Blood for Dracula
When I caught wind that Andy Warhol produced trashy cult films in the '70s, I rushed to find everything available. Trash, Heat, and Flesh were introduced to me first, and all of these are directed by Paul Morrissey. What's also funny about this movie and all of the Morrissey/Warhol collaborations is that they star one of Warhol's troubled muses from his photography career, Joe Dallesandro. There is also a rumored cameo from Roman Polanski, but I've been too in awe of the cheesy story to keep an eye out for him. Blood for Dracula is perhaps one of the cooler variations of Bram Stoker's Dracula tale. This is due, in part, to Udo Kier's sickly performance as the famed blood-sucker. In short, it is a version that presents the villain in a pathetic light, which ultimately turns the entire move into a satirical mess. Count Dracula and his dying sister are in a bit of a bind. Both are extremely ill and fear that the next slumber they have in their tombs will be their last. Unlike most other Dracula tales, these two require a special kind of blood to feast on: the blood of a virgin. Just when their future looks bleak due to all the promiscuous girls in town, the Count's servant convinces him to have a vacation in a city with more religious convictions. They decide on Italy, and upon arrival, hear of a family with four marriageable daughters who are interested in suitors.
Before they arrive, the parents (Vittorio De Sica, Maxime McKendry) of the four girls decide to coach their daughters and emphasize the importance of the Count's inquiry and his request for a virgin bride. Little do they know that two of their daughters have frequent rendezvous with their manservant, Mario (Joe Dallesandro). Once the Count arrives, he goes through some trouble explaining the coffin he has brought with him and is escorted around the grounds in a wheelchair because he's so weak. He also goes through many comical efforts to remind his hosts that he has a special diet. One of the funniest and most pitiful scenes is when he is desperately in need of nourishment and his servant returns with bread soaked in a girl's blood. It has this odd and somewhat intentional resemblance to a drug addict blissfully indulging in his latest "hit." When the need for blood becomes unbearable, he moves in for the kill and begins visiting the two daughters who are the most attractive. It just so happens that these two are the ones who are involved with Mario and their blood makes him sicker than he was before. Everything boils down to the other two daughters. He creates a bond with the eldest, and she is the one who is honest about her past suitors, thus ultimately of no use to him. The only one left is the youngest, who the parents claim is too young to marry, and is also a prude. But before he can get to her, Mario beings to snoop around and notices that his two lovers' behavior has grown more than mysterious since Dracula's arrival.Continue Reading
"It's kind of like an ode to vandalism. There can be a creative beauty in their mayhem and destruction. You could say these characters are poets or mystics of mayhem and murder, bubbling up to the surface."
--Harmony Korine, on Trash HumpersContinue Reading
Not to downplay this movie, because it’s wonderful, but the prime reason to see it is Werner Herzog, who, if you didn’t already know, is absolutely hilarious. Reason number two is that this is the only American film that is classified as a Dogma film under the Dogme 95 criteria. Whether you think the movement is a pretentious load of bull or not is irrelevant. The requirements, while altered I’m sure, are a welcome change in terms of the crystal-clear hoopla thrills that we’re used to. This film employs an array of interesting techniques and improvisational performances that should not be missed.
The story follows a schizophrenic young-adult named Julien (Ewen Bremner), and his dysfunctional family. His brother Chris (Evan Neumann) is a high-school wrestler who aims to please their domineering father; his sister Pearl (Chloe Sevigny) is mousy individual who is pregnant with Julien’s child; and their father is an impatient bully who you find yourself siding with anyways. Oh, and there’s grandma (Joyce Korine), but she’s kind of like a prop. The entire movie is shot with grainy film stock (possibly 16mm), and is presented in a way that resembles a crazy reality TV show. Julien can be seen hanging out with his handicapped friends, mumbling to himself or others on the street, cross-dressing around the house, etc. The most memorable and heart-breaking of his activities are his phone calls to his deceased mother. He sits in one room, while his sister is in another, and they have conversations over the telephone where she pretends to be their mother. Obviously this is not good for his condition, but it also is one of the few moments that allows you to understand that he has good intentions and is simply lonely.Continue Reading
Through the eyes of movies in the 1970s, New York City looked like one rough place. I don't mean the Woody Allen romantic side of New York (Annie Hall, Manhattan). I'm talking about almost every other film made in the decade, the dark Taxi Driver side. From The Out Of Towners to Death Wish (and most cops and crime flicks), culminating in the apocalyptic Escape From New York, the place appeared to be a dangerous dump. Bottom line: Central Park is not somewhere you want to be caught in after dark. The Warriors is maybe the perfect vision of this comic book wasteland.
The gangs in New York outnumber the cops two to one, so says Cyrus, leader of the baddest (and apparently the biggest) gang in town, The Riffs. This gangsta’ visionary gets all the gangs together in Central Park for a sort of pep rally. But like so many important revolutionaries before him, he is assassinated by a creepy guy named Luther (played by the creepy actor David Patrick Kelly). Luther is able to blame the Warriors, a small-time gang in for the convention from Coney Island, Brooklyn. The Riffs kill the Warriors' leader, Cleon, and put out an APB on the rest of the gang. Suddenly every gang in town is after the remaining eight Warriors. Narrated by a hot-lips radio DJ, the Warriors are forced to fight off gangs, the cops, and negotiate New York's unreliable transportation system.Continue Reading
I readily admit that among my favorite films some are more naturally enjoyable than others. I’ve enjoyed the films of Guy Maddin and Godard and Bergman I’ve seen, but their films are generally not those I’m going to put on after a few drinks on a Saturday night. That sacred time slot is reserved for The Girl Can’t Help It or All about Eve or True Romance. A really brilliantly made film designed to be popular with lots of people is my favorite kind of film, truth be told. Ed Wood is a superb film that should have been a hit with audiences but was inexplicably not. I’d lump similarly marvelous entertainments, Quiz Show and L.A. Confidential, into this category as well. The fact that they were celebrated by critics and not particularly popular with the public is just another piece of evidence that I don’t understand the American public very much at all.
Ed Wood is Tim Burton’s lost classic. He was sent into movie director purgatory because of its dismal box office performance and it took several films (mostly remakes) to regain his stature as an auteur with box office clout. Ed Wood is Burton’s ode to the auteur, in this case a hopeless kind of auteur. It’s a celebration of the kind of director who stays defiantly, naively, but always sincerely true to his own cinematic vision. Ed Wood the man is notorious as one of the worst directors who ever made movies in Hollywood. Burton uses Wood's life and career as a means to examine the pressures on an artist as he tries to turn his vision into reality. The film is also a touching story of friendship between a Hollywood monster movie has-been (Martin Landau playing Bela Lugosi) and the ultimate Hollywood outsider working on the fringe of the poverty row film industry. It’s also a love letter of sorts to a Hollywood that no longer exists—Hollywood the small town with its crazy hat-shaped restaurants and eccentric, seedy show people. Not since Edward Scissorhands had Burton made such a personal film about the life of an artist.Continue Reading
The evolution of the road-rebel is brought to the screen in this directorial debut from Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark, The Hurt Locker). Technically, this is the film that also introduces Willem Dafoe and has him as the star amongst an unusual '80s cast. I say unusual because you have a blend of actors who've made a decent name for themselves by '82 and ones who definitely show promise in the film, and yet this was their only role. Some were from Georgia, where the film is set, so I guess it makes sense that, for the film's simplicity, actors who normally would have been extras were used for key roles. What satisfied me the most about this film was (a) being aware that a woman directed/wrote it, and (b) it has a slow plot that forces you to stop looking for action and absorb all the messages and scarce dialogue within it.
Willem Dafoe plays Vance—a young biker with dirty fingernails and sensational tomcat essence who is adored by several passing ladies. We see him solo at first, marveling at the blacktop and defined only by it and his Harley. He and his buddies are on their way to Daytona and have stopped in a small Georgian town to repair one of their member's bikes. Without the harsh juxtaposition between this group and the locals, I don't think the film's message would be as clear. Both the townspeople and the bikers have a uniform—one pastels and the other leather. Seeing the differences between the two made me expect a war - which eventually does come in the film's climax, but not as I expected it. Many people found the film quite boring, but I'm sure they missed the subtleties that really make it a wonderful debut. For instance, Vance's status as the ringleader is evident in his manner and dress. He doesn’t exactly respect the locals, nor does he expect it from them. On the shoulder of his leather jacket are silver stars, like a general. The men he rides with are not exactly his friends, but rather people he met while in prison. The only thing they share is the love of a beautiful automobile. Without their quest to cause havoc on the way to the largest roadster gathering, all sense of brotherhood would be lost.Continue Reading
Sid and Nancy
Like most bios of contemporary controversial figures, Sid and Nancy has its naysayers. Some music historians and punk aficionados have claimed that the film misrepresents some of its real life characters and their time line. Those complaints may be true. But no one has a qualm with the two stunning lead performances by Chloe Webb as the beyond annoying groupie, Nancy, and Gary Oldman as the drugged out Sex Pistols bassist, Sid Vicious (actually just window dressing for the group, he had the look, but never played on the records). The two make for an insane couple; it's a deranged Romeo & Juliet, two lost souls in a sea of heroin and self-destruction. This is a love story, with some dark humor mixed in, like a gutter version of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?.
Coming off his cult hit Repo Man director Alex Cox beautifully captures the ugliness of the late '70s/early '80s punk and drug culture in London and New York. The film opens with Sid being arrested for murdering Nancy at The Chelsea Hotel (in real life many believed that he was genuinely innocent, done in by lazy New York cops who didn't want to search out the real killer). The film goes back and traces the two meeting as the Sex Pistols were taking off in London, the cover boys for the fledgling punk music scene. Nancy was an American, a stripper and a hooker who chased rock stars and drugs. After being rejected by the other Pistols, she found a willing victim in the rather naive and dim Sid. In the film she gets him hooked on the needle and becomes the voice in his head (a kinda less charming and less intelligent Yoko Ono).Continue Reading
Ever since Marlon Brando’s Johnny in The Wild One was asked, "What are you rebelling against?" and he answered, "What have you got?" youth rebellion has been a mainstay in movies, making for some good, bad, and often subversive films. From Rebel Without A Cause to Wild In The Streets to Rock & Roll High School and Over The Edge -- all films that have elements of screwing the man. Altamont Now, directed by Joshua Brown, is more of a spoof of the genre but still keeps the spirit alive.
Like the late '60s films of Peter Watkins (Privilege, Punishment Park) or Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool, Altamont Now has faux-documentary elements and mixes in a lot of old B-roll using numerous film sources. Unlike the acid pace of those films, this has a more modern, hyper visual and editing style that helps contribute to the movie's anarchy. The film opens a la Blair Witch Project, reporting to be lost footage; luckily that angle is never really pushed (unlike the recent fake doc Catfish where the directors are still doing press claiming the obviously staged film is real). The "this is lost footage" claim is actually making fun of an already stale storytelling element. We never for a second believe that it works as a documentary; when only two people are in a room, there always seems to be a third person in the room working the camera.Continue Reading
Meet the Feebles
One summer night in 1996 I was out with a group of friends who ended up at Chicago’s Brew & View movie theater/bar in the Lakeview neighborhood to see something called Meet the Feebles. All I knew about it was from my friend Joe who said that it was supposed to be crazy and involved puppets. I’m not big into degenerate spectacles involving puppets, in theory, but what I saw that night changed my life. It was so incredibly disgusting, yet so powerful, that it took my breath away. A backstage melodrama like nothing I had ever witnessed, I finally had to lie down on the sticky floor of the theater because passions writ so large and impossible on the screen were overwhelming me to the point of exhaustion and I had never been subjected to something so simultaneously powerful and gross in my life.
Meet the Feebles is a film with so many illustrious qualities I’m not sure I’ve even discovered them all. It’s a movie about the corruption of show biz life as embodied by the Feebles, a British Muppets-esque variety show troupe with some really horrific and yet remarkably relatable problems. The film manages to address drug abuse, sexually transmitted disease, the parasitic nature of the entertainment press, the naiveté of young performers just aching to be given a chance, and a lot of incredibly depraved stuff that should probably never have been filmed. And all with a cast of puppets!Continue Reading
Before director David Lynch got too carried away with his so-called genius, before his television show Twin Peaks brought him into the home and consciousness of the casually pretentious, before he would slap any old weird images together and have people call it art, back in ’86 he made his best film...Blue Velvet. It had much of the surreal oddball touches we’ve come to expect from a "David Lynch film," but instead of relying on hammy artifices, it’s just simply a haunting, funny, and beautifully crafted film. Though it’s challenging and can be considered an "art film," it’s still one of Lynch’s most accessible films and works just as well as a straight suspense movie.
Before Blue Velvet helped push David Lynch further into the "auteur" big leagues, he had already had some major artistic success. His first feature film, the horror, sci-fi, surreal Eraserhead became an instant cult film for both its disturbing imagery as well as the humor in its strange pacing. He got an Oscar nomination for his next film, the beautiful and disturbing studio picture, The Elephant Man. He was miscast as blockbuster director for Dune; the adaptation of the popular sci-fi novel was a massive bomb, both financially and creatively. Though Blue Velvet was produced by the big-time producing Dino De Laurentiis Company and was even originally sold as a mainstream thriller, it was Lynch’s return to his roots with an original screenplay, not developed for him, but by him and his own weird mind. Lynch and the film were obviously embraced by Hollywood. With Blue Velvet he would score another Oscar nomination for directing, but it meant he would never go back to being a "director for hire."Continue Reading