Sunday, 31 May 2009

The Mother of Tears (La Terza Madre, 2007)

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Dario Argento’s fitful conclusion to the trilogy started with Suspiria (1976), and continued with Inferno (1980), is both an entertaining ghoul-fest and a let-down. Argento’s narrative begins with a nod to The Mummy (1932) when a buried sarcophagus and accompanying chest, unearthed by workmen and taken in care by a frightened monsignor, Brusca (Franco Leo), and sent for analysis by Michael (Adam James), an academic expert in the weird and obscure (how can I get such a job? does he have tenure?).
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When two art students, Giselle (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) and Michael’s girlfriend Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento), open the chest, they discover statuettes, a knife, and a garment that looks like it came out of a Target bargain bin. This awakens the title witch (Moran Atias), and her demonic minions, but they don’t settle for going for a little walk, no! Mater Lachrymarum definitely gets up on the wrong side of the bed, as she and her imps promptly eviscerate Giselle, smash her teeth, and strangle her with her own guts. Sarah flees the scene, aided by an invisible, supernatural helper.
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Police investigators, led by the spiffily polished hunk of mahogany Detective Enzo Marchi (Cristian Solimeno), suspect her of involvement, if not actually homicide. Michael investigates the chest's history, unearthing a history of of plague and destruction, as mass hysteria breaks out in Rome, rape, murder, and general mayhem infecting the populace, indicating the pattern of evil that follows the chest is repeating.
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Michael’s baby daughter is snatched by the supernatural minions to keep him silent long enough to work their misdeeds, and he soon disappears in trying to locate her. This leaves Sarah alone in attempting to unravel the mystery of Mater Lachrymarum and her own long-dead mother Elisa’s (Daria Nicolodi) legacy. Elisa died in battle with Mater Suspiriorum, but not before leaving her in the gnarled state she was found in by Suzy Bannion at the conclusion of Suspiria. She gains some assistance from lesbian white witch Marta Colussi (Valeria Cavalli) and vital advice from old-book-toting sages Father Johannes (Udo Kier) and alchemist Guglielmo De Witt (Philippe Leroy).
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The Mother of Tears retains a likeably retro cheesiness from the Euro-Horror of the ‘70s and ‘80s, with awkward dialogue and crappy dubbing in the supporting cast, sick charm in the largely analogue make-up effects, a tacky throw-it-at-the-screen approach to gore, and a perhaps deliberately non-eerie evocation of the supernatural (the prowling hordes of gothy bitch-witches in the film suggest rejects from the last St. Trinian’s film rather than the harbingers of chaos). Some scenes, like a climactic sado-masochistic orgy, and a memorably cruel sequence in which Marta and her girlfriend are gruesomely dispatched, with the third Mother on hand to lick the salty tears dribbling from Marta's face as she expires from having been vaginally impaled, display a pathological intensity of bleakly sexualized horror.
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As questionable as Argento’s misogynistic flourishes (the moment you see Marta’s girlfriend, you know we’ll have a gratuitous bed scene as a precursor to vicious slaughter) have always been, he does female protagonists well, with a constant motif of manichaeist doubles in fraught conflict (and often, as in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) or Tenebre (1982), proving to be contained by the same body).
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Dario sets up a potentially interesting contrast of wicked and good mothers competing for Sarah’s soul and the fate of the world – given extra charge by Nicolodi, Asia’s real-life mother, playing the role, in a film directed by the father Asia once rebuked for constantly casting her in gruesome psychodramas. The film is punctuated by extraordinary moments of intra-family violence (one mother drops her baby off a bridge; another eats her daughter and slaughters her priest/patriarch) that hint that a total assault on the family ideal is one of the last great taboos left.
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Unfortunately, Dario never does anything with this: it’s just a jolt of melodrama fuelling a harum-scarum thrill ride. His insistence on a dramatic arc, and a protagonist worth worrying about, is a bulwark to the increasingly gruelling, opportunistic nature of modern horror. But his slapdash approach to story development – major character Michael disappears from the film and only turns up when it needs another bogeyman, the subplot of his kidnapped child left totally severed – and an air of concession to the freak-house sensibility of Fangoria readers means that he doesn’t conclude his trilogy with any air of individuality.
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One too many old guys explaining the plot reeks less of a classicist sense of genre tropes, and more of uncertainty how to sustain the film between set-pieces, without a crucial sense of slowly revealed labyrinthine ways - the quality that's so hypnotic in both Suspiria and Inferno. Argento stages such scenes of pandemonium and grotesquery with aplomb, but doing full-bore apocalypse is beyond his scope, and, tragically, he displays none of the same intricate stylishness of his early work, which once made up for his disinterest in story.
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If the first two films in the trilogy are models of gothic artfulness realised in contemporary environments, and films like Suspiria and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage are rich and rare works of cinematic pop-art, The Mother of Tears is, in this regard, a total dud as a follow-up, lacking their games of perception, the inspiration in staging, and the inventive use of the cinematic canvas. In Bird and Suspiria, other art forms fuse with the cinematic style: here, despite Sarah’s metier, no effective dialogue develops between art and life, past and present: not even, indeed, despite the references to the earlier movies in the trilogy, with its own precursors.
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Mother pushes, regardless of fumbled story points and missed opportunities, giddily onwards with a kind of frantic, nightmarish enthusiasm, but runs headlong into anti-climax. The Mother of Tears herself is effective when barely glimpsed, but when she finally materialises, she proves to be a fashion model with too much eye-makeup, who ought to be gyrating in an ‘80s music video. Bringing her down proves a laughably easy affair. For a situation that has generated real menace. The very end, abruptly curtailed, where hero and heroine laugh in relief after escaping from a tunnel of bobbing body parts, encapsulates both a winking self-mockery and the dishevelled remnant of a great talent.
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Still, for all its faults, I can’t entirely put The Mother of Tears down, because it does what it does with gusto, and a sense of its audience as participants in its circus of the naughty. Nasty as he can be to his characters, Argento stills loves the people who watch his films.
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Saturday, 23 May 2009

To The Devil…A Daughter (1976)

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.The last Hammer horror film made before the studio collapsed as a feature production entity (only the awful remake of The Lady Vanishes, not a horror film unless you count Cybill Shepherd with a Hitler moustache, followed it) is a troublesome beast. Adapted from a Dennis Wheatley novel, but injected with a disreputable dose of Aleister Crowley and post-The Exorcist religious angst, To The Devil… is for much of its running time one of the strongest Hammer films of the decade, certainly miles ahead of the tackiness of The Vampire Lovers (1970) or the high-concept, low-result Hands of the Ripper (1972). Director Peter Sykes utilises David Watkin’s crisp, naturalistic photography to conjure a decidedly modern, artful, confrontational approach to the Gothic. As opposed to the gently stylised period poise and serial-like pace of the previous Hammer Wheatley-witchcraft film, The Devil Rides Out (1967), To The Devil… takes place in a firmly contemporary setting.
..Father Michael (Christopher Lee) is excommunicated at the film’s opening, but twenty years and a few grey hairs later, he’s still kicking about with nuns. He comes to fetch comely teenaged novice Catherine (Nastassja Kinski) from an island convent in Bavaria, and bring her to England. Meanwhile, divorced, aging, cynical Occult writer, John Verney (Richard Widmark), is beset at a book launch by Catherine’s desperate father, Henry Beddows (Denholm Elliot): he begs him to use his impressive, if purely theoretical and not at all credulous, knowledge of the lore to protect Catherine from Michael's evil machinations.
..Beddows himself needs protecting, as he barely survives an assassination attempt, blowing a hole in his assailant. Verney manages to spirit Catherine away from Michael’s watchful henchmen at the airport, and stashes her in his apartment, using his agent David (Anthony Valentine) and his wife Anna (Honor Blackman) as sitters whilst he tries to discover what Michael’s up to.
..This proves to be a project to allow Astaroth, a demon that Michael believes to be God himself to all intents and purposes, to enter our world: he signed her mother Eveline (Eva Maria Meineke), who died giving birth to Catherine, into his covenant, and then enforced the deal on her weak father with a physical pledge that will cause him to burst into flames if he breaks the pact. Now, as the culmination of his efforts approach, he has impregnated, in an orgy, acolyte Margaret (Isabella Telezynska), with a physical incarnation of Astaroth. But that grotesque baby can’t live long, and Michael needs to use Catherine as his earthly avatar, planning to baptise her in Astaroth’s blood.
..It’s a pity Lee’s playing the bad guy and not reincarnating his implacable Duc de Richelieu, because Widmark’s character is a comparatively poor substitute. Nonetheless, Sykes keeps the conflicting energies of old- and new-school horror in interesting balance, counterpointing a low-key evocation of a busy modern London and sunny pastoral settings, with intense sequences like that in which Astaroth is born, and bizarre moments like when Elliott is presented with his pledge to be faithful to the Satanists by the ghost of his dead wife, whose bloodied body lies on a nearby altar.
..Hammer’s inability to adapt properly to a new epoch of horror often resulted in an air of awkward pandering and clumsy luridness grafted onto the traditional template. To The Devil… doesn’t entirely escape that air of contingency raciness, throwing in a risible orgy sequence (Lesbians! Flagellation! Christopher Lee’s butt-double!) and full-frontal shots of Nastassja Kinski; but it is at least an appropriate aspect of a Sex Magick take on Wheatley’s wheezy mysticism. Sykes has an eye for fetishist grotesquery, as when Margaret is bound with lace ribbons to prevent her demon-baby taking the more traditional path out of her body, and when Kinski dreams of a bloody foetal Astaroth rubbing against her belly and trying to crawl inside her.
..Sykes stokes the religious angle, taking as literal the notion of devil worship as inversion of the iconography of Christianity as keynote for making disturbing suggestions about the interaction of religion and sexuality: Michael believes that Astaroth is God, and not the Devil, and his efforts take on a cultish, messianic quality that would have made perfect sense in the era of Jim Jones and Michelle Remembers.
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.With its images of perverted sex and birth, somewhere in here is a biting take on efforts to control female sexuality, as Father Michael seeks to use nun Catherine in fulfilling his mission, to convince her to let herself be annihilated as a person for the sake of his God, a particularly warped take on the idea of becoming a Bride of the Lord. There's the mockery of a birth rite, in which Michael and his fellow acolytes tend to Margaret in giving birth like tender ministers, only to ensure that Astaroth be born in the correct fashion – that is, to tear his way out Margaret’s belly. Michael, the heretic priest, takes the patriarchal desire to use female flesh as the conduit for his own purposes to obscene limits, and turns inside out the panicked attempts to strap down and beat into submission the body of Regan in The Exorcist (1973) as victory for righteousness.
..Such efforts to create an erotic-horror sub-genre to a certain degree concords with the metaphoric flesh-twisting of Cronenberg, and the repetitive, misogynistic penetration of the ‘80s slasher film, and yet also stands apart from these, for the film is intriguingly honest about the sexual anxieties at the heart of the genre.
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.Sykes' emphasis is on explicable and coherent narrative, and To The Devil... might look a bit nuts-and-bolts in comparison to Dario Argento’s Suspiria, released a year later, with its almost abstract plot and emphasis on high style, or John Carpenter’s giallo-influenced gamesmanship with Halloween, which produced the definitive blueprint for ‘80s horror, which might suggest that Hammer had been left behind. But it’s the cool, matter-of-fact quality of To The Devil… that is its distinction, much like Bava’s final film Shock, also from the following year. Sykes and Bava set their films in a demonstrably real world, free of all but the most corporeal-looking of special effects. All these films signalled the turn of an era. Argento’s films would become increasingly less intricate in their stylisation as he pushed towards bland gore-mongering. Carpenter gave birth to the awful wave of ‘80s slasher films that reproduced structure without understanding, and Sykes’ and Bava’s movies were almost the final gasp of intelligent Gothic.
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.Sykes’ film sports, at least, a reasonably good script (by Christopher Wicking and John Peacock), with interesting characters and believable interactions, particularly the amusing banter of Valentine and Blackman’s doomed couple. Apart from the very green Kinski (in her second film), whose insipid line readings and tongue-lolling attempts to suggest demonic passion could have ended her career almost before it began, the acting is of a high calibre: Elliott steals the film effortlessly with a perfect character turn as a suitably sweaty, seedy father, but Widmark is good and Lee, perhaps because he was glad to be doing Wheatley again, plays Michael with an intensity he didn’t work up much in the ‘70s.
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The film only crashes right at the end, in which the finale comes an abrupt, almost senseless halt, almost as if the filmmakers ran out of shooting stock, but it’s probably more because of studio cold feet over whether to follow through with the threat that Verney’s efforts have been in vain. This ragged end betrays an otherwise interesting and gripping final fling for the great British House of Horror.
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Venus (2006)

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.Roger Michell’s slick but ordinary direction doesn’t realise all the bite and poetry that might have been extracted from Hanif Kureishi’s hymn to horny old codgers and broad-minded young slappers. Aging, once hugely successful but now almost obscure actor Maurice (Peter O'Toole) becomes infatuated with his friend Ian's (Leslie Philips) decidedly unpolished niece Jessie (Jodie Whittaker). On the run from a life in her home town replete with a dismissive mother and failed juvenile romances, and wanting to be a model, Jessie responds to Maurice's gentlemanly but assertive come-ons with prickly intrigue, mostly because he's the first person to give her an ounce of respect. They fall into a give-and-take of challenges and favours. Maurice is no aged angel, having once abandoned the family he had with Valerie (Vanessa Redgrave), but now he's quietly snatching at the remnants of his mortal attachments with both withered hands.
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.O’Toole’s terrific performance and Whittaker’s intriguing turn as a woman who grows up in the course of the film, offer guts and emotional commitment, and Kureishi’s script assails with some insight the culturally constructed definitions of and divisions between beauty and eroticism, how young and old conceive both, and also how art tackles, triumphs over, and fails to convey our nature.
..O’Toole retains an astonishing amount of his trademark vigour, carefully channelled here into embodying a wise, romantic, but thoroughly unsentimental, delightfully gritty old salt, the sort of character Kureishi’s always been good at (recall Roshan Seth’s majestic turn in My Beautiful Laundrette). It's fair enough when a waitress, glimpsing his '60s self in a photo, exclaims "But he was beautiful!", but O'Toole's aggressive way with a one-liner, and white-hot glimpses of an ornery, horny, terrified character, show him at his best and most disciplined, and hang the wrinkles.
..But Venus, taken as a complete film, makes me not so much sad that the grand old thesp tradition is wasting away, so much as the projects of fearless force they used to act in. Venus needed less montages set to mid-tempo soul ballads and "Oh, look the old guys are fighting!" comic relief, and more grit under its fingernails, to have been a truly worthy memorial.
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Lovers of the Arctic Circle (Los amantes del Círculo Polar, 1998)

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Director Julio Medem’s epic of cyclical conceptualism isn’t an entirely satisfying concoction, building to a curiously unmoving anti-climax, but it does stand head and shoulders over lumbering Hollywood stabs at tall-storytelling, like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in its quiescent poetry and affectingly naturalistic approach to a big fish tale. Ana and Otto are the two step-siblings whose romantic obsession with each-other becomes entangled with loops of history and cruelties of arbitrary fate. Their love affair never becomes transcendent: in fact it becomes subordinate to an inability to dominate fate, and the people around them are eaten away by loss. Medem’s set-up threatens cuteness, but his sensibility is neither too meditative nor too impressed with itself, and he backs up his sentimental, mystical inflections with grit and melancholy, and impressive observations of character and the self-consuming nature of all forms of love. His interest both in fateful repetition and fatal luck jolts his story in original and unexpected directions, using self-conscious absurdity to get at the truth in how life situations tend to repeat from generation to generation.
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Paris je t’aime (2006)

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Surprisingly agreeable confection from two-dozen intelligent directors means that the normally excruciating episodic-vignette style congeals into a solid whole. Most immediately satisfying is that the directors mostly manage to maintain, whatever the substance of their contributions, their own essential spirit, whilst still contributing to a coherent whole that envision Paris both as its archetypal self and also a contemporary melting pot.
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Some personal favourites: Christopher Doyle’s surreal, funny "Porte de Choisy" satirises both haute couture and the clichés of cross-cultural perception, as Barbet Schroeder’s cosmetics salesman transforms a bevy of Asian chicks, full of kung-fu feminist attitude, into a willowy mob of pliant, dancing beauties: it could almost by a sly send-up of, as well as a substitute for, the luxuriant fetishes of Doyle’s long-time collaborator Wong-Kar Wai. Tom Tykwer’s deliriously romantic section treats us to a relationship between a blind Parisian and an American student-actress which is book-ended by a motif of mistaking acting for real distress, and the powerful emotion this can imbue. The same idea more light-heartedly sparks Wes Craven’s interlude at Pere-Lachaise where the ghost of Oscar Wilde sparks a mordant Rufus Sewell’s romanticism for Emily Mortimer’s satisfaction.

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Frédéric Auburtin and Gerard Depardieu provide a tart reunion for Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands as a divorcing couple whose old torch gutters low and drowns in acid, whilst Richard LaGrevanese provides Bob Hoskins and Fanny Ardant as a pair of showbiz vets contending with their age through a spot of role-playing. Gus Van Sant’s contribution is a bewildering portrait of non-communication that may or not be a pick-up; and the Coen brothers provide an amusing slice of their familiar cruel whimsy with Steve Buscemi as a tourist who gets into hot water in the Tuileries Metro station. Other directors offer brief, transient mood pieces, like Walter Salles’ wistful vision of a young South American woman’s life as a nurse for children, and others still present tall tales, like that of an African immigrant who meets the object of his obsessive pursuit right at the point of death when she turns up as a paramedic – although the visual coda of this chapter is perfection. Least in my mind are Gurinder Chadha’s familiar painfully obvious reversal of ethnic clichés, Sylvain Chomet’s mime-themed “Tour de Eiffel” episode, and Alexander Payne’s droning final piece. My favourite of the lot is Vincenzo Natali’s vampire episode, “Quartier de la Madeleine”, a nigh-perfect piece of miniaturist horror with a good punchline.
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Mutiny (1952)

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Excruciating naval yarn set during the War of 1812, in which, according to this film, many toy ships attempted to sink each-other. Seafaring dullard Mark Stevens embarks on a mission to bring back gold from France as war finance, taking with him in-disgrace former British captain Patric Knowles. Knowles stops along the way to pick up his femme fatale girlfriend Angela Lansbury, who's ruined his life once before and will do it again in style. A-doin’s start a-transpirin’. It’s sort of a film noir aboard a Napoleonic-era cruiser, except nowhere near as interesting as that sounds. Any self-respecting sea captain ought to know that when you’ve got a mate named Hook who instead of a hand has…a hook, you should keep an eye on him. Second star from the left and straight on ‘til boredom.
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Thursday, 14 May 2009

Nothing Sacred (1937)

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A brilliant comedic performance from Carole Lombard, and a perfectly poised one from Fredric March, anchor an occasionally hilarious Ben Hecht screenplay, which, underneath the hijinks, assails the entire character of post-Depression America as gloriously corrupt. Being wise to the flim-flam is the chief tool of flim-flammers in Screwball Comedy, and everyone’s in on it at some point. Lombard’s the girl from Hicksville, Vermont, who’s told by her drunken, resentful doctor (Charles Winninger) she’s dying of radium poisoning. This inspires slick journalist Fredric March, in disgrace after one of his human interest discoveries proves to be a fraud, to make her the tragic heroine of the hour, only to find that she’s not dying at all. It’s sort of like the precursor to Ace In The Hole with more jokes and sex appeal.
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If, as in many of Hecht’s scripts, the entertainment is leavened by a slightly too heavy hand of moralising, the surface wit and relentless cynicism is both a laying waste to and a monument for the gauche energy of its era (and also the fear that the great American game would break down under the relentless scrutiny of European tight-asses, represented here by a gaggle of doctors led by Sig Ruman, who blow the cover on the whole deal), and engages with the cult of media dishonesty and celebrity obsession, defining it all as narcissism dressed up as public interest, long before our contemporary pantheon of media whores were ever heard from.

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William Wellman’s slick direction and W. Howard Greene’s Technicolor photography paint New York as a gilded wonderland, even whilst insinuating it’s rotten to the core, and staging witty visual gags, like the grotesque gala evening celebrating heroines of history that’s a monument to sleaze.
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Particularly cheeky, and a perfect example of the way sex was encoded in these films, is the scene in which, to fool doctors into thinking Lombard is suffering pneumonia, he sets out to get her breathless, shaking, and covered in sweat in five minutes – they settle for beating each-other up until each lays the other out with a satisfying, er, knockout punch.
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Sunday, 10 May 2009

Prince of Darkness (1987)

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.Prince of Darkness is probably the most obscure movie of John Carpenter’s beyond-awesome ‘80s oeuvre. After the mystifying failure of Big Trouble in Little China (1986) – a film which predicted, too early, modern Hollywood’s recent obsession for wu xia stylistics – halted Carpenter’s rise up the rungs of the Hollywood ladder a bare eight years after Halloween, Prince was made for a paltry $3 million budget.
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.If Carpenter riled at the indignity at his ticket back to the minors, it didn’t show, except perhaps in the cheapo effects and corny violence, which he had generally avoided in his early low-budget films. It hints at the slapdash quality that tainted his ‘90s output, as one of the best of the American new wave directors became a camp-it-up timeserver. Carpenter’s increasing disgust with Hollywood and American imperialism built up to the orgiastic grotesqueries and greenie apocalypse of Escape from L.A. (1997), but in general most of the films he made after this lacked the uniquely rigorous, high-tensile sense of cinematic construction that marked his oeuvre’s first half.
..And yet, filmed in a hurry and on the cheap, Prince of Darkness walks a tightrope of droll dark comedy and expertly sustained narrative tension: the overall goofiness of the enterprise hardly dispels the authentic atmosphere of eerie intensity. The plot – which even Carpenter, in his hilarious DVD commentary, can’t entirely explain – involves a mysterious canister kept in the basement of a church in Los Angeles that dates back to Spanish colonial times.
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The priest who’s in charge of the canister, a member of the Catholic sect called ‘The Brotherhood of Sleep’, dies in his sleep on the eve of being promoted out of that thankless job, and so his diary and a fanciful cylinder that contains a metal key are passed on to another priest (Donald Pleasance). Pleasance in turn goes to Professor Birack (Victor Wong), a quantum physics professor with a near-metaphysical interest in the contradictions of sub-atomic physics, which makes him the best candidate to fathom the terrifying mystery Pleasance feels must now be revealed to the world.
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.Meanwhile, weird phenomena small and large are occurring: all manner of simple life forms, like worms and insects, begin swarming; a supernova in deep space is revealed; schizophrenic street people begin congregating around the church, apparently drawn by the same force that’s affecting the animals; and an alignment of sun and moon appears in the sky.
..Wong gathers together a team of his and other teachers’ best students for the weekend at the church, including lovelorn recent transfer Brian Marsh (Simon and Simon’s Jameson Parker, sporting a moustache that defies my credulity); feisty redhead savant Catherine (Lisa Blount); wisecracking tycoon-wannabe Walter (Big Trouble’s marvellous Dennis Dun); theology and cryptographer student Lisa (Ann Yen); radiographer Susan Cabot (Anne Marie Howard); cutesy Kelly (Susan Blanchard), and more. Even more terrifying than the thing which awaits downstairs are the so-'80s LA fashions on display.
..They soon find themselves present for an inter-dimensional cross-rip of terrifying proportions, as the being in the canister proves to be the son of not Satan, exactly, but a god of anti-matter, seeking to escape into our world and consume it, and it needs a human avatar to accomplish this.
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.For this purpose it infects Susan, who soon gets around spraying green water into her fellows, bringing them into the devil’s circle, and finally claims Kelly as the vessel it transforms in grotesque fashion into a suitable frame for the beast’s revival. The remnants of the group try to work out if they stand a chance of preventing Armageddon.
..Carpenter’s script assembles elements of his earlier films in a kind of survey; especially Precinct 13’s siege setting and hordes from out of the demimonde, and The Thing’s shapeless, body-claiming alien force. The writing is good, littered with funny lines and highly imaginative contemporary twists on the tale’s origins in the works of Nigel Kneale, to whom Carpenter pays nod-wink homage by billing the screenplay as the work of “Martin Quatermass”.
..Carpenter employs sub-atomic particle theory to jazz up his ideas, which include video broadcasts via tachyons from the future projected into the minds of dreaming people, warning them from 1999 of the awakening beast; each time the dream recurs, the figure in it is slightly different, as actions in the present affect the outcome. So that's what Prince meant...
..There’s genuine creativity here, and in the psychically-written book the team translates that combines advanced calculus, holy texts and witching emblems, and warnings of dire portent. The emphasis is on a group of characters, all of whom are sharply defined, rather than merely its lovebirds. As for those lovebirds, Carpenter makes a winking reference to his favourite director when Brian asks Catherine: “Who was the guy? The one who gave you such a high opinion of men?”
..Likewise Carpenter’s direction is as lean and utterly intelligible as ever, with not a wasted frame in his sublimely skilful employment of edits and camera set-ups, and much of the film is a model of fusing narrative and directorial drive, particularly emphasised by Carpenter’s throbbing score, which interlaces with the nerveless rhythm of the storytelling: the first half-hour ought to be shown in film schools, for how to get a story propelled, and the narrative intensity cranks up to an hysterical intensity.
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The problem is in the production. It’s slightly depressing to see Carpenter try the same effects of shadowy threats and creeping terror stalking his torch-wielding heroes that he used in The Thing, except where there his FX budget allowed him to conjue genuinely grotesque visions to be traced out in the corners of his artful lighting, here they’re assailed by squirts of green water and other tacky, almost joke-shop level terrors.
..That the material is too ambitious for what, in the end, he can pull off on such a stringent budget, hurts the film badly, and Carpenter, as if sensing this, spurns the satisfaction in subtle invention that made his early no-budget films so great, and gives in to a jokey exploitation quality in places, like in a threatened lesbian tryst between two characters, and an Alice Cooper cameo as leader of the schizo army where he recreates a part of his stage act.
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Before, even when being wry about his films within those films, Carpenter had always been utterly straight-faced in terms of the integrity of his storytelling, but here is reflected a loosening in the limbs of the great artisan. Not the total dud it was dismissed as at the time, but not great Carpenter either.
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