing and camera work that does deserve an adjective like “breath-taking”, while Sudina manages to believably project vulnerability and strength at the same time.

Alas, once that part of the film is over, things start to go off the rails fast: instead of continuing to focus on Billy, the film spends too much time on other characters, repeatedly breaking its own tension and rhythm and generally acting as if Waller doesn’t quite know how to escalate properly. Instead Mute Witness broadens in a deeply awkward manner and loses sight not just of its main character but also of that imaginary rulebook on how to make a thriller. Usually, this particular sausage isn’t made by stopping for comic relief and such. Sure, Hitchcock often got away with this sort of thing, but unlike Waller, Hitchcock unerringly knew how to turn seeming digressions into elementary parts of the plots of his films.

Waller just digresses. Thanks to these digressions, and the lack of distracting excitement, it becomes increasingly difficult to accept the implausibilities of the plot, or the way neither the heroes’ nor the villains’ moves make even a lick of sense for the goals they want to achieve. In this context, Waller’s visual pizazz starts to feel stale and disconnected to what’s actually going on in the film. What started exciting turns into a slog of a movie that randomly throws in twists it didn’t bother to prepare or think through, with some of the most gratuitous nudity you’ll find outside of a 60s exploitation movie thrown in as a dubious bonus.

The first thirty minutes would still make a fine short film, though.

Technorati-Markierungen: british movies,russian movies,german movies,thriller,horror,anthony waller,marina zudina,oleg yankovskiy,reviews

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