Saturday, 22 November 2008

Last House on the Left

Director: Wes Craven
Writer: Wes Craven
USA, 1972

In interviews Wes Craven expresses regret about some aspects of his first feature, feeling it was too coldly horrific. I agree there are problems, but the middle section of the film, which views the brutal torment of two female victims of a criminal gang with impressive detachment, isn't one of them.

Rather his pussyfooting around the subject, expressed in cuts from the violence to the victims' families and annoying comedy policeman sequences, detract from the cold, drawn-out torture and murder of the two young women which makes this film such a classic. It is only in the final stages of their long suffering that the stupid music and pointless scene cutting finally stops, and it is testament to the power of the scene that it is the one the film is remembered by – in beautiful Autumn woodland, pathetic physical dominance of man over woman is rendered with the unflinching attitude to violence it deserves.

Much talk of Last House on the Left concentrates on its retelling of Ingmar Bergman's “The Virgin Spring”; but this is a distraction, a directorial flourish that has little to do with the film itself. More interesting is Craven's insistence on placing a female character in the gang that carries out the misogynistic murders – Why? Is this a way of distancing himself from what goes on in his film? It doesn't make sense. She is only there to salve the director's conscience and deflect the inevitable criticism films like this receive.

Craven's strengths as an action horror director are revealed in the later revenge scenes, where chainsaws and cut-throat daggers are wielded in quick-fire cuts of exciting physicality. This is the director who made “A Nightmare on Elm Street”: action filled, fun and gory. It's a preview of eighties Hollywood slashers in all their daft glory.

Last House on the Left is a mess, but interesting all the same. The actual horror is horrific and deservedly notorious, yet infused with a strange reluctance on the director's part. The action of the final scenes is effective and Craven seems much more comfortable with that style of film. But given the power of that Autumn woodland scene, who knows what a director of his skill could have come up with if it was the other way round.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Zombie Flesh Eaters

Director: Lucio Fulci
Writers: Elisa Brigante and Dardano Sacchetti
USA/Italy 1979

Not one I was looking forward to watching again to be honest, but on second viewing it wasn't that bad at all (maybe my quality threshold has lowered since starting this blog). Nicely summed up by Mark Kermode while listing zombie movies to watch for Halloween in his latest BBC Radio 5 podcast as “Rubbish, but not bad rubbish”, Zombie Flesh Eaters is pretty much what you'd expect from a zombie movie, with some iconic scenes thrown in.

It's set largely on the Caribbean island fiefdom of a mad doctor, whose experiments with the living dead have left him with a makeshift hospital of full of chained-up zombies. Unusually for a zombie film actual voodoo legend explains the chaos, while a functional plot is used to string together gory set pieces in proper exploitation fashion. The most well-known of these, the infamous eyeball scene, is joined by undead Conquistadors rising from their graves, a gory gut-eating scene that pre-dates Romero's Day of the Dead, and nothing less than an underwater fight between a zombie and a shark, done with a lot more flair and technical expertise than you'd imagine. 

In fact, where it matters – the gore scenes – Zombie Flesh Eaters' production values are pretty high, and will have the squeamish covering their eyes. This being Fulci there's also plenty of nudity, with the gorgeous Auretta Gay getting her kit off more than once. There's certainly enough going on to keep you interested.

It doesn't get boring, the zombies keep on coming, and in my opinion Zombie Flesh Eaters vies with its sequel City of the Living Dead, a film which somehow escaped the BBFC's attentions, as Fulci's best. Both films are scored by Fabio Frizzi, whose strident yet melancholy electronic music is amongst the best in Italian exploitation cinema.