Category Archives: American Indie
American Horror Project Vol. 2 | Arrow Video unleashes another trio of obscure stars-and-stripes terror flicks
I’ve finally got around to checking out Arrow Video’s second volume in its American Horror Project series, and its mixed, but fun, bag of obscurities co-curated by Stephen Thrower (Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents), which have all been remastered in 2k from the best surviving film elements. while the box-set is packed with a wealth of new and archival extras, including artwork by The Twins of Evil and a 60-page booklet.
DREAM NO EVIL
First up is this surreal 1970 offering from director John Hayes (Grave of the Vampire) about troubled preacher’s assistant Grace (Brooke Mills), whose desperate quest to be reunited with her long-lost father (Edmund O’Brien) propels her into an imaginary world of homicidal madness…
Part Jack Hill, Part Russ Meyer, part Psycho, this is one weird ride with Mills (who was also in Hill’s The Big Doll House) turning in a rather sympathetic turn as the demented Grace, who goes all Norman Bates when the father she has been searching for turns up dead in the local morgue. Imagining him to still be alive, she sets up home with him in a deserted shack on the outskirts of town, but soon her beaus are ending up dead because ‘daddy’ doesn’t like them touching her baby girl.
Among the supporting players are Hayes’ regular Michael Pataki (Zoltan, Hound of Dracula, Grave of the Vampire) as Grace’s revivalist preacher foster brother, character actor Marc Lawrence as the local mortician who is also a pimp, and former 1940s film noir star Edmond O’Brien, who comes off a bit like Lon Chaney Jr in Spider Baby (another Hill cult fave).
Best line in the movie: ‘Your duck is bleeding really badly’.
The Arrow special features also include…
• Filmed appreciation by Stephen Thrower
• Brand new audio commentary with Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan
• Hollywood After Dark: The Early Films of John Hayes, 1959-1971 – brand new video essay by Stephen Thrower looking at Hayes’ filmography leading up to Dream No Evil
• Writer Chris Poggiali on the prodigious career of celebrated character actor Edmond O’Brien
• Excerpts from an audio interview with actress Rue McClanahan (The Golden Girls) on working with director John Hayes.
This 1976 rural horror stars future Barney Miller actor JJ Barry as Sal, a New York illustrator who relocates to Stowe, Vermont, to set up a photography studio. But when he accidentally runs over and kills a young girl, her occultist grandfather places a curse on him. After a series of terrifying visions and mishaps, Dal seeks the counsel of local white witch Adrianna (Kim Hunter, of Planet of the Apes and A Streetcar Named Desire fame) — but can she stop the dark forces from achieving their goal?
Director Martin Goldman (who was previously a Madison Avenue art designer) and cinematographer Richard E Brooks (who went on to direct 1982’s We Will Rock You: Queen Live in Concert) bring a touch of cinema verité to their offbeat indie horror that features a lot of hand held camera and tracking shots, while also making effective use of the rural location. While I was baffled by the ending, there’s a real sense of creeping unease going on here; and Hunter is very convincing as the witch (It’s said she did lots of research into wiccan practices for role).
The Arrow special features also include…
• Filmed appreciation by Stephen Thrower
• Audio commentary with writer-director Martin Goldman
• Interview with Martin Goldman
• Interview with producer Marianne Kanter
• The Hills Are Alive: Dark August and Vermont Folk Horror – with author and artist Stephen R. Bissette
• Original Press Book
This 1977 bad seed horror is the best of the bunch in my book, and a delirious slice of horror mayhem. Laurel Barnett plays the new governess of bratty Rosalie (Rosalie Cole), who is so incensed by her mother’s death, she raises the dead from the local cemetery to lay siege on the family mansion…
I remember seeing the poster for this film in magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland when I was in my teens, but it never saw the light of day in my home town. 40 years on and I finally get to see it — and I was not disappointed. No wonder its a favourite of AHP curator Stephen Thrower — its totally bonkers. Cheap and silly, but oddly atmospheric — its like an ultra cheap fusion of Dark Shadows and The Innocents with ghouls (covered in blackened oatmeal) and some very bad acting.
This one was produced by that sultan of sexploitation, Harry Novak (who also unleashed Mantis in Lace and The Mad Butcher) and ends with a Night of the Living Dead meets Tombs of the Blind Dead-style life and death struggle in a local mill
‘I want to know who you were meeting in the cemetery?’
‘I don’t have to tell you anything!!!’
The Arrow special features also include…
• 1.37:1 and 1.85:1 presentations of the feature
• Filmed appreciation by Stephen Thrower
• Brand new audio commentary with director Robert Voskanian and producer Robert Dadashian, moderated by Stephen Thrower
• Brand new on-camera interviews with Robert Voskanian and Robert Dadashian
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Original Press Book
Arrow Video FrightFest – Twenty Blood Years | Day Two – Argento on Fear, arthouse teenage angst and demonic lust
So its Day Two and the big star of the day was the legendary Dario Argento, who did a candid Q&A before a signing session for his autobiography, Dario Argento: Fear, which has been newly translated from Italian and given a slick makeover by FAB Press.
Alan Jones (Argento’s No.1 fan and long-time friend) moderated the 30-minute interview, which concentrated on the book and why Argento had decided now was the time to tell his story. Interestingly, Jones’ admitted that even though he’s a close friend of Argento’s, he learned so many new things while reading his autobiography, which covers many very personal recollections, including the Italian director’s close relationship with his photographer mother and traditionalist father, and his suicidal thoughts, which opens the book.
He also looks back at how he learned to become a film-maker not by attending film school, but by doing a Jean-Luc Godard – totally immersing himself in films (both good and bad) while studying in Paris – a time that he describes as ‘a marvellous moment in my life’. He also looks over his film career, which he also admits was quite difficult to do – even embarrassing at times. Jones ended the session by asking Argento what song would sum him up — and he got a huge round of applause and a hail of cheers when he said: My Way – the Sid Vicious version.
To pre-order the book direct from FAB Press: CLICK HERE
Now onto today’s screamings…
KNIVES AND SKIN
Just like Heathers and Dazed and Confused (two films that informs its DNA), this mystical Midwest coming-of-age drama from director Jennifer Reeder (making her feature debut) just may be a cult film in the making.
In rural Illinois, a drum majorette’s disappearance traumatises the small town residents as secrets are revealed, destroying some relationships and strengthening others. Three girls form a bond in the aftermath of the tragedy as everyone struggles with their own infidelities, dreams and family cruelties while the manhunt continues.
The FrightFest blurb describes it as ‘Sofia Coppola meets David Lynch on the set of High School Musical‘, and I tend to agree, but this teen noir fantasy stands on its own thanks to its gorgeous lighting (very giallo-esque) and costumes, and its astute feminist take on teenage angst, rage and disillusionment (as seen in the relationships between the awkward teens) and parental grief. I’m sure many may ask ‘What’s it about?’ and find it a tad pretentious (A cappella, anyone?) – but it so deserves several viewings to really get all the layered nuances. For me, it’s an assured debut with arthouse written all over it.
BLOOD & FLESH: THE REEL LIFE & GHASTLY DEATH OF AL ADAMSON
Director David Gregory tells the bizarre and grim demise of one of Hollywood’s exploitation bad boys. Check out my full review here.
Abe (Evan Daves) is a pervert with a guilty conscience. Todd (Larry Saperstein) is his spaced out BFF and partner in crime. Chaz (Jillian Mueller) hides her feelings behind a thick layer of Goth eye liner. Ricky (Glenn Stott) is the star jock with a secret he dare not expose. And projectionist Metal Head Jeff (Robbie Tann) has turned to Jesus to stop smoking. What these employees could never have guessed is that the wholesome movie theatre they work at had a porno past. And when they uncover and screen one of the lurid films, they unwittingly unleash a sex demon (Katelyn Pearce)…
Director Keola Racela (making his feature debut here) has crafted a hugely enjoyable slice of 1980s-style horror (set in 1992) – that’s like an R-rated Scooby Doo meets Stranger Things fantasy adventure, but with a nod to Lamberto Bava’s Demons. This is probably the most perfect film for a film festival like FrightFest as its set entirely in a cinema (although a retro one not a gleaming multiplex) and the humour draws on our love of the horror genre. The characters – all outsiders with sexually repressed desires – are well-drawn, and effortlessly executed by the talented young cast. The blood and gore is on the right side of cheese and the irreverent script doesn’t hold back on making light of right-wing Christian American ideals (thank you!). My only issue is with the title, Porno, which is a bit of a misnomer as the sex film the kids watch actually looks like its been inspired by one of Kenneth Anger’s arthouse films – most specifically, 1969’s Invocation of My Demon Brother, as the film features a satanic ritual involving a demonic incantation (very much like Anger’s). But aside from that title, I’d gladly give this one repeated viewings.
Here’s a clip to whet your appetite.
When teenage thieves Caspar (Sam Strike), Iris (Virginia Gardner) and Dodge (Brandon Micheal Hall) infiltrate a mansion dinner party, they have plans for pulling off an easy heist. Little do they know that the dinner party is actually being hosted by for a group of recovering serial killers. Once the mansion owners realise they are about to be robbed, all hell breaks loose…
Each of our would-be thieves have their reasons for attempting one last heist to ensure a better life, but not even the best of intentions will save them from the party’s killer line-up. John Wick regular Lance Reddick carries a remarkable gravitas as the ‘recovering’ murderers’ de facto leader, YouTuber-turned-actor Kian Lawley’s cranks up a disturbing turn as the sleazy son, and Charmed‘s Julian McMahon has a whole lot of scenery-chewing fun as the family patriarch.
From the energetic camerawork and music to some imaginative feats of bloody ultra violence and the lashings of black humour, Killer Party is an event to die for!
Out on DVD and Blu-ray 27 May 2019 from Altitude Film Entertainment
Monkey Shines (1988) | George A Romero’s twisted Experiment in Fear is a cunning little beast indeed!
Drug-addled research scientist Geoffrey Fisher (John Pankow) is injecting human brain serum into monkeys, but goes too far with Ella, one Capuchin that he gives as helper to quadriplegic law student Allan (Jason Beghe), who has been left paralysed from the neck down after a road accident.
All goes well at first, as Allan and Ella bond with the help of animal trainer Melanie (Kate McNeil). But when the scientist steps up the dosage, Ella begins responding to Allan’s subconscious rages, including wanting to dispose of the girlfriend (Janine Turner) who dumped him for the surgeon (Stanley Tucci) who operated on Allan after the accident. Murder and mayhem follow as the twisted thriller builds towards a nail-biting climax. Can Allan stop the cunning critter before she fully takes over his mind?
George A Romero’s Monkey Shines is presented on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK in a Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition as part of the Eureka Classics range with the following special features…
• Limited Edition O Card slipcase
• 1080p presentation of the film on Blu-ray
• DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 audio options
• Optional English SDH subtitles
• New and exclusive audio commentary by Travis Crawford
• Audio Commentary with director George A Romero
• An Experiment in Fear – The Making of Monkey Shines: a lengthy retrospective with George A Romero, stars Jason Beghe and Kate McNeil, executive producer Peter Grunwald, and special effects legends Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero and Everett Burrell.
• Alternate Ending and Deleted Scenes
• Behind-the-scenes footage, original EPK featurette, vintage interviews and news reports
• Trailers and TV spots
• Limited edition collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Craig Ian Mann; highlights from the film’s production notes: and rare archival material
Take one handsome leading Hollywood actor, add two foxy Broadway hoofers, throw in some hip-grinding jazz sounds and mix it all up in a soufflé of psychosexual angst set against a sleazy New York City nightclub and ‘Hey Presto!’ you’ve got Who Killed Teddy Bear?, which is now getting a worldwide Blu-ray release from Network Distributing in the UK.
From the cheesy theme tune and Saul Bass-inspired title sequence to the shattering climax, this 1965 neo-noir American indie reeks of exploitation. Sal Mineo (of Rebel Without a Cause fame) plays Lawrence, a busboy at a 42nd Street discotheque run by Marian, a fierce-but-fair lesbian (played by the utterly fabulous Elaine Stritch).
Spinning the decks in the dingy club littered with grooving babes and middle-aged men on the make is hostess-cum-DJ Norah (the alluring Juliet Prowse – you might remember her dancing with the Muppets back in the 1970s).
Sexually-frustrated and forced to look after his mentally-challenged sister, Sal Mineo’s chain-smoking Lawrence gets his jollies from making dirty phone calls to Norah in the dead of night in his tight white briefs. Cue lots of heavy breathing and a very frightened young woman.
Enter equally mixed-up cop, Lt Dave Madden (played by US stand-up comic Jan Murray). Madden is determined to put every pervert in New York behind bars and obsessively plays audio tapes of various criminals confessions as his daughter listens from her bedroom (now, that’s just not right!). Madden then sets out to help Norah, but there’s a problem – she thinks he might be the psycho…
I won’t spoil the rest for you, but the gritty Times Square location shots and overt sexualisation of Mineo’s sweaty toned body (check out the slideshow for a taster) makes this curio a must-see. The catchy discotheque numbers, meanwhile, are by Four Seasons’ Bob Gaudio and Al Kasha (who wrote those Maureen McGovern songs in The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno).
Who Killed Teddy Bear is a forgotten neo-noir oddity of American independent cinema that rightly deserves high cult status. Previously available only on DVD, the film has been newly scanned from one of the few surviving 35mm prints in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Missing frames/sections have been re-instated from a 16mm print and the image matched as far as possible but a difference in visual quality may be occasionally noticed. While their are some scenes where print damage is still visible, this new scan is a huge improvement on the 2009 DVD release.
Network Distributing’s Blu-ray (out on 17 September 2018) also carries over the extras from the DVD, including The House Where He Lived, an episode of the 1960s TV series Court Martial, in which Mineo guest stars alongside Anthony Quayle; and 1967 short, LSD: Insight or Insanity, narrated by Mineo, in which some questionable old men in white coats outline the dangers of taking the drug.
The Reflecting Skin (1990) | Philip Ridley’s surreal American Gothic cult classic restored and resurrected on Blu-ray
‘Stunning beautiful… a Gothic masterpiece‘
‘Haunting… Ridley is a visionary‘
‘A hypnotic first feature… a cult classic‘
SIGHT & SOUND
As mysterious deaths plague a small prairie town in 1950s Idaho, eight year-old Seth (Jeremy Cooper) comes to believe that a reclusive English widow, Dolphin Blue (Lindsay Duncan), is a vampire.
Seth’s worst nightmare comes true when his older brother Cameron (Viggo Mortensen) returns home from abroad and falls in love with the widow – will he be next? The truth is much more shocking than Seth could imagine…
Written and directed by Philip Ridley (Heartless) and hauntingly photographed by Oscar-Nominee Dick Pope (Mr Turner), this surreal coming of age film caused a sensation at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival, went on to win eleven international awards, and has amassed an ever-growing cult following ever since.
To quote Mark Kermode (who really does sum this movie up perfectly)… ‘Three blinks into its Cannes debut, a critic leaned over to Philip Ridley and declared, “your film is already a cult.” Nothing’s changed since. It’s “Blue Velvet with children,” says its creator, laying out a young boy’s vision of life in rural, post-war America. Ridley’s perfectionism – which extended to hand-painting cornfields – melds with Dick Pope’s camerawork to create many gorgeous, troubling images. Also look out for Viggo Mortensen, not yet famous but fresh from filming Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990).’
The Reflecting Skin is out on Blu-ray in the UK from Thunderbird Releasing and UK Exclusive Edition Steelbook from Soda Pictures, and both include a director-approved fully-restored HD transfer of the print, plus extensive bonus features (with the Steelbook including a Philip Ridley signed art card). Whatever your choice, this indie cult is cinephiles must-have.
• Newly restored in a director-approved 2K high-definition transfer from original elements
• All-new full-length commentary by writer/director Philip Ridley
• Isolated score track assembled from original recordings, including previously unreleased extended and unused cues
• Two all-new retrospective documentaries, Angels & Atom Bombs (44 mins) and Dreaming Darkly (15 mins), including new and exclusive interviews with Nick Bicat, Viggo Mortensen, Dick Pope and Philip Ridley
• Philip Ridley’s short films Visiting Mr Beak (1987, 21 mins) and The Universe Of Dermot Finn (1988, 11 mins), with optional director introductions
• Stills and poster art galleries
• Original theatrical and new re-release trailers
• English SDH subtitles for The Reflecting Skin, Visiting Mr Beak and The Universe Of Dermot Finn
Meet Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) – who may or may not have come unstuck in time. During the Second World War, the young soldier is captured and sent to a German POW camp. On route, he witnesses the bombing of Dresden, an event that unhinges his fixity in time and causes him to live his life simultaneously as a POW, an optician in 1970’s America, and as the elderly abducted resident of a zoo on the planet Tralfamadore, where his captors provide him with a mate in the form of a porn star.
This thought-provoking anti-war, sci-fi from directed George Roy Hill (best known for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting) is based on American author Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s most influential and popular work, the 1969 satirical semi-autobiographical novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, which drew on the author’s own experiences as a prisoner of war when he was captured at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.
Thought to be impossible to film given its intertwining storylines and timelines, it went on to win the Prix du Jury at Cannes, as well as the praise of Vonnegut who remarked: ‘I drool and cackle every time I watch that film, because it is so harmonious with what I felt when I wrote the book’.
The Bach compositions used in the movie were supplied by celebrated classical pianist Glenn Gould, while the film’s star Michael Sacks later retired from the entertainment industry in the mid-1980s to become a technology industry executive for Morgan Stanley. Amongst the cast is Ron Leibman (TV’s Archer), Valerine Perrine (Lenny) and Perry King (Class of 1984).
Let’s face it! Unless you have an allergy or phobia, ants, bees, wasps and flies just don’t look that scary on the big screen. That’s why, ever since Them!’s paper mâché ants back in the 1950’s, film-makers have super-sized creepy crawlies in an attempt to frighten and entertain us filmgoers.
2012’s Dragon Wasps, is a schlocky Tomb Raider meets Predator adventure set in the jungles of Belize where an entomologist encounters armed soldiers, a drug cartel and a hive of monstrous flying bugs. And just like those other cheesy monster mash-ups Mega Piranha and Dinoshark, Dragon Wasps has a totally OTT idea about how to combat the fire-breathing CGI beasties – rubbing yourself with coca leaves and getting high in the process.
Available on DVD from Chelsea Films in the UK
The Butterfly Room (2012) | This dark psychological thriller demands to be seen by a wider audience of horror fans
Reviewed by Alan Hoare
The Butterfly Room is a 2012 American-Italian psychological thriller-horror film directed by Jonathan Zarantonello, based on his unpublished novel Alice dalle 4 alle 5 (Alice from 4 to 5). A reclusive, butterfly-obsessed, elderly lady suffering from bipolar disorder develops a disturbing relationship with a mysterious but seemingly innocent youngster…
Barbara Steele as Ann
Ray Wise as Nick
Erica Leerhsen as Claudia
Heather Langenkamp as Dorothy
Camille Keaton as Olga
Adrienne King as Rachel
P. J. Soles as Lauren
Ellery Sprayberry as Julie
Julia Putnam as Alice
James Karen as Sales Clerk
The film opens with a young girl taking a bath, as her mother knocks on the door, the girl’s period starts and her mother bursts in, calling her a filthy child and saying she was so much nicer when she was younger. The mother pushes the child’s head into the bath water.
We next see Ann, a reclusive elegant lady, walking down the street, kicking a workers ladder causing him to fall of the ladder, only being saved by his lanyard. His supervisor, Nick, apologies to Ann, claiming it was the workers fault. Ann returns to her apartment and hears the sobbing nine-year-old Julie in the hallway. It seems her mother has failed to collect her from school, so Ann invites her in, and introduces Julie to her world of butterfly collecting.
Julie’s mother, Claudia, eventually turns up and thinks Ann, inviting her to dinner the following evening. Before leaving, Claudia queries the frequent banging noises emanating from Ann’s apartment. Ann denies any such noise, but as Claudia and Julie return arguing in their apartment the banging starts.
The narrative takes its first jump and introduces us to Ann’s earlier meeting with the eerily beautiful young Alice whilst in a shopping mall. Using her seductive innocence, Alice establishes a disturbing mother/daughter relationship with Ann, which is based around receiving money from Ann. We soon learn Ann craves this relationship to replace the loss of her own daughter. Each time they meet Ann has to pay more and more money to Alice.
Once again the narrative jumps and we see Ann in full fumigation gear in a lift spraying acid on bodies hidden in the lift shaft. The scene is made even stranger when an obviously stoned passenger joins her. As the relationship between Ann and Julie continues to develop, the back-story of Alice’s other “mothers” unfolds. Ann soon learns of this and begins to murder them, throwing one down the lift shaft and causing an air embolism in the other. Anne is now free to look after Alice, however they have a row, and the resolution of this is never resolved.
Claudia asks Ann to look after Julie whilst she is away for a romantic weekend. With the inevitable curiosity of a child, Julie begins to explore the corners of Ann’s apartment, discovering the dark secret of the girl (Alice) hidden in the walls of the forbidden butterfly room. No one believes what Julie has seen except for Ann’s estranged daughter Dorothy.
The next day, Ann asks Janitor Nick to block the door to the butterfly room with a large wardrobe. Nick offers to do some cash in hand work for Ann as he knows she is illegally breaking down a plasterboard partition in the apartment. She reacts violently to this and throws him out. Ann’s estranged daughter Dorothy visits Ann and it becomes clear she was the girl seen in the opening scenes. They argue, causing Julie to hide in the wardrobe where she discovers the back is flimsy and can gain access to the butterfly room.
Claudia returns from her weekend to collect Julie and is drowned in the bath by Ann, just as Julie learns the terrible truth of the butterfly room. Nick arrives to find Claudia’s dead body and the body of his missing co-worker and see Ann chasing Julie with a sledgehammer Ann and Julie run out to the street where Ann is run over and killed by Dorothy who has just arrived at the scene after summoning up the courage to confront an evil that has haunted her for years.
The narrative jumps forward and we see that Julie now lives with Dorothy’s family and as they pose for a family photo Dorothy says the chilling words to her son ‘you were so much nicer when you were younger’.
Jonathan Zarantonello has produced a marvellously-complex, dark psychological thriller that examines the human psyche on many levels. His use of the regular jumps (backwards and forwards) in narrative confuses and misinforms the viewer, however all the disparate plot strands come neatly together in the final reel when we discover the true nature of the psychotic Anna.
Barbara Steele is amazing in the role of Anna, making her both malevolent and sweet at the same time. She clearly relishes the role and has some wonderfully playful dialogue and marvelouslly bizarre scenes, such a meeting the dope head in the lift whilst she is fully dressed in bug spraying costume. It’s not made clear if Anna is psychotic from the start, or has been made this way by her own experiences with her daughter Dorothy, and surrogate daughter Alice. But this just adds nicely to the mystery and darkness of the plot. All the characters, except Julie, appear to have agendas that will benefit themselves, at the expense of others. Alice has several mothers for reasons unexplained, Claudia has a clandestine affair with a co-worker, Ann certainly has her own agenda and Nick appears to be besotted with Ann.
The use of former horror scream icons is handled well and they all play their part very well in this densely plotted well acted film. The soundtrack is suitably dark and aggressive and matches the on screen action very well indeed. The film won the Denis-de-Rougemont Youth Award at the 2012 Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival, but seems to have been relegated to sell through DVD Oblivion. This is a real shame as the film certainly demands to be seen by a wider audience of horror fans.
Variety has called The Eyes of My Mother ‘an exquisite waking nightmare’, and I must admit that while viewing Nicolas Pesce’s directorial debut, I was reminded of David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman and even 1974’s Deranged.
If you like your horror slow-burning and artfully shot, then Pesce’s American Gothic-fused tale of depravity and dread will draw you into its monochrome-lensed folk horror world, while also setting your nerves on edge with its extreme violence, that’s more often implied than actually shown.
In a remote rural setting, young Portuguese farm-girl Francisca (Olivia Bond) witnesses the horrific murder of her surgeon mother at the hands of a travelling salesman called Charlie (Will Brill). When her father (Paul Nazak) arrives home, he knocks Charlie out and holds him captive in the family’s barn where he removes his eyes and vocal cords.
Psychologically damaged by the traumatic experience, Francisca begins to see Charlie as her only friend and a plaything that she can torture using her mother’s surgical instruments. Fast forward a few years, the adult Francisca (Kika Magalhães) has isolated herself from the real world and constructed her own morbid morality – which leads her to commit her own atrocious acts of murder and dismemberment…
With her quirky Paula Rego-esque features, Kika Magalhães reminded me of the British actress Angela Pleasence, she of the elfin-like countenance who gave weirdly unsettingly performances in films like José Ramón Larraz’s cult horror Symptoms (1974).
Indeed, such is Magalhães’ strong and nuanced performance, that her Francisca belongs in that pantheon of movies featuring women descending into madness, alongside its ice maiden queen, Catherine Deneuve, as seen in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965).
For me, its Zach Kuperstein’s monochrome photography that impresses the most – much more so than the story, which can be read as a nature vs nurture debate on the nature of evil – as his lighting and composition evokes the stark and sterile cinema of Ingmar Bergman and true crime films like The Honeymoon Killers (1970) and the Conrad Hall shot In Cold Blood (1967).
There’s also an exploitation vibe going on, recalling Alan Ormsby’s Ed Gein-inspired serial killer thriller Deranged (1974), while also paying homage to William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill featuring Vincent Price – which, along with Strait-Jacket, Psycho and Night of the Hunter, informs the film tonally. And there are other influences in there too, including Polanski and David Lynch, but also the extreme French horror cinema of the 2000s (Marytrs is one that comes to mind).
There are alot of ‘WTF?’ moments that will leave you in shock, but also baffle. Like, how does Francisca support herself when she’s clearly incapable of connecting with the outside world and can’t speak the local lingo? Having the film span decades also leaves questions unanswered, but if you take it that we are experiencing mere fragments of Francisca’s memory then it might help paper over the cracks.
Now, without going into detail, much of what happens in the second half will have you wondering what the hell you have you been watching – but those artfully conceived visuals, Magalhães brutal performance, and the nerve-wracking use of sound are saving graces. Oh, and thanks Pesce for making me never hear Amália Rodrigues the same way again. This is a brilliant, but bewildering debut.
The Eyes of My Mother is out in cinemas in the UK and Ireland from Friday 24 March from Park Circus