Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Cape Fear (1991 Version) (5 Stars)

Let's get into the old argument about remakes again. When I was a teenager the original version of "Cape Fear", made in 1962, was my favourite film. I found it so terrifying, much more than the so-called horror films that I used to watch on Friday evening with my mother. I'm not saying that I didn't enjoy the Hammer Dracula and Frankenstein films, but they were more camp than horror. "Cape Fear", on the other hand, sent shivers down my spine.

Then it was remade in 1991. I missed it at the time. I wasn't much of a film fan back then. Times change. I heard about the remake a few years later, and I groaned. How could such a brilliant film be remade? I didn't bother renting it on video. I just wasn't interested. Then I finally saw it by accident on television. What I mean is, the TV guide said that "Cape Fear" would be shown, so I sat down to watch it, thinking it would be the original version. It wasn't. I overcame my initial disappointment and didn't turn it off. And as it carried on I thought to myself, "Hey! This is good after all!"

Max Cady is a criminal who has spent 14 years in prison after raping a young woman. He holds his defence lawyer, Sam Bowden, responsible for his imprisonment, because he didn't defend him adequately. Now Max wants to make Sam suffer by raping his wife and daughter before his eyes.

"Cape Fear" is a good example of how a good film can be remade even better. The basic story is the same, but there's more of a psychological terror aspect to the remake. Max Cady uses his wiles to infiltrate the family. He attempts, successfully at first, to persuade the lawyer's daughter to like him. There's less of a good-vs-evil story in the remake. Sam Bowden is shown to be a man with vices, something which is only hinted at in the original. The religious aspect is more pronounced in the remake. We see Max Cady speaking in tongues.

The strength of the remake is also in the actors. Robert De Niro puts on the best performance of his lifetime as Max Cady. When I watch him I really hate him, and I mean that as a compliment. Not many actors could make me feel so emotional about the character they play. Juliette Lewis is also outstanding as Sam Bowden's daughter Danny, who is a more important character in the remake than in the original.

The film is directed by Martin Scorsese. I know he's a famous director, but there are very few films of his that I enjoy. This is his best film, in my opinion, followed by "Hugo" and "The Aviator". Maybe I'm biased concerning the latter two films, because I've always liked films about films.

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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Happy Death Day (4 Stars)

I watched this film in the cinema today. "Happy Death Day" is the original English title, but in Germany it's shortened to two words as "Happy Deathday". I consider that an improvement.

Theresa Gelbman, nicknamed Tree, is a university student. On her birthday she wakes up in the bed of Carter, a male student she's never met before. The day is uneventful, but in the evening she's followed by a man in a mask who stabs her to death.

The end? No. She wakes up in Carter's bedroom. It's the morning of her birthday again. The events happen exactly the same way, but in the evening she avoids the place where she was stabbed. That's no help. The masked man finds her in the new place, and she's killed again. And the day starts again.

Tree tries again and again to live through the day without dying, but whatever she does and wherever she goes she's killed. Tree is convinced that if she manages to avoid being killed she will escape the time loop and move on to the next day.

Does the film remind you of "Groundhog Day"? Of course it does, and the film itself admits the connection. When Tree tells Carter what's happening to her he replies, "That sounds just like a film called Groundhog Day with Bill Murray". I don't think that "Happy Death Day" has the same spiritual depth as "Groundhog Day", but it's just as much fun to watch.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Off-Topic: My Last Secret

I often tell my friends that I have no secrets. I tell them that my life is an open book. In fact, I've been accused on more than one occasion that I talk about my openness too often, as if I'm obsessed with it. Maybe that's true. I live in a world where secrets and lies are the norm, so I'm proud that I'm different.

A few months ago one of my Facebook friends asked people to post what their biggest regret was. That's when it hit me. My biggest regret is something that I've never told anyone, not even my wife. (I met my wife about a year after it happened). It's something that still weighs on my conscience after all this time. Keeping something big like this makes me a liar when I claim to be open. Now it's my time to confess. I hope that thousands of people will read this, whether they're my friends or strangers.

When I was 24 I frequently dated older women, aged 35 to 40. There was no particular reason for it, I just did. For a few months I was working late hours in a big company. It wasn't shift work as such. I had to reboot the office computers repeatedly while I was installing software, so I had to wait until the office workers had gone home. I used to chat with one of the cleaning ladies. She was an intelligent lady, easily capable of doing a better job, but for personal reasons she didn't want to work more than two hours a day, so cleaning was her only opportunity.

Our talks became more and more personal. I told her about my life, she told me about hers. She had two teenage sons, 15 and 13. The younger son was disabled. He had a calcium deficiency, which led to a string of other problems, both physical and mental. She told me that her marriage was in a rut. There was no love left in the marriage, but they tolerated one another and stayed together for the sake of the children.

Then it happened. One evening we had sex. It was embarrassing. It was just a quick roll on the office floor. There was no romance involved, it was just sex.

Or so I thought. Afterwards she told me that it was the best sex she'd had for years. She said it was the first time in ages that she'd had sex with someone she truly loved. She loved me? That was a shock, but I thought I'd go along with it. We arranged to meet the next day, Saturday, for our first date.

We met in the city centre. As soon as I saw her my heart sank. I knew immediately I'd done something wrong. At work she dressed like a normal 40-year-old, in simple but appealing clothing. When she arrived for her date she was dressed in bright colours, tight fitting clothing, trying to look like a teenager. I found her appearance repulsive. Maybe I should be glad for the way she dressed. After a few hours together I told her I didn't think it would work between us. There was a small scene. "Is it because I'm too old?" No, it wasn't her fault at all. It was because I was too immature. I should have known better.

Luckily there were no scenes when we met again at work. We still spoke to one another, but we remained cool. She was obviously suffering.

A week later she told me her husband had left her. She hadn't told anyone about her "affair", but she said she'd been crying at home and everyone knew something was wrong. Her husband threatened to leave if she didn't tell him what was wrong. She didn't tell him. He left.

I have never forgiven myself for breaking up this family. Please don't tell me it would have happened anyway. That's just rationalisation. I am guilty of a great crime, so terrible that I've kept it secret for more than 30 years. The only good that's come from it is that I've learnt my lesson. Since that date I have never slept with a married woman.

Confessing my sin publicly is therapeutic. I hope that shouting it out to the world will lift the dark shadow from my soul.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Escapees (4 Stars)

This is one of the few Jean Rollin that I hadn't yet seen. It reveals a different side of his creative genius. It isn't a horror film, it's a thriller. It's not a fast-paced thriller, of course. Nothing is ever fast-paced in his films. Interestingly, Jean Rollin considered the film a failure and never released it. He stored the tapes for 20 years and practically forgot about it. Then a television company approached him and offered him payment for the rights to 15 films. He thought he only had 14 films, but then he remembered "The Escapees" and gave it to them with his others. Then he received praise for the film, and he didn't know why, so he had to watch it again to remind himself what it was about.

Wow! He forgot this beautiful film?

The film is about two girls in a mental hospital, Michelle and Marie. We don't know how exactly old they are, we're only told that they're under 18. Michelle thinks she's not sick enough to be in the hospital, while Marie knows she's ill. Nevertheless, they run away together.

The girls meet the performers of a small carnival show at the roadside. Maurice is the owner, and he puts on open air shows with two exotic dancers from Africa. The fourth member of the show is Sophie, a pickpocket who mingles with the audience and robs men while she dances with them. Michelle and Marie are hired to serve drinks, so they travel with them from town to town.

While performing in a coastal town the police raid the show and arrest Maurice and the dancers. Sophie, Michelle and Marie escape together and take refuge in a small bar. They plan to stow away in a ship headed for the Leeward Islands. (Yes, I had to google that as well. They're a French colony halfway between Australia and South America). But the bar's owner is a fortune teller, and when she reads their future she's too terrified to tell them what will happen.

Despite the obvious differences, this is very much a Jean Rollin film. We have the beautiful women and the surreal atmosphere. There are also scenes which are totally unreal, and yet they fit perfectly into the film. For instance, when the police arrive to arrest Michelle, she walks out of the house carrying Marie's dead body. The police don't stop her, they just step back and let her pass. They don't even follow her. That could never happen in the real world, but it's typical in the psychedelic dreamscape of Jean Rollin. Stunning!

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Murder on the Orient Express (2017 Version) (4 Stars)

Today I went to see the new version of "Murder on the Orient Express" in the cinema, as I announced yesterday when I reviewed the original version. The new version turned out pretty much as I expected. It looks superior to the original in its cinematography, while the story is almost the same. The new version is so similar that I have to ask what the point was in remaking the film. But I suppose that's a rhetorical question. It's all about money.

One of the few changes is that two characters in the original film have been combined into one. The Scottish soldier (Colonel Arbuthnot) and the Greek doctor (Dr. Constantine) have been merged into a Black American doctor, Dr. Arbuthnot. I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere.

The original is a pure mystery film. The new version adds a few elements of action. I can't name all the additions because that would mean giving away spoilers. One example is that in the original the train has to halt because the rails have been covered by snow in an avalanche. In the new version the train drives into the snow and the engine is derailed. There's a new chase scene when one of the suspects attempts to leave the train. Do today's audiences need more action to be able to sit through a film? I suppose they do.

One slight change that I regret in the new version is the lack of claustrophobia. In the original all the interviews by Hercule Poirot were held inside the train. In the new version he spends more time outside the train.

My summary is simple: the new film is quite good, but unnecessary from an artistic point of view.

My Big Night (5 Stars)

Happy New Year!

What can you expect when you watch a film directed by Alex de la Iglesia? The answer is simple: anything is possible. If you sit down to watch one of his films with fixed expectations you'll be surprised, maybe even shocked. The trailer for this film is enough to scare away the most hardened of film fans. It's a variety show for New Year 2016 that makes the Eurovision Song Contest look like high culture in comparison.

But as I said, you never know what to expect from Alex de la Iglesia. The seeming shallowness of the New Year's party, which is actually being filmed in October, is merely the backdrop for conspiracies, corruption and a bizarre love story between two people who have a fetish for scars. As they aptly say, "Tattoos are fake. They're who you want to be. Scars are who you really are". It's difficult to argue with that.

Oscar's body is covered with tattoos, making him something he isn't. They proclaim him as a fan of the singer Alphonso, but he's come to the party to kill the man whose music he loves so much.

But love is real, isn't it? The lesbian sound engineers exchange passionate kisses and a quick fumble while the riot police are fighting with the demonstrators outside.

Do you know what the film's about now? No? That's okay, just watch it. The good news is that the original Spanish Blu-ray release has English subtitles.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Murder on the Orient Express (1974 version) (4 Stars)

Tomorrow I'm going to see the new version of "Murder on the Orient Express" in the cinema, so I thought it would be appropriate for me to watch the 1974 version first to help me make a direct comparison. I shan't say much about the plot, because I assume it's the same as the new film, and I don't want to give away any spoilers.

However, I have to ask how anyone could not already know the 1974 film. It used to be regularly shown on television, and I've seen it several times, often enough to remember the plot.

Like the new film, "Murder on the Orient Express" had an ensemble cast. It had a good selection of the biggest actors of the 1970's, just as the new film has some of the biggest actors of the 2010's.

I expect the new film to be more luxuriously set and have better cinematography than the original, but will it be a better film? I don't know. I'll leave that decision to Mark Kermode and his fellow critics. The original film received six Academy Award nominations and won one, Ingrid Bergman as best supporting actress. Let's wait and see what happens this time round.

Hercule Poirot, who was only on the train when the murder was committed by chance, was a magnificent detective. Why couldn't he have been staying in Praia da Luz on 3rd May 2007, the night when Madeleine McCann went missing? If he had interviewed the McCanns and the Tapas Seven he would have uncovered the murderer before sunrise. Where are the great detectives when we need them?

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The Bar (5 Stars)

I was lucky enough to see this film in the cinema six months ago. Germany is very civilised, as far as films go. Since moving to Germany I've seen two of Alex de la Iglesia's films in the cinema. None of his films are ever shown in English cinemas. Not one. I don't understand that. Don't the film distributors in England consider the public intelligent enough to appreciate such brilliant films?

"The Bar" begins as a mystery. Eight people are in a bar on a busy street in Madrid. One goes out and is shot by a hidden sniper. Within minutes the street is deserted. A second man goes out to check the body, and he too is shot. For the first half hour the six remaining customers and the two members of staff speculate about what's happening.

Once the mystery is solved -- no spoilers here! -- the occupants of the bar realise that they are all in danger, Instead of working together to escape they turn on one another.

The film's strength isn't in the plot, which is fairly simple. It's all about the character development. Every person in the bar is described vividly. I'm certain that everyone who watches the film will recognise himself in one of the characters.

I can't begin to describe how good the film is. Alex de la Igelsia has been one of my favourite directors for years, but this is yet another pinnacle of brilliance. If you've never watched a Spanish film this is a good place to start.

If you're wondering how to lay your hands on this film, the original Spanish release, available at, has English subtitles. The Blu-ray is also listed at

Thursday, 16 November 2017

New Fist of Fury (5 Stars)

Do you recognise the face in the picture? A very famous martial arts star? Come on, think about it. When you're told the answer it's obvious. Here's another photo that might help.

Have you got it yet? It's Jackie Chan. Wasn't he a cute boy back in 1976? This was his breakthrough film, his first leading role after playing minor roles in more than 30 films. Don't forget, he was only eight years old when he began his acting career.

This is a sequel to "Fist of Fury", in which Bruce Lee played the part of Chen Zhen, a mythical Chinese hero who fought against the Japanese while they were occupying China. Chen Zhen died at the end of "Fist of Fury", and the Chinese need a new hero. Ah Loong, played by Jackie Chan, steps into his shoes. We also meet Chen Zhen's father and sister.

The first film took place in Shanghai, but the sequel takes place in Taiwan. The Jingwu school has relocated. There are several fighting schools on the island, different styles of martial arts, but the Japanese insist that all the schools must unite into one. Most of the schools resist this demand, saying that the uniqueness of their individual styles makes an amalgamation impossible. Okimura, the leader of the Japanese fighting school -- I assume it's karate -- says that if anyone can defeat the top fighters from his school he will allow the Chinese schools to continue to exist separately.

The best Japanese fighter is Okimura's daughter, whose name isn't stated in the film. Hardly surprisingly, she's played by a Chinese actress, Cheng Siu-Siu. All the Japanese characters are played by Chinese actors. In 1976 no Japanese actor would have appeared in such an overtly anti-Japanese propaganda film. What's strange is that this was Cheng's only film. She shows amazing acting and fighting skills, so I'm curious what went wrong with her career.

The original film was 115 minutes long. In 1980 it was re-released in a shortened version, only 79 minutes long. Unfortunately I watched the shortened version today. From the little I've read it seems that the 36 minutes that were removed were parts in which Jackie Chan didn't take part. The film was streamlined to showcase him better.

Despite the shortening, I loved the film. While I was at university (1974 to 1978) I watched a lot of Chinese films. They had a gritty, unpolished edge to them. This was the case with Bruce Lee's first two films, "The Big Boss" and "Fist of Fury", and also with the many films whose names I have long forgotten. This style is so amazing that I would like to watch more classic kung fu films from the 1970's. Can anyone make me recommendations?

This film was the beginning of the push to promote Jackie Chan as the new Bruce Lee. I heard about it at the time. I saw a few Jackie Chan films in the 1970's, and I remember saying to myself at the time "That guy's good, but he's no Bruce Lee". I'm glad that this silly promotional campaign was soon forgotten, allowing Jackie to be himself with his own personal style.

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Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (3½ Stars)

This is the fourth film in the Indiana Jones series, made with a long gap after the third film. 19 years! Was it necessary to revive the film franchise? That depends on who you ask. It was money in the bank for the film studios. I suspect that there were letters and emails being sent for years begging Steven Spielberg to do it again.

Does it still have the magic of the old films? Sort of. Steven Spielberg has never made a bad film. In my eyes he's the most reliable film director who has ever lived. He knows how to make films, he follows the required steps and he makes a quality film every time. However, he never takes risks. By avoiding risks he doesn't make the truly great films like Quentin Tarantino, but if he took risks he might make the occasional bad film. We need a Steven Spielberg who's consistently good. We also need the risk-takers who occasionally create works of brilliance.

As for "Crystal Skull" itself (I prefer to abbreviate the film title), it's a fun adventure. Harrison Ford travels round the world -- this time to South America -- to prevent mystical archaeological artefacts from falling into the hands of evil empires. In the previous three films the enemies were the Nazis. In "Crystal Skull" the enemies are the Russians. When the film was made there were criticisms from Russia that Russia was demonised, as if all Russians were evil. So what? The film is set in 1957, at the height of the Cold War, and Russia was generally regarded as the world's Evil Empire.

The main representative of the Evil Empire is Irina Spalko, played admirably by Cate Blanchett. She's dressed in an unflattering grey suit, more typical of Chinese Communism than Russian Communism, but the very unsexiness of her outfit makes it bizarrely appealing. She's a caricature, much like the villains of the early James Bond films. All that's missing is a ridiculous name, but Steven Spielberg doesn't do that. That's a shame. She could have been called Irina Spankyu.

An unusual aspect in this film is that instead of dealing with only mystical artefacts there are aliens involved, making this the first Indiana Jones science fiction film. The crystal skull in the title is the real skull of a visitor from another planet.

I've decided to give the film a relatively low rating because of my personal reaction to the film. It ticked all the boxes, I couldn't find any fault with it, but while watching it I found myself getting bored. I'm used to the Spielberg style, so it seemed too smooth and too predictable to me. I doubt I'll watch it again. Maybe, maybe not.

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Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Off-Topic: Max and Moritz

Today I bought a children's book for my grandson, Oliver. "So what?" I can hear you asking. "That's nothing special". I disagree. This book has a special importance that only people in German speaking countries understand. There's nothing comparable in the English language.

I also bought this book for my children 30 years ago. In my wife's bedroom I found a tattered old copy that she read as a child. So it's a book that's been read for three generations? Not just three. It was first published in 1865, and it's been popular ever since. What's so special about this book that's made it popular for more than 150 years?

The author, Wilhelm Busch, wrote the story in a series of rhyming poems with pleasantly repetitive rhythms, adding humorous illustrations. The story of Max and Moritz is so ingrained into German culture that anyone can recognise random quotes that are mixed into conversation. It's a children's book, it's one of the first books that children read at home, but it's also read in school.

It's a very moral story, about right and wrong, though not in a strictly Christian context. Two naughty boys play tricks on grown ups, and in the end they receive a harsh punishment. By this you can see that it's not just meant to entertain children, it's also intended to teach children how to behave. Let's go through the seven chapters of the book, each of which are about a prank.

1. First Prank

The old Widow Bolte is feeding her hens bread to fatten them. The boys tie the pieces of bread together with long pieces of string. The hens swallow the bread, but the string is still hanging out of their mouths. They panic and run in circles, until the string strangles the chickens.

2. Second Prank

Widow Bolte cooks her dead chickens on the fire. The boys sit on the roof with fishing rods and pull the chickens up when they're fully cooked. The Widow sees that the chickens have disappeared and beats her dog.

3. Third Prank

The local tailor, who lives by a river, is mocked because he looks like a goat. The boys weaken the bridge in front of his house by sawing it. Then they make goat noises from the other side of the bridge. The tailor runs onto the bridge, but it breaks and he almost drowns.

4. Fourth Prank

The boys put gunpowder in their teacher's pipe. The explosion burns his hair and makes his face black.

5. Fifth Prank

The boys put bugs in their uncle's bed. He wakes up in the middle of the night when they start to crawl on his body.

6. Sixth Prank

The boys attempt to steal pretzels from a bakery, but they fall into a vat of dough. When the baker sees them he puts them in his oven and bakes them until the dough is brown. They survive the oven and escape from the dough by eating their way out.

7. Seventh Prank

The boys cut holes in grain bags. When the farmer carries the bags to the mill the grain runs out. The farmer sees the boys and puts them in a sack. He carries them to the mill and asks the miller to grind them in his machine. The remaining parts of the boys are fed to the ducks.

8. The Aftermath

When the village hears of the boys' death everyone in the village rejoices. Wow! It's one thing spanking naughty children, but is Wilhelm Busch really advocating the death penalty for naughty boys? Some people object to the book because of this, but most parents just grin about it and treat it as an exaggeration.

Some literary critics see a political message in the books. Max represents Karl Marx, Moritz represents Friedrich Engels, and the other characters represent politicians in the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848 to 1849, well known at the time, but now long forgotten except by history students. If you consider this the book's hidden meaning the death penalty is more logical. Marx and Engels caused anarchy in the well behaved German society, so they deserved to die.

For anyone interested in the book, the copyright has long expired, so it can be found online.

Click here to read the complete book in German. The pages are formatted identically to the book I bought today.

Click here to read the book with an English translation. Please note that this is a translation from German poetry into English poetry, so the emphasis is on rhythm and rhyme, not on accuracy.

If the links are broken, don't worry. Just do a web search, I'm sure you can find them somewhere else. The links to buy a hardcover copy of the beautiful book are below, but if you want to buy for yourself, not your children, it's free on Kindle.

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Sunday, 12 November 2017

Matilda (4 Stars)

This is a controversial love story about the romance between the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, and the ballerina Matilda Kschessinska. "Matilda" is one possible transliteration of her name from Russian. She is more often called Mathilde or Matylda.

There were attempts to ban the film in Russia, which led to its release being delayed for months. Nicholas II has been made a saint by the Russian Orthodox church, so the church calls the portrayal of his affair with a common woman blasphemous. I don't know much about the Orthodox church and its practises, but does that mean people actually pray to this man? That's inconceivable. The Catholic church at least picks its saints on the grounds of their good character. Even disregarding his affair with Matilda, which is well documented by letters and diaries, historians call him Russia's most incompetent leader. His political and military blunders led to Russia losing its place as a world power, as well as the deaths of millions of Russian soldiers. The Russian revolution of 1917 is portrayed by idealists as fuelled by ideology, but it would never have taken place if Russia had been led by a Tsar who was popular to his people. The Russian people didn't think Nicolas II was a tyrant, they thought he was a fool.

I had a few problems watching the film that were due to my lack of knowledge of Russian history. There were many people in the film who were mentioned by their first name, but I had no idea who they were. For instance, at the beginning of the film we meet Nicholas and Andrei, who seemed to be close friends, but I didn't realise until the end of the film that they were cousins. Several of the other characters who looked to me like court officials might also have been relatives. I don't know.

Another problem for me was the film's chronology. The film ends in 1896, the year when Nicholas was crowned and married -- in the same ceremony? -- but when did the affair with Matilda begin? In the film it all seems to happen fast, so I would have guessed six months, but I read up on the subject afterwards and found that the affair lasted six years, from 1890 to 1896. Nicholas was officially engaged to Alix of Hesse in 1894, but they had been promised to one another since 1880, when they were still children. The delay in the engagement was due to objections of the Orthodox church; they weren't allowed to marry because Alix was a Protestant. As time dragged on, attempts were made to marry Alix to other princes, but she was always considered Nicholas' future wife. In 1894 she finally converted to the Orthodox church, which meant nothing could stop the marriage.

Nothing except for Nicholas' love for Matilda.

According to the film, Nicholas fell in love with Matilda at a ballet performance where Matilda had a wardrobe malfunction. Her upper garment wasn't laced correctly and came open while she was dancing, so she danced with one of her breasts bared. The film portrays this as the result of a prank by another ballerina, but do we know for certain Matilda didn't do it deliberately? I can understand this in the context of the 19th Century. There were no rock or pop stars in that day. The ballerinas were the superstars, and Matilda was the Miley Cyrus of her day. Matilda wanted a scandal. A ballet performance in front of the Russian royal family was the perfect opportunity to expose herself on stage, and she was overjoyed with the reaction. Nicholas was slobbering like a dog, and he couldn't stay away from her dressing room. She also had an effect on Andrei, but she turned him down, not giving him a second chance until after Nicholas' marriage to Alix.

Who was Matilda? The film shows the relationship as two young people in love, but I doubt it was really about romance. For Nicholas it was about lust, for Matilda it was about power. Nicholas was a man who couldn't tell the difference between love and lust. That's not so rare, is it? Matilda was a woman who wanted to use her physical beauty to become the next Tsarina of Russia. In the film the relationship ends when Nicholas decides to marry Alix, as was his duty. Is this because Nicholas rejected her, as the film suggests? I doubt it. He would gladly have kept Matilda as a mistress, but this wasn't good enough for her; she wanted a crown on her head. She went on to marry Andrei, who had also lusted for her ever since her bare breasted performance, but only after having an affair with the cousin of Nicholas' father. After losing Nicholas she wanted to marry the highest ranking person available.

The film is lavish, an excellent period piece. I definitely want to see it again, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who hasn't seen it yet. As far as I know, it's historically accurate, but read between the lines.

High Heel Homicide (4 Stars)

I love the DVD cover, pictured above. It looks like the covers of the paperback novels that they sell in the bookstores at Stuttgart train station. The difference is that the books, the few I've read, are disappointing. The book covers have very little to do with the story. That's not the case with this new film from Dean McKendrick. We really do have a woman in high heels murdering men. Delicious!

A woman has been killing men during or immediately after sex, then leaving a letter painted on their chest in lipstick. The only thing that links the murders is that all the men are ex-policemen. The police detectives Sam and Maggie -- we never find out their last names -- investigate the case, always one step behind the killer.

I'm happy to see that police dress code doesn't require female detectives to wear a bra. I wonder if that's a disadvantage when they have to chase a criminal.

This isn't a murder mystery. The viewer sees from the beginning who the killer is. After all, we'd be disappointed if we didn't see the exciting murders being committed. It's an erotic thriller in the style of the classic thrillers of the 1980's and 1990's, but with more sex.

Dean McKendrick spent three years making erotic comedies for Retromedia. Since 2016 he's turned his attention to erotic thrillers. This is the best of his films since last year, because he's finally getting a feel for what's required of an erotic thriller. The plot needs to be more intricate than in his previous films. More than anything else, there needs to be some sort of surprise at the end, a plot twist. That's what makes this better than his previous films. My only criticism, and I know that many of my readers will disagree with me, is that there are too many sex scenes. Six sex scenes is too much for a film that runs less than 80 minutes. Four would be enough, leaving more room for plot development.

I have one last question, something that's been bugging me for years. We all know that neck snapping thing that people do in action movies to kill someone. A quick twist of the neck, and he's immediately dead. This has been done in the movies for the last 30 years. Is it really that easy? Carter Cruise just grabs Andy Long's head, twists his neck, and he's gone. If it's that easy to kill a man no woman needs to buy a gun for self defence.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Demoniacs (4 Stars)

I'm watching a lot of Jean Rollin's films lately. It's not intended to be a film marathon. I'm just in the mood to watch them again. I've watched most of them before, though some of them were last watched before I started my blog. I last watched "Demoniacs" in 2011, which is long enough to justify it being pulled off my shelf again.

In an interview on the disc Jean Rollin says that this is the first film for which he had a large budget. He doesn't say how large or where the money came from. What he does say is that he used the money to film on location in Belgium instead of France. I'm not sure why. The scenes take place on similar deserted beaches to his other films. The ruined castle in the film is similar to the ruins we see in his other films. The tavern scenes take place in a type of building that could be found anywhere on the French coast. Maybe Jean just wanted a holiday. He deserved it.

The Wikipedia summary of the film is so incorrect that I can't resist quoting it:.

"Demoniacs is a 1974 film directed by Jean Rollin, about a group of shipwrecked sailors who rape two young women, who re-emerge and make a pact with the Devil to get their revenge".

What idiots wrote that? Didn't they take the trouble to watch the film, or was it too difficult for them to understand it? The rapists were never shipwrecked, they grew up in the village. There's a person in the ruins that the villagers call a devil, indefinite article, but he's definitely not the Devil. He's actually not such a bad guy when we get to know him. But let's give a brief summary of the plot. This description contains some spoilers, so stop here if you intend to watch the film yourself.

The unnamed village has been used for centuries by "wreckers". These are a type of pirate who operate from dry land. They use lighting to lure ships close to the beach, where they run onto the rocks and sink. Then they kill the survivors and plunder the loot. This practice has now been outlawed, but there's still a group of four people who perform this trade, unknown to the others in the village.

The film begins with the wrecking of a ship. The only survivors who emerge from the ship are two women in white nightgowns. The wreckers rape them and kill them. End of story. Or so they think.

The next morning the wreckers are sitting in the village tavern, which doubles as a brothel. The leader of the wreckers has visions of the two girls. He sees them, even though nobody else can. Louise, the brothel's madame, is gifted with supernatural abilities. She says that she can see two women in white wandering on the beach. The following night the wreckers return to the beach and find the girls alive. They try to kill them again, but they flee to the ruins of a haunted castle, where the wreckers are afraid to follow them.

Three people live in the castle. There's a man locked in a dungeon who has been trapped for hundreds of years. He has two servants on the outside, a bishop and a clown. They have been waiting for someone to free their master. The dungeon can only be unlocked by innocent girls who have been the victims of a great crime.

After sleeping all day the girls strip naked and unlock the dungeon at midnight. The unnamed man -- who definitely isn't the Devil -- rewards the girls by giving them his power so that they can get revenge on the wreckers, but they only have until dawn. Then they have to give the power back. That would be plenty of time, but the wreckers come to the castle and kill the bishop and the clown. The man says that he wants to bring them back to life, but he can only do it if the girls give him back his power and renounce their wish for revenge. The girls really are innocent. Their love for the two servants is stronger than their hatred for the wreckers.

There are seeming inconsistencies in the story. If the girls had the mystery man's powers they could have revived the servants themselves. As well as that, the mystery man could have carried out revenge himself on the girls' behalf. For me the explanation is simple. The man wanted to test the purity of the girls' hearts by asking them to give up the selfish wish that they wanted most.

One thing that strikes me about "Demoniacs" is that it's more similar to the Hammer Horror films than any of Jean Rollin's other films. It's as if the extra money encouraged Rollin to go conventional. Almost, but not quite.

Le Rêveur Egaré (5 Stars)

This is a documentary about the great French director Jean Rollin that was made in 2011, shortly after his death. It's difficult to translate the title concisely into English. The best translation I can think of is "The dreamer who strayed from the path". The French word "égarer" is typically used when a person is walking through a forest, but instead of following the path he leaves it and walks through the middle of the trees. Most commonly this is accidental, so it could be "The dreamer who lost his way", but it can also be a deliberate choice, like taking an uncharted shortcut.

That aptly sums up Jean Rollin's career. He knew what was expected of him to be a good filmmaker, but he didn't want to conform. He was an anarchist who did things his own way.

I already knew many of the things in the documentary from listening to interviews included as extras on DVD and Blu-ray discs, but there was still enough new information to make the documentary riveting. I was fascinated hearing about how he first became popular. His first film, "The Rape of the Vampire", was released in 1968 at the time of the student riots. Because of the chaos in France the French film industry had ceased to function. Nobody was making films, because it was expected that French society would collapse. Not Jean Rollin. He always worked against the trends. When "The Rape of the Vampire" was released it was the only new film. Those were the days before multiplex cinemas, so it was practically the only film being shown in France. This led to it being a huge success.

But what did the public think? They knew vampire films from the American Universal films and the British Hammer films. Jean Rollin presented a so radically different take on vampire mythology that the public couldn't accept it. In addition, "Rape of the Vampire" was a low budget film with the skimpiest of sets, so the public hated it. Since it was the only film being shown the majority of the audience were people who would never have gone to see a vampire film under normal circumstances. It was the same all over France. People booed. People threw things at the screen. People demanded their money back. In the big cities cinemas were even set on fire as a protest. Jean Rollin was called a fraud, an untalented conman who had deliberately made a bad film to trick people out of their money. For years Rollin's name became synonymous with bad cinema. Whenever someone thought a film was bad he called it a Rollin film.

Jean Rollin didn't let himself be put off. He made another three vampire films in quick succession, none of which were particularly successful. His passion was for making horror films, in particular vampire films, but it didn't pay the bills. That's why he spent 12 years making pornographic films. The film critics interviewed in the documentary call this period a missed opportunity. A man with his talent could have made outstanding pornographic films that would be recognised as lasting works of art, but he wasn't interested. He just churned out bad films that hardly differed from standard pornography. His lack of interest was apparent to all around him. He was the director, but he frequently walked out of the room when sex acts were being performed. He was dreaming about his next vampire film.

Interestingly, Jean Rollin only calls one of his films bad: "Zombie Lake" (1981). It was due to be directed by Jess Franco, but Franco failed to turn up on set, so Rollin was asked to step in at only two days notice. Rollin had no creative control, and he was required to direct the film in the style of Jess Franco, whatever that is.

Something I didn't know is that Jean Rollin was a novelist for the last 15 years of his life. He wrote about 20 books, mostly about vampires. They were moderately successful, but slammed by literary critics who called them "airport books". I've never heard that expression, but I know what's meant. The film critics in the documentary defend the books, but say that they're no longer available. I checked Amazon.FR and found a few of them. The documentary is six years old; maybe new editions have been printed since then. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find any English translations.

If you've never seen any films made by Jean Rollin, this documentary is a good introduction. Then work your way through his vampire films, from "The Rape of the Vampire" (1968) to "Dracula's Fiancée" (2002). If you really enjoy his films, watch his other horror films as well.

Jean Rollin
3 November 1938 – 15 December 2010

Friday, 10 November 2017

Jackie Brown (5 Stars)

Empire magazine (or at least one of its writers) calls this Quentin Tarantino's best film. I don't know if that's true or not. I find it difficult to decide. His films are all excellent, in different ways. My top 50 favourite film list contains seven of his eight films. The only film missing is "The Hateful Eight", which I consider to be below his usual standards, especially regarding the character development. Of the other seven, if you ask me at any time which I like the most I'll probably name the film I watched most recently.

One of the main reasons that I picked up this film today to watch it again is a discussion I had on Facebook. One of my friends -- you know who you are! -- asked us to name our biggest screen crush. I immediately named Jennifer Tilly, but then pointed out that Pam Grier had been my screen crush for years, for most of my adulthood. I only recently replaced her. I can't have a crush on more than one actress because I'm monocrushamous.

Nevertheless, Pam Grier is one of the hottest actresses who has ever lived, and "Jackie Brown" shows her at her peak. I'm not the only person who thinks like that. Quentin Tarantino was due to invite Pam Grier to play the title role in "Jackie Brown". She was about to arrive when Quentin realised that his office had four posters of Pam on the wall, and he was afraid that when she arrived she would accuse him of stalking her. What Quentin didn't say is whether or not he quickly removed them.

It's four years since I last watched "Jackie Brown". That's way too long for such a brilliant film. Rather than write a review today I'll just publish a series of screenshots from the film to show why I find this woman so beautiful.

The last photo is of Pam Grier with her co-star Robert Forster. As an actor he must be one of the luckiest men alive, because he got to kiss Pam Grier. His character in the film, Max Cherry, must be one of the stupidest men alive, because Jackie Brown asked him to live with her and he turned her down.

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