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Archive for the ‘Foreign Film Focus’ Category

Around 3 a.m. last night, I couldn’t break free from my bed. I tried to, multiple times, each effort feeling increasingly impossible. I was beneath mounds of quicksand, essentially; the comforter and sheets smothering me like tar. The only way the whole experience could’ve have been more terrifying would have been if Freddy Krueger showed his face and revealed that the ordeal was of his doing. But, of course, it wasn’t. Instead, I was stuck in authentic nightmare territory, a direct result of a film I watched only three hours prior. The movie was an old Italian giallo from 1976, The House with the Laughing Windows, a minor cult favorite from director and co-writer Pupi Avati. While the film was playing, I was certainly into it, but far from enamored. There are these murky church organs that dominate the soundtrack, and are quite effective. Before this nightmare, those keys were the scariest thing about Avati’s picture; the denouement, a disturbed GOTCHA moment, punctuated by a slight cross-gender twist, for the film’s hero  Stefano (Lino Capilicchio, a James McAvoy lookalike), is more haunting than full-on scary. But as those organs play over the enigmatic final shot, The House with the Laughing Windows settled into my head, something awful. The nightmare was inevitable.

I swear on the names of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci that this bad dream was one of the worst I’ve ever had. It all felt so damn real; I heard the organs, lifted straight out of Avati’s work, and I saw the film’s two endgame antagonists, the Legnani sisters, an embodiment of the two peripheral figures commonly seen in paintings of St. Sebastian’s final moments. My bedroom, lit only in the shadows peeking in through the windows, became a tomb; my attempts to simply rise out of bed turned into a broken record spinning devil music. Up and down, up and down; “I can do it” into “Don’t kill me,” “I can do it” into “Don’t kill me.” 


The House with the Laughing Windows takes the St. Sebastian imagery into its own fictional world, envisioning the traditional picture as an impetus for supernatural hub-bub. Stefano is hired to restore the unfinished work of Legnani, a deceased painter cloaked in mystery; he was dubbed the “painter of agony,” due to his penchant for drawing those near- and in-death. As Stefano gets to work, the townsfolk get more ominous by the second, and bodies start dropping. This all commences with patience. The film’s pacing is slow; it’s one of those creepy-crawly horror stories that zaps you early on, lets the dread marinate and then pulverizes you with third-act devastation. Not all of Avati’s film works; clocking in at 110 minutes, the flick would benefit from a solid 15-minutes-off edit. Yet, the bookends are powerful enough to salvage the entire thing. Consult Netflix immediately for this, if only to check what is easily one of the most Satanic opening credits sequences out there. All-red screen, those organs-from-Hell, a slow-motion reenactment of St. Sebastian’s encounter with razor-sharp knives, sprinkled with blood-curdling screams and yelps, all before an eerie voiceover that’s up there with “Simon” from Brad Anderson’s awesome Session 9. Even if the entirety of The House with the Laughing Windows had sucked, the beginning credits would justify its cult status.

Hell, the opening credits, paired with the film’s final five minutes, did me in more than any other horror movie in recent memory; the closest parallel I can draw is the sleepless effects that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining had on me as a little kid watching it for the first time. In no way am I saying that Avati’s film is on par with hat Kubrick masterpiece; there’s merely an inexplicably common force between the two, in terms of their unsettling tones. 

I may have to buy The House with the Laughing Windows on DVD just to come to grips with this nightmare. Dissect the pic until I uncover the direct cause of a truly horrific nighttime experience. Or, just to swoon over Francesca Mariano, the film’s beautiful female lead. Face-wise, she’s remarkable. 

Scenes from the film—- specifically the opening credits, footage of sexy-ass Mariano and the spoiler-heavy final minutes—-after the jump: (more…)

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One of the many perks of living in the Tri-State area is the ease in which I can visit the IFC Center in downtown Manhattan, a wonderland of independent and foreign cinema. Ever since the otherworldly vibe I felt while watching David Lynch’s Inland Empire there in the winter of 2006, I’ve loved the place. Over at Reel Loop, I’ve jotted down my thoughts on a new French film playing at IFC, Catherine Breillat’s Bluebeard

Give it a read, if you can….

LINK: Reel Loop review — ‘Bluebeard’


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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a damn-good Swedish thriller that opened here in America a couple weeks back, without any real promotion or word. Meaning, this is most likely the first time you’re hearing about the damn thing. Click the link below to learn more about it, courtesy of a review I’ve penned for Reel Loop:

LINK: LATE PASS Review — ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’


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Pardon the pretentiousness that could be taken from the following; I’m just typing while thinking.

Take from this what you will, but there’s seriously no greater joy for me than when unsuspected visitors to my bedroom finger through my DVD collection, only to leer my way with hesitation and mild shock. That me, the nice, friendly and warm fella they thought they knew so well has such a perverse appreciation of truly fucked-up cinema. Sure, they glance at Billy Madison and other non-threatening standards, but then they also see Lucio Fulci’s The House by the Cemetery, and Dario Argento’s Deep Red, and the many recent foreign horror flicks with the off-putting cover art designs. And then I proceed to fawn over the elaborate death scenes, how the respective director makes you squirm while reeling in sadistic glee. 

Truth is, I’m accepting more and more every day that there’s this inner dark side beneath my naturally disarming ways. Take the book I purchased this morning—-Ramsey Campbell’s The Face That Must Die. I know tons of people reading The Lost Symbol, thinking that they’re onto something quite intriguing, but not I; I’m enraptured by British horror writers. Just last week, I stormed through James Herbert’s ferocious ’70s novel The Fog. And every night, before I drift off into slumber city, I take in another entry from Jack Ketchum’s demented short story collection Peaceable Kingdom. His “To Suit the Crime” is a must-read; it’s an intense exploitation story bookended by a Rod Serling-esque twist. 

The reason for this self-examination is the following, the first full trailer for Amer, a French new-age-giallo from filmmaking duo Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani that could potentially show Dario Argento how he used to make horror. Amer is currently making the festival rounds, and the praise is slowly mounting. The trailer, released earlier today, is bizarre and moving, lavish and somewhat vile. Meaning, exactly my kind of thing. You want to know more about me? Watch the trailer, after the jump, and wonder why I’ve replayed this five times in a row now. But first, here’s the synopsis found on Bloody Disgusting

Desire has always been linked to one’s look. And cinema too. Luis Buñuel knew that very well when he filmed the short of a razor over an eye with a detail shot. Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani recover this image in an experimental film with immaculate style. Someone watches a girl through a keyhole. The wind lightly lifts a woman’s skirt as a group of men look on. The fantasy of a dress tearing. Composed of fragments -of eyes, lights, shadows, gestures– and without dialogues, Amer delves into the life of Ana, always halfway between the real and the imaginary. A film of sensations, always shot skin-deep.


Head beyond the jump for the hypnotic trailer: (more…)

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There’s no need to get on the “Foreign films get the shaft here in the states” soapbox; it’s already overcrowded with passionate overseas-horror lovers. In the case of 2007’s exceptional [REC], though, I’ll make an exception. Mainly because that heartstopper of a quasi-zombie flick, co-directed by Spain’s Jaume Balaguero´and Paco Plaza, is the quintessential big screen picture, a film that’s perfect for in-theater consumption. Shot in the same handheld camera style as Cloverfield, [REC] is actually superior to that J.J. Abrams-backed creature feature, which itself loses steam when watched on a television. The straight-to-DVD release of [REC] here in America was a huge bummer, frankly; it robbed me of the Loews experience I desired. I had to settle for the unnecessary, but at least well-done, remake, Quarantine. But, that wasn’t the same. Quarantine is rather solid, but still a carbon copy of the real Spanish deal. 

So imagine my delight when I discovered that [REC] 2 was to make U.S. impact during the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Spanish Cinema NOW” festival. Knowing that it’ll only get another to-DVD unveiling here sometime next year, missing the sequel’s run in the great Walter Reade Theater was no option. And I’m glad to report that [REC] 2 didn’t disappoint. I’ve organized my thoughts into a review-thing over at Critics Notebook. Give it a peek, will ya? 

Review Link: Critics Notebook: [REC] 2 (2009)

Tomorrow I’ll be back with a [REC] 2 related tribute to a forgotten slice of Italian zombie-movie-cheese, Burial Ground. I, for one, can’t wait. [REC] 2 trailer, after the jump:

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If I had the luxury of my own “If You Like This, You’d Also Like This….” feature here, a write-up on the IFC Films-distributed, straight-to-DVD Belgian horror flick  Linkeroever (Left Bank) would preface mention of Ti West’s The House of the Devil. West’s inconspicuous descent into ’80s satanism still holds up as one of the year’s best horror films, perhaps even THE tops, once polls are finalized; what makes that film so damn effective is its patience. The House of the Devil saves the anarchy for its final reel, and everything that comes before the endgame insanity justifies the wait. Quiet creeps, gradual earning of sympathy for the heroine. A constant sense of something-just-ain’t-right; you know it’s going to end badly for the main character, a college-aged babysitter tending to a spooky old house in the woods, but it’s all a matter of getting there.

Left Bank, directed by Pieter Van Hees, succeeds on that same level. Budding track star Marie (gifted actress Eline Kuppens; she’s a pro at the woe-is-me face) gets smitten by suave Bobby (Matthias Schoenaerts), and, against the wishes of her over-protective mother, moves into her new suitor’s Left Bank-located apartment building. The film’s first 80 minutes are entirely dedicated to establishing a mood; it’s understood that Marie is in for something unpleasant, but just what she’s destined to experience is kept in the dark, until an explosion of cult-sacrifice fun.

Van Hees’s pic isn’t as across-the-board triumphant as West’s picture, mainly due to screenwriters Christophe Dirickx and Dimitri Karakatsanis’s story’s all-too-brief and none-too-revealing payoff; that aforementioned explosion is more like a firecracker job. The film has been met with some of the same “Roman Polanski-esque” claims by critics as The House of the Devil, and such lofty compliments aren’t unfounded. Left Bank, in fact, owes more to Polanski than West’s work; Left Bank—-set in a sinister apartment complex that rests above a mysterious black pit, accessible through a dark, dreary basement walkway—–is close in setting to Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant. The climax that Van Hees’s film  inches toward, a strange exercise in Pagan rebirth rituals, is more in line with The House of the Devil, though, so, in that sense, the film’s aesthetic quality is a curious amalgamation of Polanski and Ti West,. I wouldn’t be surprised if Van Hees has never even heard of one Ti West, but he should, because they seem to operate in the same genre headspace.

Left Bank does have its share of problems. The underlying theme, for one, isn’t fully realized, leaving interpretation not only open-ended, but littered with holes that a NJ Transit train could zip through untouched. There’s a midway slideshow presentation that informs Marie and her one ally of the apartment building’s shady history, central to which is some mumbo-jumbo about a woman-eating dragon that lives underneath and devours its latest female every seven years. Thankfully, no fire-breathing Reign of Fire rejects co-star in Left Bank, but the big reveal surrounding Marie’s sketchy lover, Bobby, is nonsensical and too vague; is he somehow connected to the dragon? Why does her assailant look like a lady’s private part during that time of the month (sorry about that)? And does that resemblance connect to the film’s several references to Marie’s troubling inability to have necessary periods?

I’ll leave these questions to the decision(s) of whomever gives Left Bank a chance of their own. Oddly, the film has been overlooked by the various horror websites that typically promote foreign movies of this ilk. Which is a shame, because Left Bank—-mostly a winner despite its narrative trappings—-is certainly worth a gander.

Left Bank trailer, after the jump: (more…)

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……and I’m in love with it for that simple fact.

More info on Amer after the jump: (more…)

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