Deep Blood (1990)

APRIL 26, 2021


It's gotta be kind of demoralizing to make a shark movie, because you know you're going to get compared to Jaws (a masterpiece) even if you're only aiming for Jaws 2 (an enjoyable film) territory. Certainly there are several that manage to escape Bruce's shadow and work exactly as their filmmakers hoped (Deep Blue Sea and The Shallows come to mind), but then there are ones like Deep Blood (Italian: Sangue negli abissi) which might as well have presented its foreign pre-sale information on screen. There are probably worse shark movies, but those are probably at least more fun than this, which commits the cardinal sin of Italian horror: it's boring.

To be fair it was a late '80s production, so the Italian film production market was already in collapse. But I've seen other movies from this era and while few if any of them are all that great, they're at least serviceable timekillers that more or less get their job done. Deep Blood can't even manage to clear that low bar, and there's a palpable sense of indifference right from the start that never gets any better, to the point where a major character is never even given a name beyond "Ben's Father". Hell there isn't even a "close the beaches" kind of plot; just some very flimsy pushback from the higherups about causing a panic. More often than not you'll feel like you're watching the deleted scenes compilation; you can practically hear the director noting that the scene didn't advance the story and it had to be cut for time.

In fact if someone were to say "Actually that's exactly what happened, oops!" I'd feel better, because that would explain why there's no actual shark in the movie. Ill-fitting stock footage is used to show one swimming around before a character goes underwater while someone explodes a fake blood bomb, and that's all you get for each "attack" - there's barely even any shots of a fin breaching the surface! And no, it's not a "we hide the shark", "less is more" kind of thing - there simply isn't any real presence at all for the thing, which is kind of a problem, wouldn't you agree? The actors don't bother to make up for it by acting scared, either; one guy just casually watches his girlfriend get eaten before he drives away without as much of a "Nooooooo!" Even its demise (kind of a hilarious shot where it breaks in half like a dropped ceramic statue) is cribbed from another movie, per the IMDb. Maybe I should just watch that one.

And it's a shame, because the story is actually grounded on something that might be compelling to watch even if the shark element was lacking. In the opening we meet four kids, who are told of an old legend of a sea creature and even do a blood pact to bond them together, and then we cut ten (?) years later to when the shark has started vaguely menacing the community. The four guys are all in town for one reason or another (never left, back from school, etc) and enjoy catching up, but then one of them is killed, prompting the other three to fulfill their pact. So... yeah, basically IT, but with a shark. As ripoffs go, it's not the worst idea, but with so little evidence of a shark at all, let alone one that's the embodiment of an ancient curse, it never gels. Plus the guys are all dull as dirt, and their conversations with one another are largely along the lines of "We gotta stop the shark!", so there's no sense of their brotherhood OR the backstory in any of their following actions. They even bring another random guy along with them for the climax (in which no one is even attacked, let alone dies), so it's just a waste all around.

The movie's only real saving grace is the dialogue, which is often so bizarrely straightforward that it becomes comical. In one of my favorite examples (there are many contenders), a crowd on the beach is inexplicably all fascinated by the guys (and the aforementioned "Ben's Father") getting on their boat to go after the shark (which is nowhere around, mind you). A cop arrives on the scene and asks what everyone is looking at, and someone helpfully replies "We're looking at three guys and an old man go after a shark." I mean, she's not lying! There's also a hilarious scene where another dad (not Ben's) yells at his son for being sad that his mom was dead, basically saying he shouldn't miss her because she was a drunk. Another dad (lot of dad stuff in the movie!) tells his son he's proud of him and asks for a handshake, but the son comes over and gives him a hug! Aww! It'd be so sweet if it was the resolution for several scenes where the two were at odds or something, but nah.

The music is also quite special. Sometimes it's the synthy Goblin/Carpenter ripoff stuff you'd expect, and that's fine, but the rest was seemingly stolen from a particularly syrupy melodrama. More than once it reminded me of the music that would accompany the overwrought romantic/dramatic flashbacks in (the original) Final Fantasy VII, which isn't exactly fitting for a killer shark movie. Even the part where the dad yells at his kid has curious a soundtrack choice: the dad has to keep yelling at him to turn down his music, which you'd think would be some kind of heavy metal or rap, but nope: it sounds like John Tesh or something.

I know that sounds funny, and it is to a degree, but there's only so much of that you can take in 90 minutes, and also keep in mind I'm cherry picking "highlights". Most of the movie is go nowhere, aimless scenes of people looking at the water, fishing, arguing about things that have no bearing on anything (one guy wants to drop out of college to become a golfer! Does he need his golf skills to kill the shark? Like swing a club to knock a grenade toward it or something? Nope. Means nothing.) The best thing one could do with the disc is to throw it on in the background when friends are over, if only to ensure no one will ever get too distracted by the film and stop socializing. Clearly Severin agreed that this is for completists only; the lone extra is a trailer.

What say you?


Crazy Desires of a Murderer (1977)

APRIL 3, 2021


I felt a tinge of pride when Vinegar Syndrome's third "Forgotten Gialli" set arrived and I discovered I had actually seen one of the movies before (Autopsy, via a revival screening); it's like I'm a hardcore veteran of such fare! But I'm not, and even if I was, I could be forgiven for not having seen Crazy Desires of a Murderer (Italian: I vizi morbosi di una governante) before, as it was never given any kind of home video release in the US until now, which is sadly the case for a lot of these. I mean, that's great that they're rescuing them, but with everyone settling for streaming now, these films are going to continue to be obscure to general fans whether they deserve to be or not.

Anyway I had a lot of fun with this one, though it wouldn't necessarily come to mind if asked to recommend a few titles to someone new to the genre. Not that it's a "for die-hard fans only" affair, but it doesn't seem necessarily beholden to the formula for these things, and for a while it barely resembles one at all. Things start off on brand: there's a murder in the opening scene, then a young woman and her friends, having just returned from China, hang out at her baron father's home and party. One friend is working on some kind of drug deal where he's attempting to screw his partner out of the money, so we have our possible motive established, and there's even a creepy relative for good measure.

But after the centerpiece murder, a detective (Corrado Gaipa, aka Don Tommasino!) arrives to investigate and it basically turns into a Columbo episode for the remainder of the runtime. He takes over lead character duties, leaving our assumed heroes in the background (at one point the drug dealer guy and his partner get into a fight and he knocks the guy out - and then they're not seen again until the final scene, apparently having reconciled) and manages to make things more complicated by coming up with valid theories as to why pretty much every other character could be the killer. Don't get me wrong, it's still enjoyable - it just gives it a different feel than the other gialli of the era, giving it kind of a more throwback feel to the earlier days (where police involvement was more prominent), but also with intermittent gory murders that were the order of the day. It's an admirable attempt to blend the old with the new, for sure, but the blend could have used some fine-tuning.

Speaking of throwback: even though the movie was produced just a year before Halloween, there's a "quickie Psycho ripoff" feel to the proceedings, as the prime suspect for the killer is a mama's boy with a penchant for taxidermy and (black and white!) flashbacks showing him killing his mother's lover. We know it can't actually be him because it's too easy, but it's kind of amusing to think that nearly twenty years after Hitch's masterpiece, people were still brazenly ripping it off. I was also endlessly amused by how indestructible the Baron was, as it seems he's about to be killed in the opening scene, only to appear alive and well a few minutes later. Then he has a heart attack, which we learn is the third he's had and will probably survive this one as well! Weirdly, the actor went uncredited despite having some prominence, and never made another movie again, so perhaps Gaipa's character look into that for a sequel.

Oh, if you like sex in your violen-I mean, in your gialli, you will likely be pretty satisfied. At one point our non-detective main characters play what can only be referred to as a pornographic version of Charades, where two people have sex in a certain way and the others have to guess which movie they're copying (next time someone suggests Charades at a party, I guess I shouldn't be so dismissive). Then after that, they all go to their rooms and have more sex, with different partners than seen during the game. One pair seems to be suggesting a bit of DP via a candle at one point (the male fashions the melting candle into something a little smoother and rounded at the top as the woman turns over on her stomach, so uh...), and there's even a bit of "take sexual advantage of a mentally challenged guy" flair that I haven't seen in quite a while (Devil Times Five fans, stand up!). Like the other elements, the formula is a bit off, as it comes off like someone came along and inserted it at the 11th hour, but in the overall experience it kind of fits; it's like an exquisite corpse movie. It's a giallo, then a softcore comedy, then a '70s detective TV show.

Director Filippo Walter Ratti (for whom this film would be his last; he died a few years later) seemingly tries to apologize for the lull in the murdery parts though, as they are incredibly graphic. Apart from the killer wearing *white* gloves (10 yard penalty, movie!) the big one in the middle is a pretty standard sequence for this sort of thing until the character expires, at which point the killer removes the victim's eyes, which we watch in gnarly (and, for its day, fairly convincing) detail. One would think this meant the start of the killer offing all of the group, but nope -(spoiler for 40+ year old movie ahead) she is actually the only one of the six to die, as supporting characters make up the rest of the body count. The detective even laughs about how they were just red herrings!

The lone extra is an interview with one of those sidelined actors, who talks about arguing with the director and also believes he was never paid for the film. I'm always a fan of these candid takes, but unfortunately either due to lax translation for the subtitles or just his own inability to provide context, it's kind of hard to follow what he's talking about sometimes. He frequently rattles off names of people who don't seem to be involved, alluding to events and other movies as if we're all on the same page, so I honestly couldn't really take much from the chat beyond what I already mentioned. But hey, better than nothing, since even a trailer for the film seems to be elusive.

The last film on the set is the aforementioned Autopsy, which I never reviewed when I saw it as it was part of a double feature with Eyeball and I enjoyed that one more. But I also don't really remember much, so I'll at least give it a quickie review when I get to it. I'm kind of backed up on review discs and there's a bunch of stuff on Shudder and Netflix that I've been wanting to watch, AND I still haven't even gotten to the *2nd* Forgotten Gialli set! So I either gotta be choosier with what I actually review (I'll WATCH everything I am sent, for sure, but can't always justify a writeup) or learn to get the hell off of Twitter. And maybe stop doing so many puzzles. It's a tough life, man.

What say you?

P.S. The set is currently only available through Vinegar Syndrome's site. But here's the Amazon link for the first one, if you want to buy your cat food or household products or maybe even a book at the same time.


The Day of the Beast (1995)

MARCH 31, 2021


I vaguely recall reading about The Day of the Beast (Spanish: El día de la bestia) in Fangoria back in the mid-90s when it was released, but at that time I was still a good Catholic boy going to church every week, so its sacrilegious subject matter would have scared me off (longtime readers know I didn't even watch The Exorcist until I was in college). But now that I have a different view on organized religion, in particular Catholicism (long story short: if it works for you, great! I'm just gonna be the best person I can be and hope for the best), such elements don't phase me. Also, I'm aware that this particular film has been hard to find in the US, with some fans resorting to VHS quality bootleg DVDs, so I am tickled that it jumped a format or two and has been released on 4K UHD by the good folks at Severin.

(While we're on the subject: how about a 4K Cathy's Curse, Sev? Maybe in ultra high def it'll make sense?)

Ironically, after watching the movie I came to the conclusion that had I watched it as a teen, I not only might have liked it more, but it also might have sped up my exodus from committing nearly two hours of my weekend to going to church every week (I'm counting travel time). The plot is wonderfully inventive: a priest believes that the Antichrist will be born that evening (Christmas Eve, in fact) and thus begins committing horrible sins in order to invoke the devil, just so he can kill him and save the world. Along the way he teams up with a metalhead and a phony TV personality who writes about the occult, and the unlikely trio try to find signs and perform the necessary rituals in order to prevent the destruction of mankind in their own roundabout way. It's violent, very funny in spots, and ultimately (spoiler for 25 year old movie ahead) ends with the message that devoting one's life to Christ will leave you with nothing.

I mean, I don't think it's that dire in reality, but the sentiment of how thankless it is definitely rings true. When you add in all of the terrible beliefs they still try to impose on their members (i.e. "homosexuality is a sin") while routinely covering up ACTUAL sins like the sexual assault of children, not to mention the fact that living by their rules more or less confines you to a life of boredom (if you steal your neighbor's newspaper or shout "I hate you!" at your parents if they ground you, and die before confessing, you'll burn in Hell for eternity. Seems reasonable!), you realize that this is not a particularly great organization to revolve your life around when it's the only one you got. Alex de la Iglesia (ironic name!) takes it to the extreme here, yes, but again: the general idea is right on point.

As a movie though, I wish I liked it a little more. It starts off kind of amazing, with our hero Cura (Álex Angulo) telling his plan in secret to a fellow priest, who agrees to help him but is then crushed by a giant cross. We then watch Cura commit several crimes around the city, from petty theft (from a homeless guy) to what might be murder, as he approaches a street mime that is perched on a railing and tips him back, having him fall however far to whatever landing is below. Honestly I could have watched 90 minutes of this, but the damn plot has to get in the way and spoil things, and by that I mean he stops sinning at random and begins actively trying to invoke the devil with a ritual. Some of this stuff works fine (there's a great sequence where he attempts to extract virgin blood from a woman at the same motel, while the lady who runs it tries to stop him with a shotgun), but the film never quite reaches the outlandish highs of its first ten minutes.

It also takes a while to get to one of its best character beats. We know that Cavan, the aforementioned TV guy, is full of shit when we first meet him, but part of the fun is him not only gradually realizing that the Devil is real, but also becoming more assertive than Cura with regards to the "save the world" plan. At a certain point Cura gets disillusioned, but Cavan - who was beaten and kidnapped so Cura could force him to help - keeps fighting the good fight and even figures out the key piece of information on his own. The third guy in the trio, the metalhead who assists Cura throughout, never really does much of anything and is borderline annoying after a while (there's a bit where he keeps laughing and seemingly trying to kill himself, dragging out the sequence for eternity), so I couldn't help but wish it was just a two-hander between Cura and Cazan, giving the latter a little more time to shine.

Don't get me wrong, it's still a pretty good movie (and the transfer is immaculate, should go without saying), but after I saw and enjoyed Witching & Bitching a while back, everyone kept telling me that it wasn't anywhere nearly as good as this, and this was his masterpiece, etc. (even de la Iglesia himself says it's his best film), so maybe I was just expecting a little more. And again, perhaps I waited a bit too long to see it, not only for what it might have inspired in my own personal belief system, but also because I've been spoiled by an additional 25 years of content that also bastardizes these ideas. The Preacher comic (I didn't watch the show), movies like Dogma and mother!, and the aforementioned real world issues have already desensitized me to the idea of bastardizing their ideas. Also, even though this movie barely qualifies as horror in my eyes (the filmmakers call it one, so I follow suit), the pre-Scream mid-90s was hardly a high point for the genre, so it might have gotten a little boost simply for being unique at a time when such things were in perilously low supply, which again won't help it much *now*.

There's a full length documentary called Herederos de la bestia on the included standard Blu-ray (the UHD disc only has the feature, an annoying practice but the one the studios will be going with, I guess) which gets into that stuff a little bit, including the fact that Pedro Almodóvar was asked to produce but he chickened out over the content. But most of it is your standard retrospective documentary, about de la Iglesia's prior accomplishments, the casting, the issues with shooting in Madrid on their budget, the not-great critical reaction it got when it premiered, etc. There's a brief but lovely tribute to Angulo, who passed away a few years ago (in a car accident; unless I missed it the doc doesn't explain how he died), and some insight from other Spanish filmmakers like Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, so it's a well rounded doc and a nice complement to the feature. Severin also offers one of the filmmaker's old shorts titled Mirindas Asesinas ("Murderous Mirindas") that also stars Angulo, as well as a handful of interviews (including one with de la Iglesia), though I should note all but one are in Spanish (as is the doc) so if you're not fluent you better keep your reading glasses handy if you want to go through all of them.

Severin has also released de la Iglesia's followup Perdita Durango (released in the US in a cut form as Dance with the Devil), so fans of the filmmaker should be stoked that they're finally being given a proper presentation here. He's an interesting guy no doubt, and thankfully jumps around genres (sometimes within a single film) to keep things fresh for both himself and his audience, but the tradeoff is that not every movie is going to click. I was hoping to like this a little more, but it was still good enough to keep wanting to see what else I've missed (and no, I haven't watched 30 Coins yet, you don't need to comment! My queue is endless and I'll get to it... someday?). I'll always prefer to not connect to something from a filmmaker who is swinging for the fences than see something completely forgettable that's right in my wheelhouse (i.e. a slasher I can't remember a thing about a day later).

What say you?


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