Coup de Torchon (1981): Once Upon a Time in West Africa   Leave a comment

Lucien Cordier doesn’t have much of a home life. He sleepwalks through his days and sleeps alone at night, while his wife bunks with her “brother” in the next room. His work life is no better. Cordier serves as police chief in the nondescript town of Bourkassa, Senegal. He heads up the force, but we get the idea it’s not because he’s such a crackerjack cop, but because his superiors figured he’d be in nobody’s way out there. Oh, by the way, Bourkassa’s finest is also its only.


Cordier, fighting crime

Bullied by a couple of local pimps, cuckolded by his wife, and ridiculed by the white townspeople, Cordier begins to get headaches and nightmares so he seeks help from his superior stationed nearby, in a larger city. When a fellow policeman abuses him too, all bets are off.


“You’re under arrest.”

Philippe Noiret, who would later play the fatherly projectionist in Cinema Paradiso, does a great job in a part full of subtle changes. Without making any big dramatic noises, Noiret shows despair, longing, innocence, slyness, and more depth than we expect. He’s surrounded by a cast of solid character actors too. Stéphan Audan plays Cordier’s unfaithful wife, Huguette and Isabelle Huppert, his mistress, Rose. Eddy Mitchell is the weakest link, but even he’s appropriately sleazy as Huguette’s wimpy layabout lover, Nono. My favorites are Guy Marchand as Marcel, Cordier’s boss, and Irène Skobline as the teacher, Anne, who may be the only person in Cordier’s life who isn’t morally bankrupt. The fictional town of Bourkassa, Senegal is a character, too. With its streets of yellow dirt and indolent citizens, the village screams dead end. Director, Bertrand Tavernier and cinematographer, Pierre-William Glenn highlight the bleakness and searing heat of Bourkassa by letting the camera linger on the sweat-stained locals and the barren landscape.


“This’ll look great in the brochure.”

Coup de Torchon means something akin to clean slate, and refers to Cordier’s decision to eliminate any impediments to his own happiness and start fresh. Based on Jim Thompson’s 1964 novel, Pop. 1280, the film shifts the story’s location from the American South to West Africa. In the film, Cordier starts out like the Anthony Quinn character at the beginning of The Secret of Santa Vittoria—lazy and beaten down by life, and, like Quinn, becomes a kind of con man, giving his enemies just enough rope to hang themselves. He goes a bit farther than Quinn though and becomes less of a savior and more of an avenging angel by the end of the film. With aspects of the 1970 film, Le Boucher, which also stars Audan, thrown in as well, Coup de Torchon reminded me of quite a few films made before and after. I was picturing Michael Douglas in Falling Down the whole time because of Cordier’s disenchantment with life, along with his ‘taking out the trash’ mentality.


“If I kill everyone, who will make my lunch?”

I enjoyed Coup de Torchon. It’s not easy to find, but if you have access to the out-of-print Criterion version, watch it. Fun flick.

I recently had the chance to talk about Coup de Torchon and films in general with the folks from the Gentlemen’s Guide to Midnite Cinema podcast. They have a neat system, so I’ve included the following ratings. Pssst, here’s the link to the GGtMC podcast.

Make or break: The scene at the police station when Cordier recites his litany of complaints and we see Fête Nat, the poor black servant, mouth the words Cordier speaks as if to say, “I listen to this crap every day.”

MVT: The bleak village had ‘no future’ written all over it.

Score: 7.5/10

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Inferno (1980)   Leave a comment

Location, location, location.


“I wonder where Steven Marcato lives.”

A beautiful woman, Rose (Irene Miracle) buys a book from an antiques dealer. She’s irresistibly drawn to the basement, as one is, and she searches for something (?) in the the surrealistic cellar, only to lose her keys in a flooded sub floor full of dead bodies.


“No way this place passes inspection.”

Cut to Rose’s brother, Mark (Leigh McCloskey), a music student living in Rome, who sees a sexy spirit petting a cat in class.


This is the most normal thing that happens in the film.

All through the film, people keep looking for, finding, and stealing The Three Mothers, a book dealing with witches living in cursed houses in Freiburg, Rome, and New York. I have no idea why. Apparently, having the book gives the reader some kind of power—like a Necronomicon Ex-Mortis or something. I can’t be sure. All I know is the search for the books led characters into some sketchy digs. First, there’s Rose in the cellar lagoon. Then, there’s Mark’s girlfriend who lives in the Rome house, who climbs down into the basement of a library and walks, voluntarily, into a dank room full of cauldrons boiling over high flames lorded over by a wizard-y guy. She manages to make it out of there without getting a face burn, but things don’t end well for her.


“Is this where you return the overdue books?”

Mark ends up traveling to New York to help his sister, who lives in the Big Apple branch of the coven’s real estate holdings. It’s a large building with about four gigantic apartments in it. Alida Valli runs the place and it’s clear she hired the same decorator who did the school in Suspiria. In the building, Mark meets the countess and separately, they search the bowels of the building because walking around in a scary place alone, unarmed, and wearing your best outfit is always a good plan. Also, it’s totally normal for a New York City apartment building to have a completely empty wing.


“It’s probably rent-controlled.”

Bad things happen to pretty much everyone in this film, but no one gets a worse deal than the antiques dealer, who sets out to drown some cats in a bag. He has a bad leg and walks with crutches so carrying the burlap sack full of cats is tough for him. *sad violin* Anyway, he trips on an animal he was attempting to kill and…I won’t spoil it, but it’s ghastly. I watched this in the theatre and oddly, the crowd was not on his side.


Anti-cat shop.

A scary witchlike individual who could use some moisturizer and a manicure, cruises around grabbing people and closing windows on their necks.


“You couldn’t have used a little Jergens?”

I’m all for that, but it was hard to discern a meaning from any of these goings-on. It might have helped if I spoke Italian or if the subtitles, apparently written by a drunk person unfamiliar with horror films, English, or words in general, made any sense at all. In fact, they became so convoluted, the theatre chose to skip the whole thing and just play the film without them. They told us about it beforehand, so we knew what we were in for. The film continues, people run away from the evil being, things catch fire, and before you know it, the film is over. Huzzah!


“Some paint and a light dusting and it’ll be fine.”

Dario Argento meant Inferno as a sequel to Suspiria, but he forgot he needed a story and just ran with it anyway.  Despite the shambolic plot, Inferno entertains. It’s nowhere near as good as Suspiria, but there are some original kills and the sets are gorgeous. Maurizio Garrone was part of the set decoration team on both films. I liked the crazy Dali-esque basements with precariously-balanced chairs and stuffed lizards strewn about. I half-expected to see a melting clock.


Nice gator.

Though not a fantastic film, Inferno is a good time. See it on the big screen if you can.


The Three Mothers: Mater Suspiriorum (Mother of Sorrows), Mater Lachrymarum (Mother of Tears), and Mater Tenebrarum (Mother of Darkness).

Thus endeth the lesson.

Cube²: Hypercube (2002)   Leave a comment

A handful of strangers awaken in a cube. They have no idea how they got there. The cube is attached to other cubes and they climb from one to the other in a vain attempt to figure out who put them there and how to get out.


“We’ll call the cubes Tom, Dick, and Harry. No, wait.”

Ok. I’ll admit it. I saw Cube and thought it was an interesting concept. It was more interesting when Pirandello, Sartre, and Serling thought of it, but no matter. The film had some bright spots, but it didn’t quite gel. I thought maybe they’d nail it down in Cube²: Hypercube. My hopes were dashed about four minutes into the film.


“What’s my motivation?”

In the first film, I cared somewhat about a couple of the characters and was drawn into their struggle to find the key to their Rubik’s Cube prison. In the second film, I just wanted it to end. The characters, all connected in different ways to the company, Izon, which is obviously evil because they produce armaments and their employees know math, are so completely underdeveloped, it’s tough to care about them. Then, there’s the dialogue. Cribbed from any number of ‘scenes for actors’ type books and probably workshopped in an improv studio somewhere in Toronto, the conversations reeked of cheesy experimental community theatre and the acting, from much of the cast, carried the same stench. Kari Matchett and Geraint Wyn Davies, both familiar faces, were the exceptions. They’re both solid character actors who must have felt hoodwinked after reading the script.


“I found the stage directions. The characters climb into another cube and talk some more.”
“Terrific.”

Anyway, the cube denizens move from cube to cube trying to avoid the evil, and sharp tesseracts that appear and expand and oh I don’t care. Mean computer-generated shapes attack people we don’t care about and then the same characters reappear because parallel universes! Yep. The gang bandy about terms like quantum and gravity shift and draw pictures of cubes and all I thought about was how smart it was for the filmmakers to choose a big cube for the set because they’d only have to make one.


“I knew I hated geometry for a reason.”

There was a twist at the end which didn’t make sense and served no purpose and I didn’t care about anyway. Something something evil corporation experimental cube? I have no idea. I get when a film purposely withholds closure to make a point. I feel like in this case, the lack of a satisfying ending was less by design and more by “Hey, I know! We’ll make the whole thing a conspiracy and junk.”
“Great idea, Tad.”


“Mrs. Paley, you’re smudging the prism.”

No one connected to the film is called Tad, but it fit. The trouble with a conspiracy film without a well-defined conspiracy is you at least need Elliott Gould or Mel Gibson to liven things up and they need something lucid to say. Cube 2: Electric Boogaloo fails on both counts.


“She’s right, you know.”

Cube²: Hypercube lasts an hour and thirty-four minutes. You’re better off spending an extra twenty-one minutes and watching Con Air.


“Turn the channel or the bunny gets it.”

 

Don’t Torture a Duckling (Non si sevizia un paperino) (1972)   1 comment

Don’t Torture a Duckling ticks a lot of boxes for me.


It’s an Italian giallo!


It’s a police procedural!


It’s an ‘evil lurks beneath a façade of goodness’ melodrama!


It’s a witch hunt!

Don’t fight, guys. It’s all that and a cautionary tale about kids hanging out with naked women and watching murders and junk. It’s also a cool mystery that has more red herrings than King Oscar.

Don’t Torture a Duckling is Lucio Fulci’s country giallo and it’s glorious. The film is set in the backward, yet picturesque mountain town of Accendura, Italy, accessible only by an impressive raised highway bridge used mostly by visiting prostitutes and tourists heading somewhere else.


Isn’t that cool?

In this quiet town where everyone knows everyone’s business and the people don’t worry about crime, a series of brutal child killings alters the chemistry of the town and force the residents’ baser instincts to bubble to the surface.


Bubbling

The film starts out a bit Leopold and Loeb-ish. After the first boy goes missing, his parents get a ransom demand. It turns out the boy is already dead and the plot takes a different turn.


“Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, Fulci?”

A psychopath continues to kill little boys until one by one, pretty much every person in town is either killed or implicated in the murder. That includes the sexy sorceress, Florinda Bolkan and spoiled rich girl, Barbara Bouchet, who ends up helping a visiting journalist look for clues. This is the procedural part and it’s well done. The police aren’t backwoods brutes. They’re smart and they really want to catch the killer. We don’t see them worrying about appearances or trying to make an easy bust. They’re genuinely concerned for the safety of the townspeople. That’s a smart choice on Fulci’s part. It keeps the focus on the real murderer.


“Maybe I should send for more guys.”

I loved this film. The characters were real people with flaws and hang-ups and the kids weren’t obnoxious. They were even childlike. They weren’t acting like short adults. The entire situation was genuine right down to the pitchfork-y vigilantism of the locals when they think they know the killer.


“Do you know whodunnit?”

The setting, full of stucco houses carved into a mountain, contributes to the sense of isolation.

The remoteness of the village means all the action takes place without much outside influence. Even the big city reporter, Tomas Milian, doesn’t come off like a pushy urbanite who complains because he’s in the boondocks and there are only two channels. He thinks logically and treats the townspeople with respect. The more cosmopolitan policeman and the commissioner, played by Ugo D’Alessio and Virgilio Gazzolo, don’t abuse the local constable and he doesn’t roll his eyes at them because they’re not dumb. They’re intelligent, experienced, and motivated to solve the crime.


“This is a no smoking village.”

Don’t Torture a Duckling is sensational, and violent, but it’s also thoughtful and well made. Written by Fulci, Roberto Gianviti, and Gianfranco Clerici and shot by Sergio D’Offizi, the film grabs you right from the start and maintains that suspense throughout. It also keeps you in the dark and I like that sense of mystery. This is a thinking person’s giallo. Gore fiends, take heart. There’s a pack of mayhem and blood too. Worth seeing. I might have to buy this one.

 

And Soon the Darkness (1970)   2 comments

When two friends on a biking tour of France are separated, one of them suspects the other is in trouble. Can she find her friend? How will she know who the good guys are when nobody wears a hat?


“Hey, is that Cary Grant up ahead?”

Two young British women, bicycling through the French countryside, have a row. Jane (Pamela Franklin) wants to stick to their schedule (pronounced shehjule), and Cathy (Michele Dotrice), fancies a bit of a lie down in the sun. Cathy falls asleep on the grass, but when she wakes up, she’s not alone. Meanwhile, Jane has cycled on to the next village to wait. When hours pass with no sign of her friend, Jane heads back to where Cathy was resting and finds no sign of her. She hitches back to town with the handsome, yet creepy, Paul (Sandor Elès), who claims to be an off-duty Sûreté officer.


“Have you ever seen a crawlspace?”

Paul vacations in this part of the country every year because he’s obsessed with an unsolved murder committed there a few years prior. Sure, buddy. Jane is understandably freaked out by Paul and his weird hobby, so she runs away from him to the home of the local gendarme, (John Nettleton) and his war-addled father, where she stays while the policeman searches for Cathy and Paul. Will the gendarme find Cathy safe? Will Paul get his motorbike started? Will Jane ever go to the bathroom? I mean, she’s been riding a bike all day and she’s had two orangeades without stopping. She’s like a camel.


“Just loading up for the desert crossing.”

Robert Fuest directed And Soon the Darkness as well as The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, The Devil’s Rain, and some of The Avengers series, so we know he’s a cool guy. The story, written by Brian Clemens and Terry Nation, is simple and Fuest keeps it taut and fast-moving. The tension comes from within the characters and it’s genuinely scary at times.


Quentin?

The music, by Laurie Johnson, who wrote the fab theme for The Avengers and a ton of other films and shows, contributes to the film’s urgent mood. The film looks great too. Cinematographer, Ian Wilson makes pretty pastoral shots and then moves in for a heart-pounding close-up. The final shot is chilling and beautiful.


“A little wax and she’ll be good as new.”

The oddball characters add to the atmosphere of confusion and fear, but Pamela Franklin carries the film. Her facial expressions convey what she’s feeling without exposition or a lot of dialogue. That works since one of the problems Franklin’s character, Jane faces is that she’s a British woman in a small rural town in France. She speaks very little French and the locals speak almost no English. It’s a subtle performance that could easily have descended to pantomime and shrillness, but doesn’t because Franklin keeps the character grounded. Sandor Elès as Paul is equal parts menacing and comforting in keeping with the whole ‘I’m not sure who to trust.’ theme.


“Get off my pelouse.”

And Soon the Darkness is a terrific little gem of a film. These smaller thrillers from the 1960s and 70s are my favorite things in the world and the British ones are the best. This was a great find.

 

Black Sabbath (1963)   Leave a comment

Boris Karloff introduces a trio of horror stories in Mario Bava’s anthology film, Black Sabbath. Borrowing from A.K. Tolstoy, Guy de Maupassant, Anton Chekov, Bram Stoker, and a gang of other suspense writers, Bava directs “The Telephone”, “The Wurdulak”, and “The Drop of Water”. Each is set in a different era and a different part of the world, but they’re all suspenseful and well done.


“I won a cruise?”

In “The Telephone”, Rosy (Michèle Mercier) returns to her stylish flat from a night on the town. As she takes off her evening clothes, the phone rings. Rosy picks it up, but no one answers. Rosy continues to undress and get ready for bed and the phone rings again. Again, no one is on the other end of the phone. After a few calls, a voice begins to taunt Rosy with threats of murder. The caller doesn’t stop and his relentless verbal attacks wear away at Rosy’s nerves. She starts to panic and…haha. I’m not telling. Claustrophobic and tense, “The Telephone” is a nice little heart racer.


“Got your nose!”

The next story, “The Wurdulak”, stars Mark Damon as Count Vladimir D’Urfe, who, seeking shelter in the middle of the night, wanders into a rural family’s cottage. They’re waiting for the family’s patriarch, Gorca (Boris Karloff) to return from his five-day mission to kill the infamous wurdulak, a vampire-like zombie, thirsty for the blood of his loved ones. Gorca promised he’d be back in exactly five days. When he arrives a little after his due date, the family, including the beautiful Sdenka (Susy Andersen) fears Gorca may have gone all wurdulakky. “The Wurdulak” is unpredictable. The story has the potential to go in a few directions which keeps it zipping along.


“I hope I get to strip a corpse tonight.”

“The Drop of Water” focuses on Helen (Jacqueline Pierreux), who gets a call in the middle of a dark and stormy night (Ha!) to go to the home of a dead woman to dress her for her funeral.


“She’s looked better.”

Helen’s a nurse so she’s used to unpleasant duties, but this lady wears a death mask that’d make Jason Voorhees cringe.


“Did I overdo the tanning?”

I imagine they tell nurses not to mess with the dead, but Helen must have forgotten that lesson because she steals a piece of jewelry from the deceased. The rest of the segment looks like what might happen if William Castle and Edgar Allen Poe had a baby. That’s a good thing, in case you were wondering. Of the three stories, this is my favorite.


“I thought I was your favorite!”

Black Sabbath was a nice surprise. It’s a solid horror film from an era full of them and it looks great on the big screen.


“You come on back now, ya hear?”

Kill Baby, Kill (1966)   Leave a comment

You have to love a film that starts with a woman running out of a decrepit mansion, screaming and impaling herself on a pointy fence.

Dashing Dr. Paul Eswai (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) arrives at a dreary village in the Carpathian Mountains to perform an autopsy.


“I’m dashing.”

Inspector Krueger (Piero Lulli) wants to find the cause of death of Irena (the impaler) and the villagers are stonewalling him. They can’t or won’t talk about the young woman’s death because they fear the curse, plaguing their village for years, will afflict them too. The doctor performs the autopsy with the help of Monika Shuftan (Erika Blanc), a beautiful science student who happens to be in town visiting her parents’ graves. They’re a cheery bunch.


“I’m not sure we should use this picture for the brochure.”

Meanwhile, the burgomeister (Luciano Catenacci) pretends to help Krueger while simultaneously not telling him anything and conspiring with his lover, sexy witch Ruth (the mesmerizing Fabienne Dali) to insert coins into the hearts of all the corpses. Yeah, I don’t know. Oh, all right. Ruth, places the coins in the victims’ hearts to ward off Baroness Graps’ supernatural powers. The baroness (Giovanna Galletti), who lives in a huge derelict castle that looks like it was decorated by Miss Havisham for her Halloween layout, blames the entire village for the death of her daughter twenty years before.


Ruth

Paul does some sleuthing himself, asking the locals about the curse and trying to convince them that a cold compress is better for a young girl’s fever than wrapping a weird barbed plant around her chest.

More villagers die violently and Paul runs around town getting locked into places and yelling “Monika!” a lot. Monika keeps seeing a little dead girl everywhere and wakes up after a nightmare to find a bald doll on her bed. She tries to hold it together, but the ghost kid keeps appearing and by now the corpses are really piling up.


“I wanted granite.”

I won’t delve too deeply into the plot because I recommend you see Kill Baby, Kill and I don’t want to spoil it for you. It’s a cool, suspenseful film with a few nice scares and solid performances. Paul and Monika make a pretty pair. They’re both likable, intelligent, and not swept away by the hysteria of the townsfolk. Even when Monika is completely terrified, she listens to reason, and I love the way Paul scoffs at the barbaric medical practices of the locals. He’s too logical for this crap, but even he gets a little freaked out when doors start closing on their own.


Nice arm sconces

Kill Baby, Kill has a cool medieval look to it. The dilapidated stone castles give the film a worn-out gothic look that fits in with the idea of a remote town that’s given up. Director, Mario Bava, must have blown the budget on dry ice and cobwebs and he was right to do it. The whole atmosphere lends itself to spooky goings-on. Bava and his cinematographer, Antonio Rinaldi, who also shot Danger: Diabolik and Planet of the Vampires, used the set, including a gorgeous spiral staircase, beautifully.


See?

The scenes with the little ghost girl gazing through windows and bouncing a white ball are wonderful.


Wrong kid.

Kill Baby, Kill is a fun watch. The characters are worth caring about and the story, by Bava, Romano Migliorini, and Roberto Natale, has enough going on to keep you interested. It’s a fun Halloween-y film.

 

 

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