Thursday, December 31, 2009

Question of the Day: Your Favorite FIlms of 2006?

Continuing with the theme of "best of" what movies stood out to you in 2006?  I'm noticing that this was a relatively weak year considering the years its sandwiched between.  Leave your lists in the's my list:

20.) Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby
19.) Why We Fight
18.) Jesus Camp
17.) Half Nelson
16.) Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
15.) Stranger Than Fiction
14.) Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World
13.) The Departed
12.) United 93
11.) Perfume: A Story of Murder

10.) Bubble
9.) Flags of Our Fathers/Letters From Iwo Jima
8.) Casino Royale
7.) Thank You for Smoking
6.) Volver
5.) Marie Antoinette
4.) The Descent
3.) L'Enfant
2.) Miami Vice
1.) Pan's Labyrinth 

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Revisiting 1999: The Top Ten Films of the Year, #4 --- Three Kings (David O. Russell)

Sorry this one is so short and more like an outline. I just knew that if I didn't get this posted soon I never would. So here's some brief, and somewhat unorganized, thoughts on one of my very favorite films of the 90's. Here's where I've covered so far in case you've forgotten:

The Top 10 Films of 1999:
5- The Insider (Michael Mann)

1999 was the revival of American cinema. It marked a new age, a revolution spear-headed by the likes of Spike Jonze, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, and David O. Russell. It was also a revival for their masters like Martin Scorsese, Terrance Malick, and Michael Mann. This mix of young and old reminds one of the 60's and 70's, a time in film history that most consider being the acme of filmmaking. These two signposts of film history show filmmakers taking Hollywood films, and conventions, and turning them on their ear. David Russell, director of the brilliant Three Kings, was one of the most impressive to come out of this movement.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Question of the Day: Your Favorite Films of 2005?

Today's question continues my inquiry into what you all think are some of the best films of the decade.  Today we cover 2005, a year I had forgotten about.  There were a lot of great films released in 2005, and I think I forgot about it because of how great 2007 was, and how a lot of people think that year is the best of the decade, but 2005 gives it a run for its money.  Leave your lists in the comments.  Here's my list:

20.) The 40 Year-Old Virgin
19.) Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
18.) In Her Shoes
17.) The Devil and Daniel Johnston
16.) Elizabethtown
15.) Grizzly Man
14.) Broken Flowers
13.) The Ice Harvest
12.) Cache
11.) The Proposition

10.) Lord of War
9.) The Constant Gardner
8.) Sin City
7.) Brokeback Mountain
6.) The Weather Man
5.) A History of Violence
4.) The New World
3.) Munich
2.) The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
1.) Syriana

Monday, December 28, 2009

DVD Review: Two Lovers

James Gray's Two Lovers may be the closest thing American movies have to a Dardenne Brothers film. Well, Kelly Reichardt may have something to say about that, but my point is this: finally we have an American film that is willing to be a melodrama and be serious all while being based in reality. It's rare for a film that portrays love in the same way a soap opera might to have the ability to pull me in and believe in the characters. Of course the acting has a lot to do with it, but Gray films his movie in a way that allows that feeling to seep under your skin; it's a slow process, and like a Dardenne film the first 20 minutes are used for the viewer to get their bearings, but once that happens you realize you're watching a film that has deep and heavy themes, but delivered in a stark and truthful way. I was completely enamored with this film. It's one of my favorite movies of 2009.

DVD Review: Breaking and Entering

Breaking and Entering is a very broad premise about how messing up makes you a better person. Philosophically it could have worked, as the late writer/director Anthony Minghella made one of my favorite films The Talented Mr. Ripley. But where that film was masterful at letting editing speak for the characters intentions, Breaking and Entering insists on spelling everything out with its absurd amount of heavy-handed dialogue.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Off for the Holiday...

I'll be away from the blog for the next couple of days, but that's not why I'm posting, I just wanted to take the opportunity to wish everyone a happy holiday.  Whether you celebrate it for religious reasons or for taking-a-break-from-all-the-things-I-hate-about-my-job reasons, I hope that you all enjoy a few days of rest and relaxation.  Anyway, see ya in a few days.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Question of the Day: Your Favorite Films of 2004?

As we get closer and closer to the end of the year, and all of the inevitable end-of-the-year lists, I thought that I would re-institute the Question of the Day feature by asking everyone to list some of their favorite films for the years leading up to 2009.  I'm also doing this because Ric at Film for the Soul is on sabbatical from his wonderful Counting Down the Zeroes project and the subsequent top ten lists he asked contributors to submit.  So, I thought this would be a good venue to continue doing that.  Also, make sure to check out Tony Dayoub's blog Cinema Viewfinder as he's been rolling out his top 10 lists, showcasing the best films of the decade.  He just posted his list for 2002.  Check it out.  I've already listed my selections for 2000, 2001, 2002, and that brings us to today's question: what are your favorite films of 2004?  My list comes after the jump...

Monday, December 21, 2009

DVD Review: Adventureland

What a breath of fresh air this movie is. Finally we have a movie about young people in their 20's who aren't obsessed with getting high, drinking, and having sex; these are things that just happen. Writer/Director Greg Mottola has created a love song to those summer nights where everything seems easier and more romanticized than the other three seasons. This is a rare film about young people who are more concerned about getting a summer job so they can save up for Graduate school than about saving money for a big party while their parents are out of town. Similar to last years surprising Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist this is a film that is more about younger people who are more interested in what's inside someone's mind instead of someone's pants.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Revisiting 1999: The Top Ten Films of the Year, #5 --- The Insider (Michael Mann)

When I began thinking about this project last Spring I remember thinking that whenever (and if) I get to the top five films of 1999 I will have a tough time figuring out which films are “better” than the others.  When thinking about this hierarchical dilemma I began to realize that I would have to type out some kind of caveat with this list. Here is the first of five entries that will account for what I think are the five best films of 1999, a year that I have been talking about on this blog for a while now.  It doesn’t matter what number sits next to these films, they’re all interchangeable at this point, but what is important is that these are five of the best films of the 90’s.  Here’s where I’ve covered so far in case you've forgotten:

The Top 10 Films of 1999:

On paper Michael Mann’s The Insider doesn’t sound like a Mann film.  In fact, on paper it sounds like another ho-hum docudrama about an ethical everyman who fights the big bad corporation.  However, The Insider – like Oliver Stone’s JFK and Robert Redford’s Quiz Show – is as taut as any thriller released in the 90’s.  It’s a masterful procedural, and Mann and his screenwriter Eric Roth create tension and elicit edge-of-your-seat type scenes out of people talking, reading and investigating, and the fear of what could happen to someone.  It’s one of Mann’s most unique films (there are no Mann character types in the film Actually there are, just not in the sense that they're professional criminals or gangsters.  Thanks to J.D. for pointing this out to me in the comment section) because on the surface it just seems so normal with its big star (Al Pacino) and Oscar premise (it was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor, and others, and remains one of the most criminally snubbed films in recent Oscar history).  The Insider is also one of Mann’s best films.  It shows a director who is a master visual storyteller; a director who is able to make 150+ minutes feel like 90; a director who creates one of the most intriguing “based on a true story” type investigative film since All the President’s Men.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

DVD Review: The Prowler (aka Rosemary’s Killer)

Joseph Zito's 1981 slasher The Prowler has a reputation as being one of the better offerings from the tired sub-genre. It boasts an impressive period look in its opening scenes (impressive for an 80's horror flick with little more than a million dollar budget), some of the best gore effects by Tom Savini, and one creepy looking killer. However, these minor pluses never materialize into a shocking or thrilling experience. Instead the film is nothing more than your average hack-and-slash film that offers up some visceral death scenes (thanks to Savini's gore effects), but doesn't succeed in actually thrilling the viewer in any way. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

DVD Review: Funny People

If you look hard enough while watching a Judd Apatow film you will find yourself amazed that there is material that exists – lurking beneath all the penis and fart jokes – that is capable of moving you. I don’t think there has been a writer who has been more polarizing or misunderstood since David Mamet decided to start making movies. Like Mamet, Apatow’s points are often lost on casual audiences who can’t seem to wade their way through the pervasiveness of the vulgarity. Mamet has his “eff bombs” and racial/homophobic slurs, and Apatow has a joke bin that consists of penis/male grooming and fart jokes. Why am I saying all of this? Because I think with Apatow’s language, like Mamet, has a certain rhythm to it, and either that music jives with you or it doesn’t. Mamet’s actors are often looked at as wooden and boring – one note if you will – but the music that is Mamet’s script calls for a certain delivery that, to someone who is not a fan, seems stilted…I find it hypnotic and infectious. The same goes for Apatow, and even though his latest endeavor, Funny People, has a horribly long and awkward third act it doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable. I like the music that the dialogue makes in an Apatow film…it’s a refreshing break from the usual mainstream comedies that Hollywood spits out every year, so even when Apatow fails, it’s a fantastically interesting failure.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Merry Quiz-mas: Time for another SLATIFR quiz.'s that time again.  Dennis Cozzalio of the fantastic Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule has asked the blogosphere to fill out one of his endlessly entertaining tests.  I usually feel like a dummy after getting through with these things, but that never tempers my enthusiasm in doing them.  Dennis has lobbed a whopping 50 question(!!) exam at us.  I hope I at least get it out of the infield.  Thanks again, Dennis, for such a fantastically fun exercise. My answers come after the jump...

Friday, December 11, 2009

...And we're back

Hey everyone...the madness of the past month is over and I'm ready to start posting on here again.  Things will resume this Monday, and there's no telling how many posts I plan on doing in the month I have off from responsibilites.  I plan on doing the following:

Listing my answers to Dennis' quiz
Re-visiting the underrated and undervalued greatness that is "John From Cincinnati"
Catching up with some movies like A Serious Man and last years A Christmas Tale
Reviewing stuff like Funny People and The Limits of Control, as well as other 2009 films
A huge list of things that made me happy the past ten years
My obligatory best of the decade list and best of 2009 list
Fun, shorter reviews for cheesy, violent stuff like The Prowler or some old westerns I've been watching like One Eyed Jacks.

And who knows what else I'll do here.  It should be a fun month...I have a lot on my mind.  Also, as you may be able to tell I switched up the design on the blog.  My brother Troy helped me out since he's an engineer and he can do stuff like that in a matter of seconds.  I like the new look myself, and I started thinking after Troy helped me switch templates and re-design this thing that it looks a lot like Edward Copeland's blog.  So consider it an homage to Ed, who sadly isn't blogging anymore. I look forward to conversing with everyone next week.  Until then...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Brief Sabbatical (Thanks to James Woods)

Okay, so I was all ready to talk about how I love the MGM HD channel because it allows me to revisit movies I haven't seen in years. Films like: Southern Comfort, Coffy, The Burning, and Interiors. And I was all ready to write about how the other night they showed this film called Cop, starring James Woods in one of his best performances, directed by James B. Harris who used to work on Kubrick's films from the 50's and 60's (most notably writing the screenplay and producing Paths of Glory), and how the film was standard serial killer vs. cop fare except for the fact that the film had this alluring, sleazy, Dirty Harry-esque exploitation aesthetic that made it impossible to turn away from (not to mention Woods' amazing performance). I was all ready to talk about a film called Cop, a film from the 80's that seems so insignificant in 2009 (I mean why talk about it?), a film that I'm sure not a lot of people have even seen, or if they have, barely remember; however, as I started writing some notes down I realized...I just don't have the time for this. Follow my jumbled thoughts after the jump...

Monday, November 9, 2009

DVD Review: Away We Go

Sam Mendes’ Away We Go feels like Jarmusch-lite…and I mean that as a compliment. The filmmakers invoke all the usual indie tropes (I have to admit when I popped the DVD in I was already groaning at the way the menu looked): folk musical score, chapters accompanied by title cards, John Krasiniski with a beard; however, beneath its seemingly rather annoying indie exterior lurks a whole other film filled with interesting meditations on parenting, being in love while having kids, and raising children altogether. This isn’t a film that condescends, as some critics have suggested, this is a film – that despite one grossly horrendous detour – evokes the whimsy of a Jarmusch film; particularly Stranger Than Paradise, another film about thirtysomethings who are geographically unattached looking for meaning in life…looking for home. I was all ready to hate on this movie, but it won me over, and it really is a smile-inducing, intelligent film.

Friday, November 6, 2009

An Interview with Jeffrey Goodman, director of The Last Lullaby

Yesterday I reviewed a film that I think is one of the best surprises of 2009, The Last Lullaby. The director Jeffrey Goodman has been nice enough to answer some questions about the process of making an independent film, some of the influences on his career, what it was like working with Tom Sizemore, and just the overall experience of making a different kind of thriller. My thanks to Jeffrey for taking the time to answer these random, off-the-top-of-my-head questions. Please check out my review for the film, and take a look at Jeffrey's blog that contains info on the film and its DVD release. As most of you know, it's so very important to support independent film. Interview comes after the jump...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

DVD Review: The Last Lullaby

Jeffrey Goodman’s The Last Lullaby is one of those rare debut films that is so assured in its style that it becomes clearer and clearer as we watch the film unfold that we’re dealing with a major up and coming talent. So rare is it these days to find a thriller that is willing to slow things down – to exist in silence and push aside all the needless noise that clutters modern thrillers. Here is a film that understands the essentials of filmmaking, and why we go to see movies like this. The Last Lullaby is a classic noir existing in a 21st century film – it may not be the most original story (but what noir claims to be wholly original?), but it’s a breath of fresh air; it reminded me of Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film Hard Eight…not in plot, but in how good of a debut film The Last Lullaby is.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"No country, this, for old men." Thoughts on Disgrace

“…A mad old man who sits among the dogs and sings to himself!”

That mad old man is David Lurie (John Malkovich) a professor of the Romantics in Cape Town, South Africa. He’s at the center of Steve Jacobs’ film Disgrace, based on the best selling and award winning (and one of my five favorite books) J.M. Coetzee novel. How he becomes mad is only the surface of this story – this isn’t a film about good deeds or bad deeds, or about redemption and rebirth; no, this is a film that asks hard questions that don’t have answers, a film that observes with the objectivity and coldness of fact. It’s also one of the best films of the year, and is filled with deep moments of power, poignancy, and truth; it will leave anyone who watches it in a state of heated conversation about the morally ambiguous dilemmas that plague the film’s characters.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Antichrist: Dragging me to Hell

I don’t get Lars von Trier…let’s just get that fact out of the way from the onset. I’ve never liked his amateur style and musings on big ideas. His Dogma rules of filmmaking are a joke, a list of restrictions that act as a cop-out for his stale style. However, I must admit that von Trier’s newest film looks great, something that I never thought I would find myself saying. Another bit of good news: von Trier, it seems, has learned how to make a movie less than two hours. The bad news: it doesn’t make Antichrist any less excruciating, maddening, inane, and downright silly than his 150+ minute shit sandwiches like Dancer in the Dark or Dogville. This is one of the silliest movies of the year.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Italian Horror Blog-a-thon: Post Script

Well that was fun, wasn't it? I never in my wildest dreams imagined that so many of you would be interested in discussing this kooky little subgenre I love so much. Some of my blogging heroes joined in the discussion (Thanks, Dennis and Tim!), and I got to meet a lot of new bloggers who love Italian horror as much as I do. This was a lot fun, everyone...and I have all of you to thank because of it. So...thanks! Fulci was the most popular subject for the blog-a-thon...which kind of shocked me; Argento didn't get much coverage which shocks me even more; and I was surprised that not a lot of people covered Bava or other 60's/70's gialli. I was also a little surprised that zombies weren't more popular. Sure, Zombi 2 and City of the Living Dead got the obvious coverage, but I have to say that I was surprised that no one covered the campier zombie flicks like Burial Ground, Nightmare City, or Virus. Maybe next year, right?

Of course I am beyond elated at the amount of entries I received and the quality of those entriues. I think we'll be doing this again next year, maybe with a little more specificity like giallo films from 60's or the Italian exploitation film of the 70's, or the zombie craze of the 80's. I'll tinker...I mean I have a whole year to think about this, hehe.

I hope to see a lot of you continue to frequent this blog. The next month might be a little light on the blogging as my Graduate schooling gets a tad more intense, but I will be posting some quickie reviews on here and a special post that I'm pretty excited about. There's also the matter of new film reviews...just look for those in December or January when I'm out of school (and on Winter break at work) and have time to catch up with all of the 2009 releases. I'm sure there will be the obligatory top ten list for the year, and the decade, too! Woo hoo! Everyone loves lists! Okay, that's enough exclamation points for now. Be on the lookout for some new material this week and sporadically throughout the month (I think the new Descent film opens soon, doesn't it?) and then I'll be back to full speed by December. Again, thanks everyone for making this so much fun to do. There were many Italian horror films I watched for the blog-a-thon that I never got a chance to write about, so you can count on those being posted at some point...or we'll just do this thing again next year.

Extra points for anyone who can figure out what movie that still is from.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Italian Horror Blog-a-thon: Links (Updated 10/31)

[Here's what other people have contributed so far to the Italian Horror Blog-a-thon. Keep 'em can submit a piece anytime you'd like during the blog-a-thon's run. I will continue to update this on a daily basis so that it will be easy to find who has contributed and where you can find it. Everything will be in this one post organized by date. I will try to keep this updated at the top of the blog. All reviews written by me can be found below this post. Enjoy.]

Updated links after the jump...

Update: I have class from 8:30 until 3:45 today so if you send me a link to your post during that time trust that I'm not ignoring you...I will link to your review when I get home. However, my Oregon Ducks have a huge game against USC today at 5:00 (meaning I won't peel myself away from the television) and then I have a Halloween party at 7:30...sooo again, I promise I will post links when I get back from that. I just want to quickly say (and I'll wax poetic in a longer post) that I have been thrilled with the results of this blog-a-thon. It's been great to meet new lovers of the genre and have old friends contribute. I'll definitely be doing this again next year. Happy Halloween everyone!

Update #2: Check out the newly updated links below! Thanks for these amazing last minute entries, guys.


Jamie Uhler, one of this blogs nicest followers, has a wonderful post on Torso that is being featured and the equally wonderful Sam Juliano hosted Wonders in the Dark blog. Check it out.

Elgringo, author of the fabulous He Shot Cyrus blog, chimes in with some thoughts on Zombi 2.

And last but certainly not least is Dennis Cozzalio author of the amazing (and influential) blog Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule pens an exemplary essay on Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling, and some of the baggage that comes with a Fulci film.

Reviews are still coming in...I expect a few more updates today so keep checking back. A couple early one's for you, though. Chris Voss of the wonderful Celluloid Moon takes a look at one of my favorite Argetno films, Tenebre.

Also Jandy Stone of checks in with her first attempts at the genre. I'm thrilled that so many people are introducing themselves to Italian horror because of this blog-a-thon. Jandy has some great thoughts up on Argento's Suspiria and Bava's The Mask of Satan. Check it out.


With just one day left in the blog-a-thon there are still some entries trickling in. Alec Pridgen (who has a picture of Reb Brown on his blog, so he's alright in my book) of the Mondo Bizarro blog has reviews up for Soavi's The Church and Argento's Phantom of the Opera.

Goregirl chimes in with some great thoughts on the classically named Black Belly of the Tarantula.

Samuel Wilson of the wonderful Mondo 70 blog (one of my favorites) gives his thoughts on the kinda-Italian horror/sleaze picture Delirium.

And finally my brother Troy is back from Italy and was inspired enough to write about the least Italian of Italian horror movies: Welcome to Spring Break by Umberto Lenzi. You have to check this review out...Troy has compiled some great stills and clips from the movie that will surely make you want to run out and get this movie. Plus it has Italian horror staple John Saxon! What more do you need? Get on over there and read about this so-bad-it's-good classic.


Roderick Heath co-contributor of one of my favorite daily stops, Ferdy on Films, contributes a fantastic review on Argento's brilliant Deep Red. Roderick and I share the same opinion on this particular Argento: it's his best film.

Another one of my favorite blogs is Antagony & Ecstasy, and if you've visited Tim's blog you know how prolific he is; but, what's even more impressive than the amount of work he produces is that there is an obvious care and craft that goes into each essay. Tim offers up his thoughts on what is considered the first (and most influential) horror film, I Vampiri. Check it out.

And finally today previous contributor Evil Dead Junkie has some thoughts on Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much.


Bob Turnbull of the extremely good Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind blog chimes in with some great capsule reviews.

Samuel Wilson of the fantastically entertaining Mondo 70 blog submits a piece on Pupi Avati's masterful and criminally underrated The House With Laughing Windows...easily one of the best Italian horror movies I've seen.

And thanks to my brother Troy there is a Youtube clip of Willy, the crazy caretaker of the sound stage in the movie Stage Fright. I mentioned in my review last Monday that you didn't want to miss Willy's delivery of the line "right between the eyes", and now it's online thanks to my brother. Check it's pretty funny.


Neil of Agitation of the Mind makes it a hat trick as he covers the giallo The Case of the Bloody Iris.

Francisco Gonzalez chimes in with reviews for Soavi's Cemetery Man, Fulci's 8 1/2-esque A Cat in the Brain, and the famous Italian version of The Exorcist entitled Beyond the Door.

Jacob Burton of the B Movies Forever blog covers a couple of classics by also throwing his hat in the ring for The Case of the Bloody Iris, and Jacob also has some thoughts on Argento's seminal supernatural horror film Suspiria.


One of my favorite blogs The Basement of Ghoulish Decadence has a great entry up on Fulci's City of the Living Dead (a popular choice for this blog-a-thon).

And Michael Parent is back with some thoughts on Zombi 2.


Evil Dead Junkie, author of the wonderfully titled blog Things That Don't Suck, has a great review up for Fulci's gore classic City of the Living Dead.

One of my favorite blogs (maybe because Troll 2 is referenced in their banner) belongs to Tower Farm Reviews...two brothers who review horror movies (naturally Troy and I are trying to copy them with our blog Garbage Day), and back in September the brothers reviewed Lamerto Bava's bizarre horror film entitled Delirium. You have to check out the pics...just crazy.

Hans A. has been a good friend to this blog, and over at his site, Quiet Cool, he takes a look at an Exorcist rip off entitled Cries and Shadows. It wasn't uncommon at all for the Italian horror industry to latch onto whatever was trendy at the time. It's what killed Mario Bava's career. Check out Hans' submission.

Neil over at The Agitation of the Mind is back with another stellar contribution...this time it's for Fulci's A Lizard in a Woman's Skin. Great stuff, Neil.

And last but not least today is Starmummy, author of the B Movies and Beyond are two links where you can find all of his wonderful and succinct reviews for Fulci and Argento. Enjoy.


J.D. of the always enjoyable Radiator Heaven tackles one of my favorite Italian zombie films, Michele Soavi's Cemetery Man.

Neil Fulwood author of The Agitation of the Mind gives Fulci's giallo Don't Torture a Ducking a look.

Erich Kuersten of Acidmeic Film has a wonderful piece on the style and allure we Italian fans love so much in a piece that looks to be a part of series entitled Bad Acid 70's-80's. Make sure to check it out.

Michael Parent of Le Mot du Cinephiliaque offers up his take on Argento's Suspiria.

Will Errickson author of Panic on the 4th of July has a post up on one of the seminal Italian horror films (and the one film that a lot people think was the catalyst for Italian horror becoming a pop culture phenomenon), Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters).

Chris Voss of Celluloid Moon has a write-up on Mario Bava's extremely influential Bay of Blood, which introduced to horror world to one of its favorite tropes: the dead teenager film.

Last but certainly not least is Samuel Wilson, a good friend to this blog, author of the always fascinating Mondo 70 film blog. He covers Lucio Fulci's finale to his Gates of Hell trilogy The House by the Cemetery. Check it out.

That's it for now. Keep the reviews coming, though. If you talked to me via email a few backs back I am still interested in you posting something for this. Just email it to me or leave the link here in the comments and I will make sure to link it up. I will continue to update this post.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Italian Horror Blog-a-thon: The Church (aka Cathedral of Demons, aka Demon Cathedral, aka Demons 3, aka In the Land of the Demons)

[Today we have a review for one of my favorite Italian horror films by my favorite Italian horror filmmaker. Here's another one, like City of the Living Dead, that I kind of dismissed when I initially watched, but subsequent viewings have been much kinder to this film. Oh, and it has what is possibly the best Italian horror soundtrack...Keith Emerson and Goblin doing Philip Glass! Enjoy]

Michele Soavi’s The Church is probably the most atmospheric, feast-for-the-eyes type of Italian horror film since Lucio Fulci's 1981 masterpiece The Beyond. It shares a lot of the surreal, nonsensical plot structure of Fulci’s film, too. But as we’ve come to discover through this blog-a-thon, if there’s one general rule to Italian horror it’s that you leave logic at the door. What Soavi has created here, despite less than favorable working conditions (I’ll get to that later), is a visual masterpiece of the subgenre. One of the best Italian horror movies to come out of the 80’s, and clearly shows why everyone thought that Soavi was the savior of Italian horror. He never made an uninteresting film, and The Church is one of his most fascinating.

A group of Teutonic Knights kick starts the story as they decapitate and plumage a small town full of people thought to be devil worshipers. They’re buried hastily, and a church is erected on top of the grave so that it will lock the evil in for eternity, but of course that doesn’t work. Right away Soavi shows his hops as we get plenty shots from the Knight’s POV, masking the screen and allowing us only to see the action through the clearing of their masks which is in the shape of the cross. Soavi seems to be doing two things here: showing us the limited vision of these “with hunters” by not just masking part of the screen, but also showing us the limited vision (or narrow-mindedness) of how organized religions were killing – the death and destruction is seen through the image of a cross. It’s one of many instances where Soavi showcases his skill of wanting to do more with this particular subgenre; Italian horror wasn’t all about gore for him like it was becoming for Fulci and Argento, and the genre was better for it as Soavi was getting back to the more unsettling nature that Italian horror lends itself to.

Back to the story: In modern day Germany we are introduced to what the cathedral looks like today. Lisa (Barbara Cupisti) is restoring a baroque fresco on the wall of the church and is immediately smitten with Evan (Tomas Arana) the new librarian. These characters are the catalyst for the evil that is about to be unleashed within the cathedral. The bishop knows about the architecture of the building and how it holds a key to a horrible secret that will unlock the demons of the past, but he is reluctant to share that information with Father Gus (Hugh Quarshie) who is not well liked by the other priests. All of this is kind of hard to keep track of (there’s not much care with the story as we have three different “main” characters throughout the film) as we keep cutting back and forth between Lisa and Evan’s story, the story of the priests, and the story of the daughter of the family that lives in the cathedral and are employed as caretakers for the priests. The daughters name is Lotte (a young Asia Argento) and she hates having to be cooped up all day in the cathedral. She has a secret getaway that not even the priests know about (because supposedly there’s only one way in and out of the cathedral), which comes in handy towards the end of the film.

Soavi films The Church in an unsettling, unnerving fashion where we are never quite sure what is going to happen next. He relies on hallucinations to displace the viewer (instead of playing the otherworldly scenes as if they were real), and this adds to the nightmarish feeling the film so perfectly evokes. At the hour mark or so the gathering of victims begins and the movie turns from curious and interesting supernatural horror flick to generic Demons-esque gore fest. And I think this is where there was a clear disconnect between Argento and Soavi. The gathering of victims trope doesn’t seem to fit with Soavi’s deliberate pace and moody storytelling (it seems more suited for a slasher movie or the schlocky Demons series helmed by Lamberto Bava…Soavi’s film is sometimes referred to as Demons 3), but somehow Soavi is able to make the film interesting despite the generic nature of the films plot (much like he did with Stage Fright). Soavi is able to fashion some really creepy moments amidst all the banality where people who just happen upon the church enter and die.

One of these scenes is where Evan, after opening the portal to the damned, is obviously not himself. He’s sitting at his typewriter pounding on the keys (wisely Soavi doesn’t use cheesy music to ramp up the creepy factor – he just lets the typewriter noises and the squeaky chair Evan’s sitting in do all the work) while Lotte sits nearby and listens to music. We see immediately that something isn’t right as the only key he is hitting is “6”. This leads to a rather bizarre and scary exchange between Evan and Lotte.

There’s also a creepy tracking shot towards the film’s climax where Lotte is leading Father Gus to her secret escape out of the cathedral. As they make their way underneath the cathedral they walk by what we presume to be the devil making love to Lisa (in a scene that seems cribbed from Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, but it’s effective nonetheless), and Evan leading the group of possessed in a satanic chant. The tracking shot, accompanied by the unnerving organ score by Emerson and Goblin, is one of the down-right creepiest things I’ve seen in a horror movie.

There’s also a great scene at the end (again showing what Soavi could do with a budget) where Father Gus solves the riddle of the architect, and just as the cathedral is about ready to crumble to the ground, the stack of bodies buried beneath the church (from the beginning of the movie) rises up in a muddy blob. It’s one of the weirdest visuals I’ve seen.

Despite the films deliberate pacing Soavi always manages to keep your interest. The man really knows how to frame a shot and make every image pop off the screen. There's a scene that shows Soavi's skill and ability to have a funny/shocking moment without being gratuitous. An old couple locked in the church bicker at each other; after the wife has been infected by the demons she wants her husband to accompany her to the bell tower. When they get up to the bell they notice there aren't any strings to ring the bell. What we get is more generic old married couple humor; however, the punch line is pretty funny as Soavi cuts away from the scene for a moment and then in a completely different scene we hear the bell...Soavi cuts back and it's the old woman hitting the bell with her husbands severed head.

Soavi had fun with this one, too, made evident by the aforementioned scene of the elderly couple in the bell tower. However, despite the fact that Soavi has some fun with certain scenes one aspect of the film that makes it so interesting is how it deals with its bizarre imagery. Soavi plays it straight in this regard unlike the previous camp film Demons and Demons 2, which were more about people morphing into disgusting monsters after becoming possessed; here Soavi seems to take the world of the occult pretty seriously (he would return to the subject just two years later with The Sect). Instead of these bizarre goings-on being played for reality (thus they would inevitably be played for laughs because there’s some pretty bizarre imagery in the film) Soavi has the victims hallucinate the odd things that happen to them – it’s the perfect way to elicit the uncertain feeling he wants his audience to have while watching his movie.

For instance in one scene a man who has been scratched by one of the possessed (or infected, if you will) begins to see weird reflections in the holy water. When he looks closer a giant piranha like fish comes out of the fountain and attaches it to the man’s face. A priest happens upon this and wonders what is going on as all he can see is the man scratching and pulling at his own face. There are numerous occurrences like this throughout the film, and they work so much better than had Soavi tried to legitimately pass off that there is a giant devil fish jumping out of the basin holding the holy water (which someone like Lamberto Bava or Fulci would have done with gory gusto).

Soavi once again ends one of his films with someone smiling at the camera (as he did in Stage Fright), but here I don’t think it’s a sardonic touch, I just think he has a devilish finish in mind. I think what one can extract from that ending (and the fact that Asia Argento plays the little girl in the beginning of the movie) is that Lotte is timeless…that she is always around when this evil is unleashed, so perhaps she is the one that brings the evil from city to city. I don’t know if that’s what Soavi intended, but one can definitely infer that from the smile Lotte gives at the end of the film as the blue light washes over her.

The movie is the epitome of what makes Italian horror so great. It's more than just gross scene after gross has genuinely scary moments that aren’t accompanied by a thrashing of keys or noises employed only to make the viewer jump, but these unnerving and unsettling scenes are always accompanied by the equally unsettling and unnerving musical score...a norm for Italian horror. The way these Italian horror soundtracks (Emerson and Goblin were favorites of Argento and Soavi) usher the viewer through the film ( I especially like how Soavi’s camera is fluid in introducing the cathedral while Philip Glass’ “Floe” is playing) is exactly how the filmmakers want you to approach their films: these aren’t films designed to make you jump out of your chair with cheap scare tactics, these are more cerebral films designed to get under your skin through a deliberate process – the films put you in a kind of reverie that you wish you could snap out of. I think it’s one of the reasons why this particular subgenre has such a passionate following, because these are definitely different kinds of horror movies…they’re a breath of fresh air from all the blasé horror films that get released in American theaters (this was especially the case during the 80’s).

The Church marked an important time in the Soavi’s career. Fresh off his slasher hit Stage Fright, Soavi was asked to join the production team for Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen after Gilliam had seen Stage Fright at a film festival. Soavi was asked to film over 200 special effects scenes, and after the ordeal was over, longed to be back in Italy making films with a close-knit crew, rather than on a film backed by Hollywood producers. Soavi stated that he liked the intimacy he experienced being First AD for Argento’s Opera, Tenebre, and Phenomena; and that the hugeness of Gilliam’s production just wasn’t for him (though he was thankful for the opportunity, and eventually worked with him again on the 2005 film The Brothers Grim as an AD).

The film also added more stress to the already strained relationship between Soavi the protégé and Argetno the mentor. Apparently during production Argento really wanted Lamberto Bava, another of Argento’s acolytes, to be the director of the film (since The Church was intended to be the third in the Bava/Argento series Demons), but he was kicked off the project after a lackluster script. Soavi was brought in to punch up the story, but Argento wouldn’t allow him to employ any of his own crew members. Argento insisted on using his own crew and breathing down the neck (he was co-writer and producer of the film) of Soavi throughout the production. Amazingly Soavi managed to survive and create something that still had his particular stamp on it. The style may be indebted to Argento, but if you’ve seen any of Soavi’s other films then you know after watching The Church that it’s unequivocally a Soavi film; and the fact that he was able to push his style through despite all the on-set problems proves the talent of this Italian maestro.

Many people felt like Soavi was the savior of Italian horror – especially after the success of this film and his hugely popular Cemetery Man – but family issues derailed his career as he took an extended sabbatical from filmmaking to care for his sickly son. When he returned to making movies it became more apparent that Soavi wasn't joking when he mentioned in a Fangoria interview that he doesn't like to repeat himself with his films and that he's "always trying to do something new with each film". That sentiment couldn't have been more true as he has made a handful of films since returning to filmmaking and none of the have been horror movies. A few have been mob flicks, and another was about the life of St Francis of Assisi…something new indeed. We can only hope that he tries his hand at horror again.

Here are tons of extra stills: