Mario Bava Season at Castle Bleasdale (Part Two)

black sabbath
Black Sabbath

The second part of a diary of watching Mario Bava films over a week.

It was January, cold, and everyone was dying. I chopped enough wood for the week and stored it against the wall with the kindling. There were frosts every night at Castle Bleasdale – my current residence, a shuddering pile located on the River Piave where the plains meet the first mountains of the Dolomites – but while my wife and children slept fitfully upstairs, I would get the fire roaring, turn out all the lights and watch a film by Italian horror director Mario Bava. Prior to this week, I’d never seen any of his 30-odd films. This is the second part of my scientific record of the Mario Bava season at Castle Bleasdale.

Read part one of watching Mario Bava films over a week.

Friday, 15th of January, 2016

The funeral took place in the local cathedral and outside the sun was strangely, unseasonably warm. I know I’m not going to stir up controversy on my next assertion but I don’t like going to funerals. This one was not the worst. My student, although not old-old, was not young either. He filled a cathedral with family and friends and because of my damned atheism I stood outside and listened to singing of the choir of Alpine soldiers coming from the church. Afterwards they brought out the coffin and people tried not to be too loud when they met friends they hadn’t seen for months, years in some cases. Funerals have this strange social substratum. I wandered home depressed, stopping at the supermarket to stock up on firelighters and food for the weekend. I was going to stay inside and watch as many Mario Bava films as I could. I wanted nothing to do with the sunshine and blue skies. I would close the shutters and keep going. The film I took to next was Black Sabbath – from whence the name of Ozzy Osborne’s heavy metal band – an anthology that is a little too in awe of its Hollywood legend Boris Karloff and young American star Mark Damon. The first film is about a beautiful woman who is bothered by a telephone call from a stalker – possibly her ex who has escaped from prison. It’s a Tale of the Unexpected and highly effective in a sinister voyeuristic way. The second is a classic tale of vampirism and possession but it is fairly rudimentary. The colours are excellent. Mario Bava colours everything with the vividness of boiled sweets. Reds and greens, blues and vermillion. The last story is the one that is really creepy as a nurse (Jacqueline Pierreux) is called to a house to prepare the body of a dead medium for burial. The rictus grin of the freshly dead is off-putting enough to ward anyone off but our nurse spies a ring that she would like to steal.

Saturday, 16th of January, 2016

It has just occurred to me that I haven’t seen my wife or my children since the end of last week. Could it be they aren’t upstairs after all? I’ve been eating alone. Bowls of boiled potatoes sprinkled with vinegar and black bread with white butter. The same meal again and again. Hatchet for the Honeymoon does away with any vestige of mystery and takes on the murderer’s point of view. Blessed with the kind of Crystal Ken handsomeness that only existed in 1970, Stephen Forsyth plays John Harrington, the owner of a haute couture house that specializes in bridal wear. Unhappily married to Laura Betti, Harrington is also a self-aware psychopath who kills brides-to-be with a cleaver – not, note, a hatchet. Bava takes a slender plot with many familiar genre elements – a suspicious police detective circulates, Mrs Harrington has a séance – and makes it into something stylish and weird. Harrington’s objectification of women, his impotence and his mania are coolly represented. His charisma and his honesty make him a proto-Patrick Bateman. He watches his prey with a set of binoculars and then, sitting with his wife, reverses them so she is far away. This kind of visual originality is something I’ve come to expect from Bava and the murders are all used as moments of striking invention, each one vaguely trippy as the screen dissolves into a liquid state, colours explode and the soundtrack lays it down heavily. Each murder also brings about a further flashback, a little like Sergio Leone’s Once upon a Time in the West (1968), to the kind of Freudian backstory that Hitchcock loved. At the end of Black Sabbath, Bava pulled his camera back to reveal that Karloff was in a studio riding a fake horse and surrounded by stage hands moving the scenery about him. Bava likes to show that he’s not taking everything seriously, and here again he uses one of his own films on television as an excuse for the screams the policemen heard. Does watching horror films cause violence? No. But they can be handy in getting away with it. I also watched The Evil Eye, an early film about an American woman visiting Rome and witnessing a murder. It was black and white and John Saxon was in it, the way he pops up in films all over the place. He stars in a Dario Argento movie but I’m too tired to type his name into IMDb tonight. The fire died and the room is full of smoke.

Sunday, 17th of January, 2016

The bells in the village toll for another death. This time the 90-year-old mother of a friend. I can tell that it is her. She’s been at death’s door since Christmas. The bells toll once for a man, twice for a woman, and they toll twice so it must be her. It can’t be anyone else. They bury the dead quick in Italy so the funeral will be tomorrow or Tuesday at the latest. Today is the last day of my Mario Bava season and I still have many films to get through. I begin with Rabid Dogs. Completed in 1974, the incomplete film was seized following a bankruptcy wrangle and didn’t get cut and released until the late 90s. Bava is trying his hand at the Polizia genre, which exploded in the mid-70s in Italy and told brutal, violent stories of cops and robbers. Following a heist gone wrong, three bandits grab a hostage and carjack an unsuspecting father who is taking his son to the hospital. The atmosphere is laden with tension and the claustrophobia of a sizzling car in the middle of a Roman summer gets progressively more uncomfortable. The bandits are a psychopath, a leering, sweating rapist and one icy professional. A fantastic twist elevates the film. The same is true for Bay of Blood, a slasher often cited as a primary inspiration for all the Friday the 13th style movies that were to follow. A complex legal case regarding a piece of property on a bay is the MacGuffin, but essentially Bava produces a daisy chain of stylish, elaborate and occasionally ridiculous kills with a variety of weapons and murderers capped off with one of the funniest and most daring twists of any of his films.

Monday, 18th of January, 2016

I woke up early this morning. I just lay in bed and listened to the sound of the wind that always blows strongly in the valley in the morning following the river down from the mountains. I wonder about the morality of what I’ve done. Mario Bava took time to make those films. A lot of time. Poured a lot of effort into them. But I just watched them in a week. Half a lifetime’s work probably. And I watched it in a week. It seems unfair, disproportionate somehow: the asymmetrical warfare that criticism wages against art. I can’t help but hope that people stop dying now. January has been so fatal. I don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t have the strength to lift myself, like the corpse in the ‘Drop of Water’ sequence of Black Sabbath. Maybe I too wear a horrid grin. I wonder if the wind blowing outside is the same Italian wind that blew in Mario Bava’s imagination. It is blowing so strong that it almost takes away the sound of the bells tolling. This time they only toll once.

Mario Bava’s Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970) is out now on Dual Format (Blu-Ray + DVD) released by Arrow Video.

John Bleasdale

Gun Outfit’s Film Jukebox

Gun Outfit

LA-based-via-Olympia band Gun Outfit have been releasing records for nearly a decade. Raised in the world of hardcore punk, they now marry a love of Americana, tinted with their passion for cinema, with psychedelic flair. Their newest album Dream All Over is out now via Paradise of Bachelors, while their Two Way Player EP, opening with ‘Expansion Pact’ is out on Wharf Cat Records on 12 February 2016. Gun Outfit play London’s Lexington on 17 February 2016, with more dates in the UK (see below) and Europe throughout the month. For more information, visit the Gun Outfit website. Below, vocalist and guitarist Dylan Sharp discusses 10 inspiring films.

Here are 10 movies I enjoy. Definitively stating even my own name induces a faint shiver of anxiety within me, so I’ll refrain from claiming these as my top 10 of all time. I’ve tried to keep to slightly more obscure examples of the types of things I draw from in movies, and I’ve left off the great masterpieces that we all love, because nothing is more unnecessary than my own salty take on the tired legends of cinema past. Movies are the greatest art, they are psychological propaganda operating on the deepest levels, ideology’s fever dream and utter compromise, and I’m honoured to have an excuse to blab on about them. These are, in no particular order:

1. Out 1 (Jacques Rivette, 1971)
Forgive the outrage of selecting the abbreviated cut; I have back problems and arthouse chairs can be stiff. Rivette has a self-assured class and a playfulness that makes his films enjoyable and easy – they’re long but they care about you. There’s a certain quality of experience you get from watching very long, very ‘boring’ films – your attention is freed from the fascist dictates of the storyline and left to ponder dully the curvature of the wall or the fabric of the cloth touching your throat. It’s a validation of thought because, for me at least, thinking is only possible after bravely withstanding the compulsive refusal to do so for many minutes. Many filmmakers know this and use it to make art, but Rivette took pains to thoroughly infuse reality with fantasy and, especially in this film, to entrust the actors with the privilege of creation in a uniquely collaborative process. A process working on this many levels is rare.

2. Under the Men’s Tree (David MacDougall, 1970)
As a foolish young man struggling with the straight-faced discussions of objectivity in the social sciences, I thought it would be ‘fun’ to sneak onto the University of Washington campus and, after wolfing down a paper bag full of fresh-cut cubensis mushrooms in a men’s room, spend an afternoon watching ethnographic films in a weird viewing booth. This film stuck out for its grace and simplicity. In Under the Men’s Tree, MacDougall calmly allows the stationary camera to capture a group of African men sitting around under a tree gabbing with each other, exaggerating about simple things that happened throughout the day (one young man lies about seeing a car drive by, for example). It’s a simple depiction of people telling stories, a deliberate resistance to the heavily laboured mythmaking that can seem to be the only path for those inclined to work with moving images. Art and life is just bullshitting, and here it’s studied and celebrated. It is perhaps simultaneously the most and least pretentious film (actually a wonderfully ghosting Portapak video) I’ve ever seen.

3. Godzilla vs. Hedorah (Yoshimitsu Bannu, 1971)
As an even younger person I was obsessed with Godzilla. An ambiguous, indomitable manifestation of pure force in all its conceptual ridiculousness – the Japanese Godzilla movies were the most satisfying example of pure cinematic entertainment I’d known. I’d grown up on Nintendo, and Godzilla was the first thing in art that could satisfy that strange desire for simultaneously banal and weird repetition that hours of hopping over a poorly rendered bush had induced in me. Godzilla vs. Hedorah is here because it’s really the weirdest one – it’s simultaneously psychedelic exploitation and prescient environmental commentary that’s dark and serious and insane. It’s the only movie in the series where Godzilla flies (by shooting his hot breath onto the ground and squirting upward into the air) and he gets his ass kicked by a fucked-up blob in a disturbing sequence that reminded me of an animal battling with cancer. Godzilla is the only character in movies that I can say I love without qualification.

4. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)
This was the first film to blow my mind. I saw it in a small 15-seat theatre above Scarecrow Video in Seattle when I was 16. There were projector problems and it was about 95 degrees in there – I remember just sweating while they struggled for 20 minutes to change reels. The experience I had watching it was as close to religious as I’ve ever had. It’s the one Tarkovsky film I’ve only watched once, I’m superstitious about it. Honestly this is the film that caused me to throw my life away studying Russia, philosophy and experimental filmmaking in college. I don’t know what else to say… it blended science fiction and philosophy and spirituality with seemingly zero budget and really beautiful sepia/monochromatic film stock, and it made me think that the world was serious about itself for a protracted moment.

5. 10 Rillington Place (Richard Fleischer, 1971)
I’m not saying this is one of the best films ever, but it’s the best horror/suspense film I’ve seen in the last five years. It’s the story of serial killer John Christie. Richard Attenborough is slimy and the crude-homemade-gas-murder-in-bombed-out-postwar-Britain-by-an-ingratiating-impotent-landlord theme is so dark. The fact that it was filmed in the actual house where the murders took place makes you come out of the theatre feeling dirty. This is true crime at its best, with a proper emphasis on the potential for murderous exploitation by power in times of want.

6. Lancelot du Lac (Robert Bresson, 1974)
Filmmaking is expensive and there are seemingly endless opportunities for lavish waste and extravagance, and if you can’t afford to do it visually you can always go nuts with the storyline. The fact that Bresson is able to maintain his dark economism while recreating archetypal fantasy Europe is pretty impressive. I love minimalism in cinema and music, like the sound of crunching leaves as we watch the forlorn knight’s feet trudge through the empty glade. I get sick of ham acting and self-congratulatory cinema, and Bresson is as pure an antidote to decadence as you can get. I’ve always had a fantasy of getting a job working on crappy historical recreations for bad TV shows and finding a way to create some small sequences of pure art away from prying eyes, but if that ever happened they would resemble this movie and I would be yelled at by my young boss.

7. Love and Anarchy (Lina Wertmuller, 1973)
This is how you make a romantic comedy. Italian ham Giancarlo Giannini plays a forlorn hick who is so obsessed with his idea of assassinating Mussolini that he totally misunderstands the meaning of his erection (I can relate). The crux of the comedy lies in the subtle movement of Giannini’s facial muscles and in his relationship with the other anarchist prostitutes, and it’s a very humanist take on radical politics and a send-up of romance that has yet to really be equalled. It’s a feminist film and an anarchist film and it’s very funny, quite the feat.

8. Arabian Nights (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1974)
Pure spectacle. A nude man wanders through sweeping vistas and ornate castles. Pure lust. Arabian Nights is one of the first books I remember getting into and this movie is a fully adult realization of cinema’s epic potential. It perfectly indulges the fascination for the Islamic golden age I picked up while living in Istanbul with the gay sexual renaissance of the 70s, another period I think about often when the phantasmic notion of true freedom pops into my head. Pasolini also has a great sense of humour. Couldn’t really ask for more.

9. The Hired Hand (Peter Fonda, 1971)
I guess since I play in a trippy American western band I should probably stay on brand. The opening sequence, in which bathing cowboys blend into a brightly sparkling river in a sequence of very slow dissolves, is a great visual realization of what we’re trying to do musically, and it’s as beautiful a depiction of experiences I’ve had in the western US as anything I’ve ever seen. The rest of the movie feels like the residue of an acid trip, not because it’s explicitly psychedelic, but more because of the themes of gently deteriorating masculine friendship and the slow dawning of unspectacular reality on the horizon at the end of your twenties. The pure ecstasy and unity of the trip can’t be maintained, but the relationships you form can last forever.

10. Level Five (Chris Marker, 1997)
Fast forward to the 90s, when I was actually alive. This movie, a bizarre pseudo-documentary investigation into Japanese resistance to the US invasion in Okinawa and elsewhere, came out in 1997. At that time I was in high school living in Saipan in the Marianas Islands with my father. While there, I visited the cliffs where, in the film, we see Japanese women jumping to their deaths in slow motion. By the time I saw this a couple of years ago I almost had a panic attack thinking about how personal history and national history intertwine in infinite aspects, forming invisible threads that direct our every action. Marker is impossibly creative within a non-existent budget and creates works of art that are unlike anything else. He blends so many spheres of being and understanding, and couples that with a charismatic personality that just expresses an openness and love for the world. Just makes you want to create something out of nothing, as now you know it can be done.

Gun Outfit UK Tour Dates:
12.02.16 Brighton, Green Door Store
13.02.16 Manchester, Gullivers
14.02.16 Glasgow, The Hug & Pint
15.02.16 Leeds, Brudenell Social Club
16.02.16 Cardiff, Clwb lfor Bach
17.02.16 London, The Lexington

XConfessions: Interview with Erika Lust

My Master

Format: DVD + download/stream

Release date: Volume 6 released on 28 January 2016

Event: Erika Lust will be in Berlin in February for a special screening of the Director’s Cut of her latest XConfessions short films followed by a Q&A, hosted by the Berlin Film Society at the Babylon Kino. The original event on 10 February is sold out but another screening has been added on 12 February 2016.

The Barcelona-based erotic filmmaker on women and pornography, trying to change the adult industry, and her interactive project XConfessions.

Swedish-born, Barcelona-based erotic filmmaker Erika Lust has been challenging the tiresome clichés and uninventive formulas of the porn industry since her 2004 debut, The Good Girl. Following a string of award-winning features including Life Love Lust and Cabaret Desire, she started the interactive web-based XConfessions project: members of the public are encouraged to confess their secrets and fantasies, which Erika Lust then makes into films. The resulting stories range from daily situations, as in the self-explanatory Meet Me in the Workroom or The Couch Surfer (think erotic air b’n’b), to the oneiric as in Spectrophila (an erotic encounter with a ghost lover), bondage reveries as in An Appointment with My Master (an S/M session presented like an appointment at the doctor’s), or flights of fancy inspired by books or TV as in Mad Men Porn. What all have in common is a joyful and tender approach to the diversity of human sexuality supported by a strong artistic vision that gives the films style and sensual beauty.

Virginie Sélavy talked to Erika Lust about women and pornography, trying to change the adult industry and innovating with XConfessions.

Virginie Sélavy: You describe yourself as a feminist porn filmmaker, what does that mean to you?

Erika Lust: I normally describe myself as a filmmaker, and I’m interested in the subject of sexuality, especially female sexuality. I think that the whole concept of feminist pornography can be very confusing for people because it seems that there’s something anti-male in feminism and something anti-female in pornography. I don’t believe that, but I think people have that idea about those two words, even though feminism is a basic idea about human rights. When you consider yourself a feminist it means that you believe women and men should have the same rights. I think it’s very sad that there are so many people who misunderstand the concept and think that feminism is an extremist movement against men.

In your book Good Porn, your friend Audacia Ray says that, for her, feminist porn is not about what is on the screen but about the way the film is produced. Would you agree with that?

I do agree with that part of it. For me the concept of feminist porn has three pillars. First it’s about what you’re showing on the screen; it’s about the sexuality and how the people on the screen are interacting. Then it’s about women in important roles, where they are moving forward, being a character, taking care of their own pleasure, and it’s about seeing their pleasure on the screen. But it’s also how you make the movie, who is behind the movie, and what ideas they have. I think it’s extremely important that women step in and start telling their stories about sexuality. So I mainly have a female crew behind my movies. When I started it was basically me and a few more people, but now I have a crew of around 15 people. In all important creative decision-making roles I have women – director of photography, line producer, assistant director, casting. For pornography to progress it really needs women behind the camera. It’s a genre that is created by 98 or 99% of men. There are still very few women involved today and they are mainly in the independent adult genre.

The Couch Surfer
The Couch Surfer

Throughout your work you challenge clichés about women and porn, one of them being the idea that women are not stimulated visually by explicit sexual material.

I think we are stimulated by all our senses, and one of them is obviously vision. I think it’s extremely erotic to see images. And I think that most women feel the same way. What happened with pornography is that it started as something more attractive back in the 60s and 70s, when there were actual filmmakers behind some of the films being made, they had ideas, visions, they wanted to tell stories. But then the whole genre turned into a money-making factory that was just interested in the penetration and the fluids and the acrobatic positions. It’s not that I don’t find that interesting, but I want something more. If you get into the most visited porn sites of today, like Porn Hub, YouPorn, Red Tube, etc, it’s aesthetically very ugly. And many of those films are basically men punish-fucking women. I feel that most women don’t feel comfortable with that, and I have to add, many men don’t feel comfortable with that. I think it’s a vision that we need to talk about. It’s getting very important to look at what kind of sexual images we are selling because internet has become a power of its own when it comes to pornography – one third of all internet traffic is about porn. When we log into those websites we are after sexual stimulation, we are after trying to figure out who we are and what we like. If the only images you find online when you look for pornography are those kinds of images then your view of sexuality will be affected by that. You will start to believe that the main goal of women in this world is to make men come. Sex-positive feminists believe that the problem is not porn, it’s that there’s too much bad porn, and we have to make it better. That’s what I’m trying to do.

How did XConfessions come about?

When I was going around doing screenings, especially with my last one, Cabaret Desire, people were coming up to me wanting to share because they felt that porn is pretty much all the same and their stories were quite different. When I was thinking about my next project after Cabaret Desire I couldn’t decide on one idea, so I decided to do ten short films. At that time, it was two years ago, there was a huge shift. DVD sales dropped, the way we were consuming movies changed. It’s not so long ago that we started to use the internet more and more as opposed to the cinema, TV or DVD. And that’s why I saw the opportunity to do a web project where people could interact and send me their confessions and I would make films from those confessions. Sometimes the films have a lot to do with the confessions, but sometimes the confessions are just inspiration for the films.

Do you get ideas sent by more women or men?

It’s 50/50, or at least it’s what the statistics are telling me, because who knows – the confessions are anonymous so because they choose a feminine name I think it’s a woman. But I don’t feel there’s a lot of difference between men and women in their confessions and what they write about. It may also depend on the audience that I have. My feeling is that it’s quite a smart audience, they are very articulate, they know how to write, they have a lot of ideas and fantasies, and even cultural references to books, music, films, a whole cultural world.


Which fantasy has surprised you the most?

I don’t know what surprised me the most. There are so many of them and they are so different, but there are some tendencies, a lot of things coming back. There are plenty of threesome situations, people love those films. People want to explore, I don’t know if they want to do it in real life or just in the fantasy world, but they love exploring. There are also a lot of confessions around power play, domination, submission, both men and women being both roles. And infidelity comes back quite a lot.

Has there been any confession that you haven’t wanted to make?

I haven’t done any rape fantasies. People ask me for that sometimes, there are confessions around that theme. But I feel that it’s not really something that I can deal with. I don’t know what to do with it. There are a lot of women who have those kinds of fantasies, I’m not saying that it’s the limit, but I don’t really see it. I have to believe in it, there has to be something that I want to go for.

The films are really diverse and they really show how inventive and varied human sexuality is.

That’s exactly what I want to show in the project. I love the idea of gathering all these films together to show that sexuality can be so many different things. It doesn’t have to be the pizza guy, the mafia guy, and the babysitter. Keep on dreaming! And that is one of the biggest problems with the adult industry and the way it’s become. The industry doesn’t have much creativity, or much fun. Imagine if in the film world you only had Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude van Damme. It’d be a very small world, and porn has ended up a little like that. It needs the Woody Allens and the Tarantinos and the Isabel Coixets and the Sofia Coppolas. But I think it will change. Things are happening, there are new people coming in.

On the other hand, porn has seeped into independent film, with films like Gaspar Noé’s Love, Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac or Michael Winterbottom’s Nine Songs. What do you think of that evolution?

When sex gets into independent film, what happens is that it gets very dark and complicated. It’s like in Nymphomaniac, it’s normally only disturbed people who are sexually active and who go beyond the limits. Many of those films are made by men, there are few women. And very few of those films are positive about sex. What I try to do in my work is show a positive vision of sexuality.

Interview by Virginie Sélavy

Mario Bava Season at Castle Bleasdale (Part One)

Blood and Black Lace 1
Blood and Black Lace

A diary of watching Mario Bava films over a week.

It was January, cold, and everyone was dying. I chopped enough wood for the week and stored it against the wall with the kindling. There were frosts every night at Castle Bleasdale – my current residence, a shuddering pile located on the River Piave where the plains meet the first mountains of the Dolomites – but while my wife and children slept fitfully upstairs, I would get the fire roaring, turn out all the lights and watch a film by Italian horror director Mario Bava. Prior to this week, I’d never seen any of his 30-odd films. This is a scientific record of the Mario Bava Season at Castle Bleasdale.

Monday, 11th of January, 2016

David Bowie died last night. An inauspicious beginning to the week, to the year in fact. I resist the temptation to watch The Man Who Fell to Earth – there’ll be time enough for that later – because tonight I must begin my journey into the cinema of Mario Bava. I’ve put it off too long and now it calls to me. All the wonderful titles: lots of blood, lots of black, covens of witches and parties of demons. I eschew the synopsis and trailers and pick Blood and Black Lace from 1964. In Italian (and I watch it in Italian) the title is Six Women for the Murderer. The first thing I notice is the wind. A wind blows through the film as a series of murders are committed around a fashion house. The models and the owners are somehow involved. Throughout there is an air of scandal and the diary of a victim becomes a focal point for many of the characters. There is a widespread guilt. The women fear exposure as much as they do the murderer who stalks them with his strange cloth mask, as if he (or she) were fashion itself. The murders are brutal and the sadism of the killer mixes with obvious misogyny, as the fear of the women is accentuated and one of the women has her face thrust against a red hot stove. Everyone is trapped in or about the creepy villa and Bava is obviously attuned to the Gothic. The wind slams windows and billows curtains. Mannequins stand frozen waiting to come to life. There is drapery and blood and the grotesque comedy of death which leaves the women in poses without poise, eyes bulging, faces ruined, mere things to be carted around. This is the very beginning of the giallo, a whole genre dedicated to the fascination of what beautiful women look like when they’re frightened, and later when they’re dead.

Tuesday, 12th of January, 2016

Last night I tweeted about my first Mario Bava film and Massimo B. sent me a message from Amsterdam. They’re making a horror movie: would I submit a treatment? I base it on Blood and Black Lace and send it off. He gets back to me. Read it, liked it, will be in touch. Heartened, I build the fire up. It’s almost too hot. Outside there is a full moon casting sharp shadows. The cold is so intense, it’s like you’re immersed in freezing water. My daughters and wife sleep upstairs. I have chosen Kill Baby Kill (1966). A title that Roger Corman might have been proud of. Operazione Paura in Italian! But the film opens like something out of Hammer. A village is approached. There’s a terrible secret. The young doctor arrives to assist with the investigation of a grisly death. The local villa houses a Miss Haversham of sorts, who in the ruins of her former glory, surrounded by the dolls of her lost child, leaks a malign influence onto the village. The corruption of the locals see them hounded to death if they spill the secret. Inside the corpse of the young girl – an apparent suicide – a coin is found. The investigating policeman is found killed and the coroner, played by the impossibly square-jawed Giacomo Rossi Stuart, teams up with a local girl (Erica Blank), who has returned after a long sojourn away to find out what is going on. Bava is extremely good at the traditional elements of the horror story. As with Blood and Black Lace, the wind moans and shutters slam. A little girl wanders the film, a terrifying precursor to the little red riding hood of Don’t Look Now and a ball bounces down a spiral staircase and we could be forgiven for thinking it settles in a corridor of the Overlook Hotel. As the film slides effortlessly into the surreal, the haunted house becomes increasingly psychotic and beguiling. As I turn off the lights and lock all the doors before going to bed, I catch sight of my own reflection and recoil at the lurid grin that contorts my face.

Wednesday, 13th of January, 2016

One of my students died. Death comes by email these days, or worse still, Facebook. I learned of a suicide via Facebook two years ago. Last year Twitter alerted me to the massacre in the offices of Charlie Hebdo. The world we live in death comes tweeting. The fire is lit early this evening. The Planet of the Vampires (1965) was Bava’s foray into science fiction. He also directed comedies and Spaghetti Westerns. Two space ships land on a mysterious planet after they pick up an SOS message. As they land, the crew are gripped by a mass psychosis and set about trying to kill each other. Once recovered they find that the crew members on the other ship were similarly affected but had gone the whole hog and murdered each other. The film was made on the cheap with only a couple of rocks, some slow motion and a wind machine with which to make an alien planet. The wind blows again and seems to be a crucial element to the Bava universe, that invisible force that we all take for granted but which moves and affects the world. Likewise there are invisible beings on the planet that can only be perceived by their effects on others as they reanimate the corpses of the dead crew and attack the living. Bava regular Barbara Steele joins US TV actor Barry Sullivan in trying to make the sets and the situation credible. The creepiness is well done and although everyone involved denies it, there is more than a germ of Alien here, though Bava’s film borrows liberally from Forbidden Planet (1956) as well it must be noted.

Thursday, 14th of January, 2016

I’m rehearsing a play to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday when I get the news that Alan Rickman has died. I saw Rickman in St. George’s Hall in Liverpool perform Hamlet in the mid-90s. He was a wonderful Dane and I walked back to my student digs blathering fake Shakespearean verse. I take the rest of the day off and decide tonight I will double bill Mario Bava. The fire is lit and the wood is consumed, the flames, reaching high into the chimney as if they’re trying to grab something. Just as Dario Argento – influenced by Bava’s Blood and Black Lace is claiming the giallo for his own, Bava lurches back towards the Gothic, which lies at the heart of his concept of horror. Baron Blood has the Italian title Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga. Peter Kliest (Antonio Cantafora) visits the castle of his ancestors where he meets Eva (Elke Sommer), a student who is studying the ancestral pile, which is due to be sold. A series of murders coincide with the arrival of the wheelchair-bound Alfred Becker (played by an ageing Joseph Cotten), the new owner of the castle. There is gruesome murder, an Iron Maiden gets some use and a wonderful foggy chase. Joseph Cotten can’t really compete with the grisly make-up of his un-rejuvenated Baron, but it doesn’t really matter as it is the Austrian castle that is the true star of the film. Released the same year – 1972 – Lisa and the Devil also starred Elke Sommer, this time as Lisa, an American tourist in Spain. Here she meets a strange man (Telly Savalas) in a mannequin shop. He bears a striking resemblance to a fresco depicting the devil on the wall of the local church. Lisa loses her group and is given a lift by a rich couple and their chauffeur, who in turn find themselves stranded near a fog-shrouded villa, the butler of which is the mannequin-lugging devil. Invited in, the travellers find themselves part of a weird role-playing game as a mother and son see in Lisa a resemblance to a sweetheart long dead. There is necrophilia, sadism and black magic at play as Leandro (Savalas) manipulates everyone in the house like the mannequins he positions, which come to life. Leandro could be seen as a stand-in for the director himself, manipulating pain and grief and exhuming memories in order to make his own entertainment. Savalas sucks on a lollipop throughout the movie, a detail that he liked so much he used it for his iconic TV detective Kojak, which he filmed the following year.

Friday, 15th of January, 2016

The funeral took place in the local cathedral and outside the sun was strangely, unseasonably warm.

John Bleasdale

Anna Smaill is Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service

Kiki's Delivery Service
Kiki’s Delivery Service

Anna Smaill was born in Auckland in 1979. She became entranced by the violin when she was seven and decided to become a musician. She headed off to university to study performance art, but chose to concentrate on literature instead. Her love of music feeds her creative writing – her book of poems is called The Violinist in Spring and her Man Booker Prize long-listed debut novel The Chimes (published in Feb 2015) is full of melody, inspired by Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, Vladmir Gavreau’s theories on infrasound and Anna’s own memories of living in Tokyo. Below she explains why she picked Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service as her filmic alter ego. Eithne Farry

One of the benefits of taking filmic pleasure alongside a pre-schooler, as I chiefly do at present, is a steadily growing intimacy with the oeuvre of Hayao Miyazaki. I loved Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away and others long before becoming a parent, but I only recently watched, and discovered, my aspirational alter ego in Kiki’s Delivery Service. It’s a strange Ghibli film in many ways, more slowly paced and less lyrical than most of the others and, for a film about a young witch, emphatically down to earth. Kiki’s relentless difficulties form the grain and texture of the film. Kiki just can’t catch a break. In her training year as a witch, she’s intensely homesick; she struggles to make new friends; she falters in her work due to demanding customers and meteorological forces; she becomes sick. Just as things seem to improve, Kiki loses the very things that define her: her powers of flight and the connection to her talking cat, Jiji. What makes Kiki so wonderful and memorable as a character is how very brave she is in the face of this experience. I’m continually moved by how Studio Ghibli renders her face, the openness of her eyes, the inward complexity expressed in the flush along her cheeks, her halting and then hectic speech. There is a moral quality to her cheerfulness, and to her sadness.

I guess there is something in my own experience with music – the seeming failure of a formerly self-defining gift – that draws me to Kiki. I find the phenomenon of performance anxiety both horrifying and fascinating. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, Malamud’s The Natural – these are the plots of inescapable nightmare. How do you sustain the thing that used to come naturally, the thing of pure fun, when it has become a profession? How do you step clear of hamstringing self-consciousness? David Foster Wallace’s essay ‘The Nature of the Fun’ essentially follows Kiki’s exact arc. But the answers in this film are radically simple in contrast to those Wallace provides. And they’re not insular but communal – those of friendship, artistic generosity and kindness. I still have much to learn from this 13-year-old witch.

Anna Smaill