So, 2012 was a busy year for me with a move from the UK to the south of France in July and the addition of my daughter to the family Walsh in October (as well as the added bonus of nearly losing a finger in my new job at the end of November!). Obviously these changes have impacted my viewing habits somewhat, but I have used every available opportunity to keep the DVD/Blu player well oiled and the flat screen dust-free.
Co-hosting the Midnight Video podcast (currently on hiatus due to my move, but we have plans...) means that approximately 90% of the films we've covered on the show are new discoveries for me and you can head over to the blog/website to see what we uncovered/rediscovered.
On a personal level though I've been playing catch up with some obvious 'biggies' that I've neglected to see over the years as well as a host of lesser-known titles.
Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs (1974)
The BFI Flipside series has served up gem after precious gem of forgotten British movies. Little Malcolm has been one of my faves and is that rare example of a stage play being perfectly translated to the big screen. Darkly satirical and a stark reminder of the grim north of the 70s, John Hurt and David Warner are hilariously delusional, but the main draw is Rosalind Ayres as the voice of reason and eyes you could swim in.
Sitting Target (1972)
Definitely a year of nihilistic British crime thrillers of the 70s for me. Hickox's superb film is full of nail-biting action sequences and a brilliantly single-minded performance from Oliver Reed. However it's Ian McShane who steals the show as the handsome, yet devious Birdy. Good support from Edward Woodward and a fantastic soundtrack from Stanley Myers.
The Squeeze (1977)
Michael Apted's film uses all of the familiar tropes of a Brit crime thriller, but when you have the likes of Stacy Keach going head to head with David Hemmings and Stephen Boyd you know it's not gonna be above average. UK viewers will be surprised to see infamous hamster-eating comedian Freddie Starr in a convincing dramatic role. The film is filled with a brooding sense of malevolence and is notorious for a forced striptease scene, but it's Boyd's menace that remains in my memory.
The Hit (1984)
Another excellent John Hurt performance (definitely a blueprint for his Old Man Peanut character in 44 Inch Chest) and he's ably abetted by Tim Roth who kidnap former gangster and grass Terence Stamp. Essentially an odd couple (Roth/Hurt) and road movie, Frears' film is full of sardonic wit, whilst the cinematography magnifies the beautiful arid Spanish vistas . At times poignant and at others shocking, it's a supremely human film and I don't think Frears' has ever bettered it.
Skolimowski's drama is full of pathos and punctuated with surreal moments that wonderfully highlight his approach to making films in Britain as a stranger in a strange land. Iron's central performance is admirable, but what shines through are the wry observations and the despair that hangs in the air like the Sword of Damocles.
The Devil (1972)
Andrzej Zulawski's second feature is a primal scream of despair and an unflinching stare at the latent cruelty of humanity. All of the director's trademarks are here: stunning hand held camerawork and actor's being pushed to their very limits and beyond. Zulawski is not for everyone and Possession remains his most known work, but I've said it before and I'll say it again, there is no other film maker who can do visceral and raw like him. His films 'always' leave me breathless and confounded.
Murder a la Mod (1968)
It's been a De Palma catch up year for me, but I think this strange little film serves as a good spring board for what De Palma would become notorious for. Stylistically adventurous, blackly comic and more than a nod or two to Hitchcock. Even though it's a low budget affair, it's a really great looking film and the editing, camera set-ups are really impressive and William Finley never fails to deliver the goods, seemingly channeling the silent performers of yore.
Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)
Nicolas Cage was apparently influenced by Brando's performance in this movie when he made the unforgettable Vampire's Kiss. Huston's film is quite an oddity, but along with Losey's Boom!, another critical failure from that period, I think these films have stood the test of time remarkably well and are more pertinent in their surreal and near-demented existential/repressed yearnings than they would have been at the time. Reflections... is a really beautiful/dreamy looking film, but the distanced and secretive performances make it really special.
Mind-blowing documentary about the life of Marjoe Gortner, probably better known to non-US exploitation fans as the curly haired dude from Star Crash. His early years were spent being exploited as a cash cow for his evangelical Christian parents as he 'performed' as a child preacher/prodigy. The footage of these meetings is extraordinary and the film becomes an expose of these events. Fascinating, thought-provoking, hilarious and terrifying in equal measures.
Farewell to the King (1989)
John Milius stumbles through familiar jungle territory in this Conrad-style story. Havers is serviceable as the stereotypical British officer, but this is absolutely Nolte's vehicle - a paranoid/insular/honourable/turned up to 11 Colonel Kurtz. He's firing on all cylinders and then some. A righteous tour de force and a far cry from the weather-beaten, washed up character he played in the recent Warrior. This is the Nolte I love and admire; unpredictable, explosive and LOUD.
Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (1976)
One of two Deodato's I caught up with this year. This Poliziotteschi is non-stop from the get-go and is like a tornado of violence, misogyny and questionable morals, but then I wouldn't expect anything less from the man who blessed this world with Cannibal Holocaust. Lovelock and Porel are suitably cavalier as the leads, seemingly relishing their destructive tendencies with almost teenage abandon. Easily matches the aforementioned nihilism of Brit crime flicks from the same period, but they dress a whole lot better on the Continent.
Veit Helmer's beautifully expressionist film takes its cues from Jeunet and Caro's Delicatessen with a welcome lack of dialogue and a focus on the magical and ethereal qualities of cinema. Denis Lavant and Chulpan Khamatova are positively balletic in their roles and it's been noted elsewhere on the internet that some of the other characters bear a resemblance to characters from the films of Emir Kusturica, but in my book this is no bad thing at all. A really welcome find for me.
Cut and Run (1985)
The other Deodato I saw starring the ever reliable Richard Lynch (R.I.P.). Simply some good ol' fashioned mid 80s exploitation action. Moments of leg-crossing gore and sweaty jungle suspense are soundtracked by an ace driving synth score from Claudio Simonetti.
There were times when I was watching Crichton's flick when I thought this could easily have been made by Cronenberg. And that is high praise indeed. Near-future dystopian sci-fi had it's heyday in the 70s and Looker is just on the periphery. But like fellow novelists, Ballard and Gibson, Crichton's canny tale appears to have more significance and relevance in our time. Finney is great as the protoganist, with something of an adventurous Cary Grant about him and I guess it really helped put him on the map in Hollywood.
The House of the Yellow Carpet (1983)
Gialli are known for their serpentine plots that twist and turn to confound the viewer, but this little gem is quite something and I'm guessing it would be very divisive for most people. Erland Jospehson's antagonist is superb and brings a quiet menace to proceedings. Beatrice Romand plays the more stereotypical giallo heroine/victim well enough, but the real draw here is the (implausible?) plot that left my jaw on the floor.
Der Todesking (1990)
Jorg Buttgereit's film/mediation on death and suicide is at times visually dazzling, blackly comic and incredibly sad. More arthouse than exploitation, in fact it wouldn't be too out of place in a gallery, although that would do it some injustice. Whether or not it's a deeply personal film for the director, it is provoking but not in the same way the Nekromantik films are, there truly is something probing and reflective on display here. Essential viewing I say.
Branded to Kill (1967)
Suzuki's film is one of the highlights of the year for me. Gleefully deranged and uber stylish it reminded very much of Patrick McGoohan's series The Prisoner (and I think I'm not alone in this). Throwing meaning and significance out of the window Suzuki revels in stylistic flourishes and absurdity, but it's never less than hilarious and entertaining.
Waxwork II: Lost in Time (1992)
Douglas Hickox's son Anthony did a fine job of marrying humour and horror in the late 80s/early 90s and this was the zenith for me. Much like Raimi's EVIL DEAD II and Dante's Gremlins sequel, everything is cranked up to next level postmodern craziness. It's infectious fun and never takes itself too seriously.
The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974)
This hallucinatory horror film starring gamine Mimsy Farmer is a strange amalgamation of Polanski-like character fragmentation and Bava/Argento fantasy. Plot-wise it's all over the place and the denouement, whilst visually stunning, feels like it's part of another plot or film even. However this didn't lessen my enjoyment and for me it's a crying shame director Barilli didn't make more feature films.
Myra Breckinridge (1970)
Renowned as an unmitigated disaster upon it's release by US critics in particular. Sarne's adaptation of Gore Vidal's novel is not without it's faults, but as a slice of psychedelic satire and with a robust central performance from Raquel Welch, there is in fact a lot to enjoy. Cynical and hammeringly unsubtle, it was perhaps too much for the establishment of the time, but I think it's about time it was reappraised.
Douglas Hickox (again), but this time the terminally dreary London is illuminated with the presence of the Duke. Wayne's Brannigan brings his school of hard knocks and no bullshit to us Brits as he chases down American gangster John Vernon. The chalk and cheese chemistry of Dickie Attenborough and Wayne is wonderfully comic and like all of Hickox's films, the action set pieces are first class. Stereotypes abound and locations are great mixture of tourist and local. A rollicking great fun ride.
When Eight Bells Toll (1971)
Philip Calvert as played by Anthony Hopkins in this Alistair MacLean adaptation is the very essence of how I would like to have seen James Bond. He embodies Fleming's creation so perfectly that at times one could argue that this is a Bond rip-off. However the less glamorous, but infinitely more familiar locations (for me) in the Scottish Highlands and great support from Robert Morley and the ravishing Nathalie Delon, make this a damned good watch in its own right.
The Passenger (1975)
Put off watching this masterpiece (and yes, that's exactly what is) for far too long. Unhurried, meditative and crammed with intrigue Antonioni's film concerns itself with identity, both on a personal and global level. Nicholson is really at the top of his game here, reining in his emotions and letting them simmer as he finds his world becoming smaller and smaller and more dangerous. Cinematic manna.
The Seventh Continent (1989)
Haneke's feature debut is a remarkably methodical film that sets out to pose questions, not provide answers. There is a matter-of-fact, almost instruction manual-like approach to the images, seemingly voyeuristic yet absolutely distancing. The viewer never gets into the minds of the protagonists even though we are witness to their most intimate moments. Haneke's aesthetic is undeniably cinematic, but his philosophy is guardedly moralistic on some levels and openly provocative on others.
I'll finish on a pithy review, but this could be quantified as Carry On Peeping Tom. And I am a BIG fan of both. Hitchcock's pitch-black humour really comes to the fore in Frenzy.