the killing of satan (efren c. piñon, 1983)

This is the sixteenth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 16 is called "Southeastern Asia Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from a Southeastern Asian country. This list should help.

There are some good movies on that list. I can't use things I've already seen, but The Raid is terrific, and I've liked every film I've seen by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who god bless him has said it's OK to call him "Joe". Back in September when the Challenge came out, I picked a Thai film that was on the Criterion Channel for this week. Four months later, I go to watch the movie and find it's no longer available. So I had to quickly hunt down something else that I could stream. Which is how I found myself watching the Filipino horror fantasy, The Killing of Satan.

Oh my, it was bad. Scott Drebit described it perfectly when he called it, "epic in scope and minuscule in execution". Epic? It's about the battle of good and evil, with the actual Satan competing for the bad side. Minuscule? At times, I was reminded of Robot Monster, where the entire movie seemed to take place in the same section of Bronson Canyon. The characters in The Killing of Satan would go into caves, spend time underground (apparently next door to Hell), escape, and somehow, they always ended up in the same place.

The movie is full of action. But it's bad action. The fight scenes are a blend of boxing-style fisticuffs and cheap FX. This is not a martial arts movie, it's a movie where people with supernatural powers try to beat the crap out of each other while dodging some of those cheap special effects. There is no imagination in these scenes. It almost made me pine for the oddball hopping vampires of HK films. There's a plot, but everything is so ragged it's as if Jean-Luc Godard popped by long enough to tell everyone to ignore continuity.

As is often the case with movies this bad, it's the accompanying trivia that interests us, and here we are blessed with the star of the film, Ramon Revilla. In 1992, almost a decade after he made The Killing of Satan, Revilla became a Senator in the Philippines, where he served two terms. Wikipedia tells us that one of his bills in the Senate states "The illegitimate children may use the surname of their father if their affiliation has been expressly recognized by the father through the record of birth appearing in the civil register, or when an admission in a public document or private handwritten instrument is made by the father." In a perhaps unrelated note, depending on the source, Revilla fathered somewhere between 38 and 72 children.

And I watched all of this because the Criterion Channel took one of their movies off of streaming. What's worse, the only place I could find that was streaming this junk was Tubi, which meant there were two minutes of ads every 15 or so minutes, the print was shitty, the aspect ratio was wrong (at least, that's my assumption), and the dubbing wasn't any good.

Spoiler alert: this is the scene that fulfills the title. See if you can guess which one is Satan:

the cremator (juraj herz, 1969)

A very odd film, which isn't news to the many fans who have made it a cult classic over the years. From what I knew, I expected an arty horror film, and that's not entirely incorrect. But while The Cremator is creepy from the start, it goes in a direction which makes sense in the end but which I didn't anticipate at first.

Rudolf Hrušínský plays the title character, Kopfrkingl, a man who runs a crematorium and has some big ideas about expanding his business. Hrušínský is the reason the film is creepy from the start ... he plays the cremator as if Peter Lorre's character from M somehow managed to fit into polite society. Much of the movie is taken with Kopfrkingl philosophizing about his job, inspired by Tibetan Buddhism. Hrušínský gives an otherworldly performance, and the dialogue by Juraj Herz (from a novel by Ladislav Fuks) gives Hrušínský plenty of opportunity to impress. The look of the film (Stanislav Milota is the cinematographer) is suitably disturbing, in line with the musings of Kopfrkingl.

The film takes place in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, during the rise of the Third Reich. The gradual move by Kopfrkingl towards Nazism is a bit hard to believe at first, but by the end of the film, Hrušínský convinces us that the combination of Kopfrkingl's occupation, his Buddhist tendencies, and his growing madness lead inexorably towards the ultimate horror, a horror made somehow even worse by the way Kopfrkingl comes to think of himself as the next Dalai Lama.

The Cremator is unsettling, and its various comedic touches might convince some that Herz isn't really serious here, that it's "just a horror movie". But it's horror where subtext becomes text, and it's a movie you won't soon forget.

film fatales #153: titane (julia ducournau, 2021)

This is the sixth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 6 is called "Top 250 Horror Week":

Recommended by kubrikonthefist.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from Letterboxd’s Top 250 Horror Films list.

The headline writer for the San Francisco Chronicle had the proper amount of hyperbole in that paper's review of this movie: "‘Titane’ is really, really, really crazy — but it strikes a chord".

The less you know in advance, the better, although the basic plot is loony enough that it may not matter what you know. (An early pre-release blurb said only that "Following a series of unexplained crimes, a father is reunited with the son who has been missing for 10 years.") Titane is an example of body horror (Wikipedia: "a subgenre of horror that intentionally showcases grotesque or psychologically disturbing violations of the human body"). David Cronenberg is the name that usually comes to mind when the subject of body horror films comes up, but especially relevant to Titane, the movie I think of is Tetsuo: The Iron Man, which I really, really, really hated. That film deserves a second viewing, I'm sure ... I'd never seen anything like it at the time, and I think that threw me off. Tetsuo tells of a man whose flesh gradually turns into metal. Something similar happens to the lead character in Titane, but something about it seemed more delightfully outrageous than in Tetsuo.

Writer/director Julia Ducournau seems to have put her vision of the film onto the screen, which doesn't always happen, and which suggests producers who trusted her. This may account for the "really really really" aspects of the film ... Titane is only 108 minutes long, but it feels like if Ducournau thought something belonged, she filmed it, leaving us with a movie that is packed with more than I admittedly could take in. That obscure tagline turns out to be quite accurate, pointing us in the direction of the relationship between father and son, while hinting at those unexplained crimes (they are explained in the movie, but I'm not spoiling it here). Ducournau dares the audience to look past the horror to the basic theme of unconditional love. She piles on the horrors, she makes it very difficult to look past those horrors, but without those horrors, unconditional love would hardly have been tested. The acting of Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon makes that acceptance more believable.

Titane won the Palme d'Or at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

mr. harrigan's phone (john lee hancock, 2022)

Not much here. It's Yet Another Stephen King adaptation. I'd say it was a slow burn, but it never really gets particularly hot. A young lad takes a job reading classic novels aloud to a rich old man. They become friends, and the lad buys Mr. Harrigan a mobile phone. Now, you know it's a horror movie, and you expect something lively from the Stephen King source material, but guess where the horror comes from? Spoiler alert: it's not from the titular old man, exactly, nor is it from the young lad, exactly. No, it's the titular phone that seems to carry evil.

It's all pretty stupid. The acting is OK, including 87-year-old Donald Sutherland as Mr. Harrigan. But the film isn't very scary, the plot isn't very engaging, and in the end, it isn't a great way to waste 105 minutes.

thirst (park chan-wook, 2009)

This is the fifth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 5 is called "K-Horror Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from the K-Horror film.

Thirst comes with a solid pedigree. Director Park Chan-wook is a master of Korean horror (his Oldboy is as good as it gets). The male lead, Song Kang-ho, is recognizable to many viewers here in the U.S. for his roles in films like Parasite, Snowpiercer, and The Host. And the female lead, Kim Ok-bin, a young actress near the beginning of her career, gives and award-winning performance that matches Song, scene for scene.

If we are to believe Park, the plot was influenced by Émile Zola's 1867 novel Thérèse Raquin, and it makes sense. Except Zola wasn't writing about vampires. Song plays a devout Catholic priest who takes part in an experiment to try and find a vaccine for a deadly virus. The experiment fails, but the priest gets a blood transfusion that leads him to sinful thoughts, including but not limited to drinking blood. He has lustful feelings for the wife (Kim) of his childhood friend, she shares those feelings, and then ... well, I've already told too much of the plot. Part of the fun of Thirst is seeing just how far and off-the-wall Park will go. Suffice to say that once Kim starts having feelings, she nearly steals the movie.

I won't lie ... the plot gets loony at times. You could make an argument that Thirst is style over substance, although the priest's religious conflicts are taken seriously in what is nonetheless often pretty funny. It's not quite as good as my favorite vampire movie, Near Dark, but it's the equal of a much different vampire film, Let the Right One In.

fascination (jean rollin, 1979)

Another entry in the Criterion Spooktacular scary movies for October. Fascination is in the "vampires" category, but it is only marginally part of that tradition, dealing more with blood drinking than with more traditional blood sucking. Writer/director Jean Rollin may have used some historical evidence that drinking ox blood was considered a legitimate therapy for anemia. In any event, that's where he starts, with well-to-do women taking the "cure". Of course, some patients get a bit carried away, but beyond that, I'll stay mostly spoiler free.

Fascination is yet another movie where the backstory is more interesting than what is on the screen. I admit I knew nothing of Rollin, who had a busy career. His first feature in 1968 was a vampire movie, which became an early specialty for him. The title of the followup suggested where Rollin's career might head: The Nude Vampire. His films apparently did not make a lot of money, and he resorted to directing hardcore porn under pseudonyms. As Fascination is the only one of his films I have seen, I can't really comment on his overall style, but it is a lush, low-budget film and that seems to match with what I have read about his work. I will say that Fascination did have a certain style, but I'm not all that interested in seeing more of his movies,

There is a lot of sex in Fascination, but that's not unusual in vampire movies, even ones like this that exist on the outskirts of the genre. The best thing about the movie is Brigitte Lahaie, who also had a unique career. She started her film work in hardcore porn. Rollin directed her in one of those films and found her charismatic, so he cast her in a subsequent mainstream movie, after which he made her the co-lead of Fascination. She does indeed capture the screen ... it's hard to take your eyes off of her, clothed or unclothed. While continuing to make exploitation films, Lahaie expanded into more mainstream work. She even had a talk radio show that ran for more than 15 years.

Fascination is a step above middling, but once again, I find myself shrugging my shoulders over a cult classic.

1922 (zak hilditch, 2017)

This is the fourth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 4 is called "Fit for a King Week":

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film adapted from a work by Stephen King.

How long does it take to read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"? OK, sorry, that's a spoiler. Suffice to say that 1922 is 102 minutes long, and I'm pretty sure you could read Poe's story in less time than that.

There's nothing particularly wrong with 1922. The acting is solid, and Thomas Jane effectively captures the insides of a man who probably knows more about life than he wants to admit to himself. Zak Hilditch, who also wrote the screenplay, opts for a slow-burn approach, and you might find it more compelling than I did. The horrors, when they do come, are OK, especially if you are afraid of rats. But I was never surprised by 1922, never felt like I was seeing something new.

And that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it means 1922 is closer to a generic Stephen King horror adaptation than it is to a classic. I've recently watched two more quirky horror films, Thirst and Titane, and while I had problems with the latter in particular, they were both unique and hard to forget. On a lazy Saturday afternoon, I might be more inclined to re-watch 1922, but it's not the movie those others are.

film fatales #152: the velvet vampire (stephanie rothman, 1971)

Another Criterion Spooktober classic that I watched on my Kindle. (Side note: we connected a Fire Stick to the TV in our apartment, so I won't have to watch on the Kindle anymore.) This is a Roger Corman flick from the early-70s that has become something of a cult fave over the years. The Velvet Vampire was directed by Stephanie Rothman, one of the only female horror directors of the time, coming off of her first hit, The Student Nurses. It has hints of Sheridan Le Fanu's novella Carmilla, which is no surprise ... Carmilla pops up a lot in vampire movies, most importantly in this case in The Vampire Lovers, a Hammer feature that was a hit the year before The Velvet Vampire came out.  Outside of its suggestions of lesbian vampirism, The Velvet Vampire is not directly connected to the novella, although the titular vampire's name is Diane Le Fanu.

The comparison to The Vampire Lovers does no favors to Rothman's film. The prior film had a slightly bigger budget and the backing of Hammer, meaning good sets and some good actors. Rothman does what she can with the setting (about which more in a minute), but her movie looks Corman Cheap, and the actors are little-known and not very good (although the cult fans like Celeste Yarnall as the main vampire). The great bluesman Johnny Shines turns up to sing "Evil-Hearted Woman", and there's something to be said for a contemporary of Robert Johnson appearing in a movie about the dark arts, even if the credits misspell his name as "Johny".

As for that setting, Diane Le Fanu lives in a nice spread in Joshua Tree. I don't know about you, but I never expected to see a vampire wandering around in the hot sun of the Mohave Desert. She drives a dune buggy, and wears cool outfits, but that only goes so far. The exploitation angle seems mild by today's standards ... the two female leads are topless a lot of the time, and the male lead shows his bare ass more than once.

The Velvet Vampire isn't completely useless. Some have ascertained feminist leanings in the way Diane takes charge. But in the end, The Velvet Vampire is slow-moving and a bit boring. I don't think it lives up to its cult reputation. It's no Near Dark. It's not even The Vampire Lovers.

geezer cinema: beast (baltasar kormákur, 2022)

Beast is a so-so movie, and the decision when writing about it is whether to focus on what works or what doesn't. If I talk first about what's good, it will sound as if I liked it more than I actually did. If I talk first about what's not so good, it will sound like I didn't like it at all.

So ... to the good. Idris Elba is always a good thing, and here is in a mode we don't usually see: he's scared. He plays a widowed doctor who takes his two daughters to South Africa, where their late mother grew up. Elba and the two actresses playing his daughters (Iyana Halley and Leah Sava Jeffries) make a believable family, trying to put their lives back in order. The titular beast is also great, and the CGI is seamless ... you forget it's not a real lion. It's also nice that the Beast isn't an alien from outer space or a mutant created in a laboratory. It's just a lion, big, pissed off, but a lion nonetheless, and someone even scarier as a result.

And yet I didn't care for the movie. Part of the problem lies in those daughters. It's completely unfair of me to complain that their vocal fright at their predicament is annoying ... I'd be just as scared or more so ... but honestly, as some point I just wished the lion would eat those damn kids. Also, to establish the cranky independence of the elder daughter, she is constantly doing dumb stuff that puts her in danger. This adds to the thrills, but it also makes her character seem pretty stupid (when she clearly is not).

Beast is by the numbers, and is perfectly satisfactory as a Saturday afternoon time waster at home on the couch. I won't say more.

geezer cinema: jaws (steven spielberg, 1975)

Yes, again. The selling point this time was an new IMAX edition of the film. It was definitely worth it ... the sound in particular was awesome. Here is an excerpt from the last time I wrote about it, three years ago:

Pauline Kael told the following anecdote. "While having a drink with an older Hollywood director, I said that I’d been amazed by the assurance with which Steven Spielberg, the young director of Jaws, had toyed with the film frame. The older director said, 'He must never have seen a play; he’s the first one of us who doesn’t think in terms of the proscenium arch. With him, there’s nothing but the camera lens.'"

I thought about that latter quote while watching Jaws again. I'm not positive I understand the point, and it's likely we don't see the revolutionary nature of Spielberg's work because in the last 44 years, it's become the norm. Still, let me give it a try. Spielberg blocks his scenes for the camera, not for the stage. He uses the camera as an aid in that blocking. He doesn't simply tell the actors where to stand ... he tells them where to move within a shot, and then moves the camera to solidify what he wants on the screen. Sometimes you notice what he is doing, but other times, he makes what we are watching seem "natural", as if no one was actually directing. His skill at changing points of view allows the audience to feel a part of first one character and then another, along with the occasional omniscient angle. In the case of Jaws, credit is due to editor Verna Fields, but often, it seems that Spielberg is editing in the camera so there is nothing left to do in the editing room.

Jaws is one of four Spielberg films I consider classics, along with Close Encounters of the Third Kind (my favorite), Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T. Yet Jaws also changed movie history in what seems to me to be unfortunate ways. As Wikipedia notes, "Jaws was the prototypical summer blockbuster, regarded as a watershed moment in motion picture history, and it won several awards for its music and editing. It was the highest-grossing film until the release of Star Wars in 1977. Both films were pivotal in establishing the modern Hollywood business model, which pursues high box-office returns from action and adventure films with simple high-concept premises, released during the summer in thousands of theaters and heavily advertised." Jaws is a great film, and it wasn't the last great one of Spielberg's career. But this movie marks the beginning of the end of the "New Hollywood" era that began with Bonnie and Clyde. There have been many great American movies since Jaws, and however you define "New Hollywood", it still had plenty of life. But I've spent a lot of my life blaming Star Wars for what happened to Hollywood, and it's only fair to note that Jaws was there first.