August 27, 2010

BARBARELLA (1968) the Ultimate Guide - Part 6: the Posters

I'm no expert on movie posters so I can't say for definite which countries had each poster campaign. But I've tried to show the main types of original poster art, without showing every minor variation in layout. Many of these have since been reproduced as postcards and posters, though many of the originals can be found on eBay and specialist sites.

This beautiful artwork was used across Europe and America. The artist is Robert McGinnis, whose most famous posters were for several James Bond movies from Sean Connery's era, as well as Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun (thanks to IMP for that info). The long, wide version (at top) was a spectacular 20 feet wide!

One character isn't recognisable from the film (the one in the spacesuit, centre right), so I'm guessing this was produced for advanced publicity. Note that Durand-Durand's ship is the one shown crashing, rather than Barbarella's.

USA, 1968

UK 'quad', 1968

Spain, 1968

Mexican over-sized lobby card, 1968

Japan, 1968.

A couple of Italian variations on the McGinnis artwork.

Italy also has their own style of collage posters, called fotobustas, of which many variations are produced for each film. These are the ones I know of...

As you can see, many of the costumes are the wrong colours and the fleshtones look strange, probably because they're black and white photos that have been coloured in.


Czechoslovakia, 1971

Germany, 1973

Cult fantasy artist Boris Vallejo painted this artwork for the 1977 re-release that followed the space madness of Star Wars. Note that Pygar is wingless. This has become familiar as the art on all home video releases - on VHS, laserdisc and DVD. Note also the new, longer title (which never appeared onscreen).

Lastly there's this spectacular art by the Hildebrandt Brothers, famous for a classic early Star Wars poster, for a 1979 re-release. Seems like a lot of re-releases, but I guess it's because there was no home video yet.

A wide selection of Barbarella repro posters here at Movie Poster Shop.

Some fantastic original posters here at Poster Nirvana.

Don't miss out on any previous chapters of The Ultimate Guide to Barbarella:

August 20, 2010

THE HANDS OF ORLAC (1924) - extreme 'horror acting'

(1924, Germany/Austria, Orlacs Hände)

But doctor, will I still be able to play the piano?

The name might not be familiar, but many horror films owe a debt to the story and this first adaption of The Hands of Orlac. Besides the better-known remakes, consider The Beast With Five Fingers (1946), the Christopher Lee segment of Dr Terror's House of Horrors (1965), Oliver Stone's The Hand (1981), Ash's possession in Evil Dead II (1987) and especially the homage of Body Parts (1991).

Before surgical transplant procedures had been perfected, there was actually a debate over which organ a person's soul might inhabit, and whether personality was also transferable. In the story, concert pianist Orlac loses his hands in a train crash, waking to find that they've been replaced with those of an executed murderer! He can no longer trust his own hands!

Using this logic, the Frankenstein monster would have had multiple traits from each part of his patchwork body, but in those movies, the donor's personality and memory only transferred when the brains were swapped. In The Hands of Orlac, it's the original function of the hands that's conveyed - they still want to kill, hold knives, strangle...

This far-fetched concept is brought to life purely by the actor's performance. Conrad Veidt (a favourite actor of Christopher Lee) has to convince us he's frightened of his own hands. Not an easy task, but the film is a tour de force nearly two hours long, made fascinating by the extreme 'horror acting' of the cast.

For want of a better phrase, 'horror acting' means to me that someone has to convey extremes of fear and madness when confronted by the impossible, the supernatural, or the downright evil. This is exaggerated to match the extreme circumstances. I'm talking about the frenzied state that 'the final girl' has to convey when she's cornered by a killer, or Ash's descent into madness as the whole house conspires against him. Also the kind of performance needed when the killer is finally unmasked, and has to look like they are insane enough to have committed all those mad murders. But there's a fine line between successfully 'hitting these heights' and over-acting. I think it's also possible, Shatner-style, to overact and take the audience with you.

This is a rare and difficult skill. How often in a horror film have you seen someone scream unconvincingly, or not look scared enough? The reason I gave up on the Saw movies was because of Carey Elwes in the first film. At the crux of the story, trying to look insane enough to cut off your own foot required a height that Elwes didn't reach.

It's the 'horror acting' that really kept me watching The Hands of Orlac. Filmed back when it was a new artform, the art of appearing very, very scared by the supernatural. Paul Orlac (pity he's not called Hans) and his wife, Yvonne, are happy for a couple of minutes before being
dropped into a pit of despair and terror.

Yvonne (Alexandra Sorina) has a similarly extreme emotional rollercoaster ride. First she's awaiting his embrace before he returns from a concert tour, her yearning for the touch of his hands on her body will soon prove problematic. Then she's distraught as she hears that his train has crashed and races to the site not knowing whether he's survived. The torture mounts at the hospital as she waits to hear whether he'll survive, then there's the horror as she learns he'll lose his hands. The actress is limited to playing this last scene in an armchair, but takes distraught to the very limit as if she's climbing the walls.

When Orlac finally regains consciousness, he's relieved to see his new healthy hands unbandaged after the crash, in notably
the only daylight exterior scene. For the rest of the film, once he discovers he's inherited the hands of a criminal, the character is trapped in gloomy, cavernous, expressionistic sets. Besides not being able to play the piano, he fears that he can't trust touch his wife with such murderous hands.

Orlac's battle with his hands through the rest of the story is
extraordinary to watch. The sheer strain of his performance even showing in the veins on Conrad Veidt's forehead. I'd previously thought Bruce Campbell was the king of 'possessed hand' acting after his Oscar-worthy, kitchen-destroying struggle in Evil Dead II. But Veidt has to keep this level of intensity up for most of the film!

But while Veidt and Sorina's performances are exaggerated, they're still truthful. In silents, performers are allowed to show how they feel inside. Like the most memorable scenes of Lillian Gish in the American silent classics The Wind and Broken Blossoms. The latter has her trapped in a cupboard with a killer trying to break his way inside. For me this works ten times better than Shelley Duvall in the bathroom in The Shining. Gish gets so worked up, she eventually looks like a cornered animal being driven frantic with fear. I should say this acting is heightened rather than exaggerated. It has to be amplified because the actor has to convey everything to us, without the help of dialogue, sound effects or music.

Director Robert Wiene continued using surreal set design of early German supernatural cinema, which he'd helped pioneer in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, also starring Conrad Veidt. The oversized sets, dominated by simple shapes are partly obscured in the murk of the fading prints. But these sets are as unnatural and psychologically wearing as the acting. Not as surreal as in Caligari, but overly imposing and empty, stripped down to the essentials of the script. A music room, a piano. A bedroom, a bed. The patterns on the walls and the frames of the doorways dominate the sets.

The extreme performances look slightly less unusual when we meet the other grotesque characters in this nightmare, Orlac's father and his bizarre butler! I also recognised Fritz Kortner, one of the stars of Pandora's Box, lucky enough to later act opposite Louise Brooks.

The US remake with sound, Mad Love (1935), looks a lot less impressive when you see this first version. This is also for fans of Conrad Veidt, the star of The Cabinet of Caligari (1920), The Student of Prague (1926), The Man Who Laughs (1928), The Spy in Black (1939), The Thief of Baghdad (1940), not to mention Casablanca (1942).

The Kino Video DVD has assembled the best surviving elements of the film, though the picture quality fluctuates throughout. The brightness of each shot flickers a little and there are many scratches. While I'd like it all to look cleaner and a little lighter, these unavoidable artifacts all add to the atmosphere.

Here's a taster, a clip compilation from the Kino DVD transfer, on YouTube...

August 13, 2010

COMPULSION (1959) - re-enacting the story of Leopold and Loeb

(1959, USA)

They're loaded, and they wanna have a good time...

This is a taut fictionalisation of a famous murder case from 1924. Leopold and Loeb, two wealthy and intelligent Chicago students, thought they were clever enough to plan a perfect crime, and of superior enough intellect to be above the law. While it lead to 'the trial of the century' at the time, fellow student Meyer Levin later told their story in his 1956 book, Compulsion, which stuck to the facts but changed the names of everyone in the case - I'm not clear why. This early true-crime novel predates Truman Capote's 'ground-breaking'
In Cold Blood which has been heralded as the first of its kind.

After the book of Compulsion came a hit play and then in 1959 a hit movie, monopolising on the renewed publicity from the release of one of the murderers on parole (after 33 years in prison).
The movie is gritty for the time, struggling with teenage sex, rape, and child murder, not to mention the killers' homosexual relationship. Many of the elements that Hitchcock loved to spice up his plots with - he used two (subtly gay) murderers who thought they were above the law in his 1948 film Rope. The image of polite college boy killers may have informed the character of Norman Bates in Psycho.

Remember that in Robert Bloch's book, Norman is overweight and middle-aged, and that the real-life inspiration for the character was Ed Gein, a dishevelled old hermit. The young Anthony Perkins couldn't be further from the source material if he tried. Another thematic link between Compulsion and Psycho is Judd Steiner's (Dean Stockwell) hobby of bird-watching and taxidermy, a perfect match for Norman Bates' favourite past-times.

While not nearly as modern or edgy as the movie of In Cold Blood, Compulsion is still fascinating because it follows the events and twists of the real-life case so closely. While it's set in the 1920s, apart from the car and a scene set in a prohibition speakeasy, it's not aggressively a period film and feels very 1950s, with Dean Stockwell rebelling against his family ties and scorning the teachings of his college professor.

The majority of the film shows the killers at large and the cops trailing far behind, don't let the photos here make you think this is only a courtroom drama. The inevitable trial doesn't dominate the film, though the renaming of all the characters robs the courtroom scenes of their historical power. In that I didn't realise that Orson Welles, as the defence lawyer, was in fact portraying Clarence Darrow, also famously fictionalised in Inherit The Wind. Welles steals every scene once he arrives, though his character is an unlikely figure for sympathy, because he looks too much like his most villainous portrayal, in Touch of Evil, released the previous year. It's a far cry from
the image of upstanding legal do-gooders played by Gregory Peck and Spencer Tracy.

Dean Stockwell (above) is always interesting to watch, even as far back as his child roles, like The Boy With Green Hair (1948, a simple but early parable about race relations) and the beautiful 1949 version of The Secret Garden. I also love his later sixties' drop-out roles, especially The Dunwich Horror, and his sublime performance in Blue Velvet (1986). His astonishingly long career continues to fascinate, continuing with his long-running character in the recent Battlestar Galactica remake.

Stockwell's partner-in-crime is played by Bradford Dillman (Bug, Escape from the Planet of the Apes),
pictured above on the right. He's a familiar face to me from many seventies' roles, but had no more parts as high profile as this. Of current interest, he was great as the leading man in Roger Corman's original Piranha (1978), which has just had a big budget 3D remake.

Dillman and Stockwell's screen relationship is not only hinted as being homosexual, but sado-masochistic as well. This is inferred in their performances and the direction, plus a few sneaky coded hints in the dialogue. The tortured but unspoken gay undercurrent heightens the drama throughout. A later adaption of the same case, Swoon (1992), was explicit in showing the sexual relationship as well as the boy's murder. But as a film, it's lacking in drama, looking more like a Madonna video, right down to the buff leading men.

Director Richard Fleischer (Soylent Green, Fantastic Voyage, Blind Terror) uses subtly skewed angles to insinuate the power struggle between the two, and their unbalanced morality. We even get Dillman hiding in a closet - subtle! Fleischer landed two more adaptions of real-life murders later in his career - The Boston Strangler (1968) and 10 Rillington Place (1971).

The US DVD (pictured) has a crisp black-and-white transfer
, in 2.35 anamorphic widescreen. The only extra is a trailer. I don't find the cover art very inspiring, considering the weighty cast and subject matter. They're even the wrong kind of glasses...

Another Compulsion review here, with screengrabs, at
The Sheila Variations.

Cool interview with Bradford Dillman over at Cinema Retro.

A rather sensationalistic trailer, considering the comparatively subtle style of the movie...

August 11, 2010

NARAKA 19 (2007) - a deadly game in Chinese hell

(2007, Hong Kong, Dei yuk dai sup gau tsang)

Basically, if you're ever in Macau, don't order the monkey brains...

I buy movies when I hear that they might be good. Then they go into a big pile (well, on a shelf - it's not a good idea to store DVDs in a pile) and then years later I watch it, wondering where the hell I first heard of it.

A group of teenage college girls move into an apartment together. One of them is obsessed with her mobile phone and starts hanging around the 'Ghost Tower'. Soon afterwards she seemingly commits suicide, leaving her surviving flatmates in therapy with the creepy, limping Dr Yan, and being snooped by the slightly eccentric Police Inspector Yip. Then another girl starts getting eerie messages on her phone, inviting her to play a game called the 18 Gates of Hell...

I went into this Hong Kong horror movie with an open mind, thankful that it treated the genre fairly seriously. Though it's fairly late to be making a mystery which involves mobile phones (One Missed Call), serial curses that can be passed on (Grudge), ghostly girls (Ring) and suicides (Whispering Corridors). But with a young cast in a film aimed at a young teen audience, we are apparently already at a point where filmgoers might not realise these are well-worn horror cliches.

One of the clues that this was just for teens were that the cop, the doctor, the artist, the students, everyone was young and good-looking. If it wasn't for the nasty suicide at the start, there'd be barely a need for a restrictive certificate. The obsession with mobile phones was another clue - here the gadget can even lead you safely through Hell if you follow the red flashing arrows! Presented as a video game, it all seemed ridiculously easy.

I stuck with this because of the portrayals of Chinese Hell. The linking of modern technology directly to Hell reminded me of the Japanese series Hell Girl and I've enjoyed the visualisations of oriental Hell in Jigoku and Narok. In Naraka 19, the inspiration seems to be Constantine, where the weather in Hell was also post-apocalyptic. Some of the effects were very CGI, but the imaginative scale and execution was original, if underused. I particularly liked seeing a airborne forest of trees with their exposed root systems floating in the sky, all while it's raining knives! A couple of the levels of Hell were also realised almost completely with large sets rather than electronic effects. Though it's a pity that they missed out showing many of the 18 levels.

I was distanced from the film by the fast editing and a barrage of video effects to denote that something weird was going on. Holding a camera upside-down is the sort of novelty that should have worn off at the start of the last century. Distracting and hinting at desperation, I'd have preferred the handsome widescreen camerawork (which I think was carefully shot HD video) to do the scaring instead.

A more obvious drawback will be for any fans of Family Guy. Part of the curse depends on a supposedly scary monkey, who even hides in a locker at one point. Besides the parallel with the evil monkey in Chris' cupboard, it's very hard to get a cute little monkey to look scary. The same way horror movies about satanic cats and killer rabbits are a hard sell to animal lovers...

Topped off with some very arbitrary logic about the rules of passing in and out of other dimensions, a similar annoyance to the later Nightmare on Elm Street films - when anything is possible and everything onscreen could be a dream, it's hard to know or care what's happening by the end.

Still, I enjoyed the various trips to Hell, and that Hong Kong is still dabbling in horror. Also interesting that this had a female director, Caroline Lai.

Naraka 19 isn't on DVD in the UK or US. I got this from YesAsia. The Hong Kong DVD (pictured) is a good-looking 2.35 anamorphic widescreen transfer, with unobtrusive removable English subtitles, though a little loosely translated at times. There's also a trailer and a half-hour behind the scenes programme (no subtitles on the extras though).

More frame grabs at Twisted Flicks and another review at Love HK Film.

Here's a subtitled trailer on YouTube...

August 06, 2010

STORM (2005) - impressive and glossy Swedish nightmare

(2005, Sweden)

Excellent mindfuck classic...

I'm looking forward to the new horror film Shelter, starring Julianne Moore and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. But here's an earlier film from the same directing duo, Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein.

I saw Storm recommended on Twitch Film years ago. It's precisely the kind of quality recommendation I'd expect of them. Their reviewers know that there are hugely interesting films to be found internationally.

The film is probably relatively unknown because it's Swedish. But it's as professionally polished as anything from Hollywood, and would be a widely-known cult classic if it were in English.

However, knowing nothing about the story is a very good way to go in. Not only was the plot unpredictable, I didn't even know what genre I was in.

It opens with two women running for their lives from a pack of mutant (?) skinheads, led by a bad guy in a suit (Jonas Karlsson). The redhead looks like a kick-ass, hard-boiled version of Tilda Swinton, taking the bad guys down with impressive martial arts skills.

Then we meet Donny (Eric Ericson) a cynical journalist who's found his place in the big city. He won't even commit to a woman for a one-night stand. He lives to drink in the trendiest bars, ligging drinks and entry to the latest clubs. He loves city life and hates that he was born out in the sticks - where smalltown niceness promised a life of boredom. But what exactly does he want from life?

As a huge storm mysteriously disappears over Stockholm, he runs into red-headed Lova (Eva Röse), who's still being chased by the skinheads. The city slacker thinks he's meeting an action hero. She gives him a small metal cube and and a mysterious challenge. After this brief meeting his life turns upside down as he faces murder, time travel and the devilish man in black.

But sit back and enjoy the ride, you're supposed to be as confused as the hero, without a clue where he's going or even where he's been...

There aren't too many clues from the movie references lurking in the corners. This is the only time I've heard Phantasm II get a name-check! At various points I thought the lead character had fallen into a video game, a manga or had maybe watched Donnie Darko once too often.

The mind-bending story aside, there's sly humour, grim drama, truly excellent acting, and sumptuous downbeat cinematography. It's an enjoyable nightmarish treat that will probably only make sense a while after you've watched it...

I enjoyed this tremendously, mostly because it was impressive and fresh and kept me guessing.

I watched Storm on a Thai DVD, but it's also out in the UK, US and all over Europe. Just be careful what the adverts compare it to - it's not like The Matrix at all. Don't be put off by the poster and DVD art, which simply don't do the stylised look of the film justice.

Here's a subtitled trailer on YouTube...