Sunday, April 01, 2018

Recent Viewings: THE SECT, GIANT LEECHES, FIRECREEK

THE SECT (1991)
Michele Soavi's follow-up to THE CHURCH (1989, itself intended as a follow-up to DEMONS), derived from a Dario Argento story, actually plays more like the third "Three Mothers" story than THE MOTHER OF TEARS: it too has a young protagonist in a strange place (rural Germany), surrounded by young students, cultish colleagues and weird elders, with a mysterious watery recess far beneath her house. Soavi has, by far, the best directorial chops of anyone working in Italy during this period, and the movie begins with a soberingly sure-handed prologue that makes one feel there is an actual filmmaker is in the pilot seat, rather than someone with more flamboyance than a clue. Once we get down to brass tacks, after a fine part for Herbert Lom as a mysterious tramp with a purpose, the movie succumbs to the usual Argento foolishness: our heroine (Kelly Curtis, whom I actually prefer to her sister Jamie Lee) lives with a rabbit she calls Rabbit; she meets cute with a young doctor (Michael Hans Adatte) with an aversion to rabbits that results in unpersuasive banter; there are flashy deaths for anyone tenuously attached to the story; and we get the tail end of Argento's fascination with bugs. None of it makes any sense and, if a lot of it is silly in either execution or principle, some of it is also weirdly beautiful. The occasional scene commands respect - even if the visual allusions to THE BIRDS, EYES WITHOUT A FACE and ROSEMARY'S BABY and character names (Martin Romero, Mary Crane) are rather more brazen than they would be in the Maestro's hand. Available on Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing.
 

ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES (1959)
1950s horror doesn't come much grislier than this salty slice of cryptid horror pulp. Executive produced by Roger Corman and produced by brother Gene Corman, this is Bernard L. Kowalski's pursuant feature to NIGHT OF THE BLOOD BEAST (1958), scripted by none other than Leo Gordon. Ken Clark (future star of Mario Bava Westerns) is a game warden in a sleepy, backwoods Southern town whose job consists mostly of patrolling local swamps for illegal traps - until the sighting of a bullet-proof mutation and the abduction of some locals raises the pressure on him to dynamite the area. The barely hour-long running time contains a fair amount of conversation about the ecological disadvantages of such a response, which is unusual and interesting, and there are an unseemly number of opportunities for Clark to bare his hairy chest, but the real stars of this show are Bruno ve Sota and PLAYBOY's July 1959 Playmate Yvette Vickers, as a bickering couple out of BABY DOLL whose sexual antagonism builds to an extended scene of Vickers and her lover Michael Emmet being chased through the woods by a shotgun-firing ve Sota - "just to scare them" - till something really scary happens. The scenes of the abductees having their blood sucked by the garbage bag monsters are unforgettable. Historically speaking, it's been hard to find a decent-looking copy of this film since it left TV syndication, but it's now available from Retromedia Entertainment as half of a nice-looking Blu-ray double feature with TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE. To the best of my knowledge, it is the first time this traditional 1.33:1 title has been released to home video in a widescreen format.



FIRECREEK (1968)
Slow-cooking, even-burning Western from director Vincent McEveety finds James Stewart and Henry Fonda delivering earnest portrayals where we might least expect them. This was not one of the better eras of the American Western, which is not to say that fine work in the genre wasn't still being done, just that audiences weren't as responsive to it. The Calvin Clements script gives us a hero and villain who are early examples of the two being mirror images of each other: Stewart is an underpaid honorary sheriff and family man in charge of a sleepy little town of self-described losers, who is bullied into defending it by the irresponsible actions of an outlaw gang led by a tired and wounded Fonda, who would rather hang his hat and make peace with the world but can't because these men represent his ability to lead. Neither man is actually leading; they're just wearing different kinds of badge, but as the sun goes down, night falls - night "when things happen" - and the men are forced to bring their images of who they are to the test. In 1968, this would have stood out as a searing indictment of what was then called "the Silent Majority," and its message still stands today. Far more thought-provoking than the usual American Western of this period, with strong supporting work by Gary Lockwood, Jack Elam (acting alongside Fonda before the two of them went into Leone's ONE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST), James Best, Louise Latham, Ed Begley, Dean Jagger, Brooke Bundy and, in one of the most potent performances she ever gave, Inger Stevens.  Available for streaming from Amazon Video, iTunes and YouTube. Also on Warner Home Video DVD.

(C) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.
 

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