Wednesday, December 13, 2006
142. Halloween Roundup (11):
... and speaking of promises made, then long after fulfilled: First there were the glories of living near a (now-departed) Movies Unlimited rental megastore in New Jersey during the late '80s; the darn thing was as big as a chain drugstore, cowboys, with both retail delights and rental rarities--and true video-geeks behind the counter, as ready to wax rhapsodic about Enemy from Space (1957)* as they were Touch of Evil (1958)--both of which I was able to see courtesy of Movies Unlimited's (near-)unlimited movies. And then DVDs, and Netflix, and the flood after. As The Beatles sing--about something much more important--it's all too much for me to take. But I'm not complaining; in fact, I'm belly-up to the bar, downing one straight-no-chaser after another.
Take Mario Bava. When I was a kid with Carlos Clarens' book in my trembling hands, the ghostly, irresistible still from Terrore nello spazio/Planet of the Vampires (1965) drew me in like--well, like a vampire mesmerizing the soft neck closer--and I do think I may have caught it on UHF TV in the early '70s--or did that still simply work its way into my semiconsciousness, another cinematic deja vu, certain yet slipping away, at once something I knew and something I knew I'd lost? In any case, I finally saw it a few years ago on DVD, and have since viewed more Mario Bava, including both the "straight" and MST3K versions of Danger:Diabolik! (1968), with John Phillip Law's krazed-kat eyes and Spy vs. Spy pointy chin sweeping along the diagonal of Bava's go-man-go tomorrow-today sets. Durable goods, as long as you don't handle them too much.
For the Roundup this year it was Blood and Black Lace (1964), a true giallo--and once and for all I found out why Italian serial-killer-spree movies are called "yellows": The source material came from Italian pulps featuring yellow covers. More than a penny, mates, but still dreadful. The point of this arched-eyebrow subgenre is outlandish deaths--and so many American movies have followed suit, from My Bloody Valentine and Happy Birthday to Me (both 1981) to the Friday the 13th and Final Destination series. What remains with me most strongly from Bava's picture is the varied faults, sins and depravities of the victims--all of whom begin as suspects, until these little Italian Indians fall down, leaving us with the ugliest of them all unveiled and dispatched. The backdrop is a house of couture, a wild scene, baby, that is punished for being its rotten little self. There is something almost smug in such fatal reprimands; Blood and Black Lace follows the genre in this by playing all sides, enthrallingly shot, admonishingly disapproving of our indiscretions, and leeringly attentive to detail, all of it soaked in titular red and black. None of the giallo pictures quite adds up, but that defines their slippery nature, and one must give either in or up. I sometimes want to be done with them and move on to less uncomfortable surroundings, because, at least in Bava's theater, the aesthete, the moralist, and the hedonist have to put up with each others' ugly giggles, tsk-tsks, and gasps, as Bava, like a mad-genius pastry chef, makes delicious dainties in shapes one would prefer not to put in one's mouth.
*I still remember a conversation with one fellow who was originally from England and insisted the radio show devoted to the SF/horror adventures of Professor Quatermass was even better than the movies; this was an opinion I found at once intriguing in its aesthetic possibilities as well as indicative of the fine state of radio in Great Britain.
Posted by Paul J. Marasa at 3:07 PM
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