Death Race


Release date: 26 September 2008

Venues: Nationwide

Distributor Universal

Director: Paul WS Anderson

Writers: Paul WS Anderson, Robert Thom, Charles B Griffith, Ib Melchior

Cast: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Ian McShane

USA 2008

89 mins

Inspired by the Roger Corman-produced Death Race 2000 (1975), the new version of Death Race, also produced by Roger Corman, is directed by Paul WS Anderson, a filmmaker whose career has consisted mostly of remakes of projects with pre-existing cult followings (including computer game adaptations such as Resident Evil, and a thematic sequel to Blade Runner called Soldier), which have more often than not disappointed the fans. Stripping away everything from the original Death Race 2000 apart from the character names and basic plot, Anderson’s Death Race is a slick, polished B-movie that technically is a better film than the original, but lacks the shock value, innovation and critical edge of its predecessor.

In fact, Death Race seems to be much more influenced by computer games than by the movie it takes its title from – which should perhaps not be surprising, considering Anderson’s career so far. The action has been relocated to a prison, with inmates racing around an enclosed track that includes the kind of ‘power-ups’ – shields, weapons, death traps, all activated by driving over illuminated circles – that have until now been seen only in games. As the original Death Race had a big influence on computer games such as Carmageddon and Grand Theft Auto, it seems that things have come full circle.

With its reference to the Corman/Bartel original, its video game stylings and its mixing of genres – sci-fi, horror, action – Death Race clearly nods towards cult cinema, yet when the word ‘cult’ is mentioned, Anderson rejects the idea, claiming that ‘when a movie makes close to $200 million worldwide, it’s beyond a cult level’. Unlike the original film, the new version benefited from a massive budget and its attendant publicity machine. However, while Anderson is so keen to distance his film from cult cinema, it is precisely the limited means of many B-movies that allowed filmmakers to take risks and be innovative. Predictably, if depressingly, Anderson’s big budget means he just plays it safe.

Alex Fitch

Read the rest of the feature in our autumn print issue. The theme is cruel games, from sadistic power play in Korean thriller A Bloody Aria to fascist games in German hit The Wave and Stanley Kubrick’s career-long fascination with game-playing. Plus: interview with comic book master Charles Burns about the stunning animated film Fear(s) of the Dark and preview of the Raindance Festival. And don’t miss our fantastic London Film Festival comic strip, which surely is worth the price of the issue alone!


Ashes of Time Redux

Format: Cinema

Release date: 12 September 2008

Venues: Curzon Soho, Renoir Cinema (London) and selected key cities

Distributor Artificial Eye

Director: Wong Kar Wai

Based on: Louis Cha’s novel Eagle Shooting Heroes

Cast: Jacky Cheung, Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Carina Lau, Tony Leung, Brigitte Lin

Hong Kong/China 2008

93 minutes

After Wong Kar Wai’s ill-advised American venture My Blueberry Nights last year, the re-release of his 1994 Ashes of Time is a welcome reminder of his sheer virtuosity as a filmmaker. Until now, the film was virtually impossible to get hold of, and the director has pieced together a definitive version from negatives scattered across Hong Kong and various Chinatown cinemas. Re-edited and re-scored, the film, set in the world of period martial arts, is a poetic meditation on love and solitude, at once utterly contemporary and firmly rooted in the Buddhist canon.

The film is inspired by Louis Cha’s classic 1950s novel, Eagle Shooting Heroes (also known as Legend of the Condor Heroes), part of a literary tradition that dates back to the Ming Dynasty. Both the novel and the film are striking examples of wuxia – martial arts chivalry, a genre that has become popular in the West thanks to films like Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou’s Hero, which clearly owe a debt to Ashes of Time (the fact that Christopher Doyle was also the cinematographer on Hero makes the comparison all the more striking). But though the film delivers a handful of the requisite action scenes, Wong Kar Wai devotes his energy to exploring the subtle intricacies of human nature, beautifully captured in the film.

Ashes of Time imagines Cha’s protagonists Ouyang Feng and Huang Yaoshi as young men, before they become the infamous Lord of the West and Lord of the East in the novel. The late Leslie Cheung delivers a wonderfully assured performance as Ouyang Feng, a man who lives in virtual isolation on the edge of the Western desert, having fled his home after the woman he loved (played by Maggie Cheung) married his older brother. Now acting as a middleman, he matches clients looking for retribution with swordsmen-for-hire. He becomes ever more aware of his own solitude as his life intersects with those of the damaged people he encounters, including Yaoshi, a good friend now determined to drink his memories away.

The film is built as a triptych that follows the changing seasons, and Wong Kar Wai rejects a traditional narrative structure in favour of beautifully crafted scenes, with tight close-ups of his characters interspersed with evocative desert panoramas. And though the film can be hard to follow (watching the movie after a couple of glasses of red wine is not a great idea), the second time around the somewhat fragmented scenes coalesce into an intense reverie.

Though the temporal and physical setting is strikingly different to Wong Kar Wai’s habitual neon-lit cities, this film unmistakably bears his hallmark: an obsession with love, both unrequited and lost. The respect and devotion he shows to his actors is rewarded by terrific performances, and, as always, his partnership with Christopher Doyle delivers gorgeous, dynamic cinema. The release of Ashes of Time Redux may be debated by purists, but it’s an exciting opportunity to see an example of Wong Kar Wai’s early work on the big screen.

Sarah Cronin


Heavy Metal in Baghdad

Format: Cinema

Release date: 12 September 2008

Venue: ICA Cinema(London) and key cities

Distributor: Slingshot Studios

Director: Suroosh Alvi & Eddy Moretti

USA 2007

84 mins

Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi’s powerful yet soft-centred documentary about the Iraqi metal band Acrassicauda creates a fascinating portrait of life in Iraq as seen through the eyes of young metal-heads who struggle not merely to survive in a war zone but to practise their music and get a few gigs organised. The film was born out of an article by MTV reporter Gideon Yago, which featured Acrassicauda, published in Vice Magazine shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Alvi, Vice Magazine co-founder, and Moretti, head of Vice Film, stayed in email contact with the band and eventually embarked on a journey to Baghdad in 2006 to find them, wondering if they were still alive. Due to the difficulties and dangers involved in arranging and shooting the interviews, Heavy Metal in Baghdad unfolds in the form of a low-tech, fragmented video diary narrated by Moretti.

The interviews with the band are interspersed with news-like footage of the night bombings and daily routine on the streets during the early days of the war. We get introduced to four of the original five members as they are just about to play a concert in a maximum security hotel block in Baghdad in the summer of 2005. The situation is intense, and the stories they tell are relentlessly bleak, although far less horrifying than those found in other parts of Iraq. Firas, Tony, Marwan and Faisal are a group of frank and immensely likable boys who have grown up with Metallica and Slayer songs, watching Hollywood films to practise their English. Stuck in the middle between the troops and the terrorists, they have learned to deal with their plight, and heavy metal provides them with both solace and a sense of purpose. It is recreation, ritual and cultural expression even if they can’t grow their hair long or indulge in any head-banging for fear of being denounced as Satan-worshippers.

After receiving death threats from rebels and religious fundamentalists, the band decide to leave Baghdad, but reunite in Damascus where they are able to play a small concert in an internet café. Encouraged by the reaction of the meagre audience and the support they receive from Vice, they eventually manage to record three songs in a studio, which revives their dreams of a great career as musicians with hopes to tour around America with their heavy metal heroes, playing to large crowds and growing long hair.

There is a suitable sense of anger coursing through Heavy Metal in Baghdad as the film depicts their lack of freedom and the circumstances that lead to the band becoming refugees, first in Damascus, and currently in Turkey, and the two filmmakers cannot be accused of shrinking away from uncomfortable material. However, the compelling insights and anecdotes conveyed through the interviews are undermined by Moretti’s annoying and repetitive comments on how extremely dangerous and stupid it was of the two filmmakers to go on this risky mission and travel around Baghdad with a group of hired bodyguards. In spite of this small gripe, Heavy Metal in Baghdad is a disturbing and riveting document of Acrassicaudas’s remarkable drive and courage as well as a touching reminder that music can offer a sanctuary to oppressed people.

Pamela Jahn


The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Format: Cinema

Release date: 19 September 2008

Venue: ICA (London)

Distributor: Manga Entertainment

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Writers: Yasutaka Tsutsui & Satoko Okudera

Original title: Toki o kakeru sh텍jo

Cast: Riisa Naka, Takuya Ishida, Mitsutaka Itakura, Ayami Kakiuchi, Mitsuki Tanimura

Japan 2006

98 mins

From the writer of Paprika comes the finest Japanese animé released in the UK so far this year. A beguiling and affecting mix of lost love, alternate time-lines and near-death experiences, TokiKake (to use its colloquial Japanese title) tells the tale of a high school girl who picks up a device left behind by a time traveller and gets given the power to leap back through time and change history. At first Makoto uses the power for the most frivolous of reasons – revisiting favourite afternoons and even popping back for a particularly nice dinner – but then starts to meddle in the lives and love lives of her classmates.

In the West, one suspects the telling of this kind of story would be fairly twee but Japanese manga and animé aimed at tweenage audiences, particularly female ones, is amongst the most sophisticated. In fact, the definition of sh텍jo (meaning little girl) manga / animé in the US has been appropriated to mean stories that have an appeal to both genders and tends to deal with real-life situations and concerns. Although TokiKake is obviously sci-fi, it deals with its subject matter sensitively and looks at the moral and personal repercussions that such a power to change history might have. As such, it recalls two popular Western time travel tales, the TV series Quantum Leap and the brilliant comedy Groundhog Day. Like QL, it deals with the responsibility a time traveller might have, as changing a single person’s life might affect the lives of others. The void that Makoto travels though – criss-crossed with black stripes representing years and timelines – is also reminiscent of some of the visual tropes of the series. The repetitious aspects of Makoto’s travels and her attempts to make things better also recall Bill Murray’s at first hedonistic and eventually self-improving changes to reality in Groundhog Day.

However, it’s entirely possible that the creators of Quantum Leap and Groundhog Day may have themselves been influenced by the original novel on which TokiKake is based. In Japan, at least, it’s a book that has achieved cult status and has been adapted previously as two live action films, a TV series and a short film in the last 25 years. In fact, the only frustrating aspect of this new version is that it feels like it’s part of a larger story; indeed, this new version is both a remake of and sequel to a previous adaptation. As the story deals with revisiting the same period over and over again it is somewhat apt that each film is connected to the last – the 1997 adaptation is narrated by the actress who played the heroine in the film from 1983 while Makoto’s aunt in this film may very well be the lead character from 97…

This element shouldn’t put off casual viewers though as the subtlety of the animation and elegant layout of many scenes make this a film to be commended for its aesthetics alone, before even considering the intelligent script and engaging characterisation. Like Paprika, it tells the tale of a seemingly normal girl with a fantastic alter ego who is needed to stop a catastrophe (in every sense of the word) from happening and has to put her personal concerns to one side. As you might expect from a time-travel drama, her story is left somewhat open-ended, and while there are already a variety of print and live action prequels, I’d be more than happy to see another instalment to find out what happens next.

Alex Fitch


The Chaser

Format: Cinema

Release date: 19 September 2008

Venues: Cineworld Shafts Ave, Vues Islington + Sheperd’s Bush (London) and key cities

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: Na Hong-jin

Writers: Hong Won-chan, Lee Shinho, Na Hong-jin

Original title: Chugyeogja

Cast: Kim Yun-seok, Ha Jung-woo, Seo Yeong-hie

South Korea 2008

125 mins

From first-time director Na Hong-jin comes a film that is part Seven, part 24. Joong-ho (Kim Yun-seok) is an ex-cop turned pimp whose call-girls have recently gone missing. He assumes they ran away from the night business until he tracks their bookings back to one client in particular; enter a psychopathic serial killer who keeps the girls in the basement of his house, torturing them calmly till they die – during one gruesome scene, in an intense close-up shot, he takes a hammer and chisel to the head of his latest victim, Mi-jin (Seo Yeong-hie, Shadows in the Palace), who wriggles in distress whilst the hammer blows come down.

Suspense builds after Joong-ho catches the killer and takes him to the police station, only to find himself accused of assault and impersonation of a police officer while the killer is freed. Not only is the chase on again, but Mi-jin is still slowly bleeding to death in the basement, preying on Joong-ho’s conscience. By the time the police realise that they let the real killer go, Joong-ho is already in the field, a few steps ahead of them, working alone, Jack Bauer-style.

Kim Yun-seok gives an excellent performance as the tough pimp who softens up and genuinely takes responsibility, feeling he has a duty of care for his charges. Filmed mostly at night and with many hand-held sequences, The Chaser is a highly polished and accomplished first film for Na Hong-jin. The suspense is taut throughout, and the plot satisfyingly complex.

A massive success in its native South Korea, The Chaser has generated endless discussions on internet forums between those who see it as just a rehashing of late 90s Korean action films and those who can’t stop enthusing about it. To this reviewer this old dog has no new tricks, but it is worth watching if you are a Korean film fan, not simply because it is slick and smart, but also to make your own mind up.

Expect this film to hit our screens twice – Metrodome (the people who brought us Donnie Darko and Assembly) are releasing this title in the UK and Warner Bros have bought the remake rights.

Joey Leung



Format: DVD

Release date: 25 August 2008

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer

Writer: Christen Jul

Based on: novel by Sheridan Le Fanu

Cast: Julian West, Rena Mandel, Sybille Schmitz, Jan Hieronimko, Maurice Schutz, Albert Bras

Germany/France 1932

75 mins

Most classics of the cinema are great works of dramatic art. Not this one. But it offers a series of inspired original visions that helped shape the supernatural genre and changed the way we spook ourselves.

Director Carl Dreyer doesn’t really try for full coherent enactment of this archetypal vampire tale. When there is some story to be filled in and he doesn’t feel inclined to do it cinematically, he reaches for lengthy expository title cards or even just puts the pages of a creepy old book up on screen for us. The narrative jerks and jumps, with little cumulative tension. The sound is an afterthought and doesn’t contribute much. Oh, and the film isn’t very frightening. But it is a dream, and dreams don’t follow the plot.

As so often in German films of this era (OK, Dreyer was Danish), one marvels at the technical invention of the cinematography. The early interior scenes instil a hallucinatory unease, somewhere between The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Eraserhead. Dreyer offers closeness where space would be more comfortable, and vice versa. And the oddness of the camera’s angles and movements deny the viewer a sense of a secure viewpoint. The indications that usually allow us to get a grip on a narrative – connection between events, explanation of occurrences, motivation for actions – are withheld. As for the exteriors, Dreyer swathes them in a glowing haze, softening the perspectives and thus our sense of depth and distance, while endowing the figures with a gliding grace of movement. The action is punctuated with shadows and silhouettes that resonate with ominous visual portent – reapers, diggers, dancers. They don’t serve to tell us something, they just prime our minds with symbolic suggestions.

Vampyr is not just a director’s film. There is a central performance like no other from an actor who led one of the most remarkable lives of the century (a life that calls out to be told first by a serious biographer and then by a demented filmmaker). Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg traded in his mundane given name for the exotic screen alias of – ooh! – ‘Julian West’. He then laid a trail of adventure and debauchery from the Old World to the New. But this role must be his great achievement, in a film that he financed himself. His pale elegance and gravity of demeanour lend dignity and conviction in a genre where the mannered easily spills over into the ludicrous. Horror, like comedy, is no joke: it often needs the unhinged, but it more often needs to be played straight. The climax of West’s performance, and Dreyer’s tour de force, is a dream/out-of-body sequence that takes a scary idea and makes it sublime by the imagination, wit, and sheer oddness of its realisation.

How many of us can truly say that we have enough eerie in our lives? Vampyr is a deep well from which we can draw.

Peter Momtchiloff


The Long Riders

Format: DVD

Release date: 25 August 2008

Distributor: )ptimum Releasing

Director: Walter Hill

Titles: The Driver, The Warriors, The Long Riders, Southern Comfort, Extreme Prejudice, Johnny Handsome

Cast: Michael Beck, Ryan O’Neal, Isabelle Adjani, Bruce Dern, Keith Carradine, Powers Booth, Nick Nolte, Mickey Rourke, Morgan Freeman, Lance Henriksen

USA 1978-1989

568 mins

Minimalism is the key characteristic of the early films of Walter Hill, as exemplified by his car chase classic The Driver (1978), in which the characters are simply referred to as The Driver, The Detective and The Girl. These films are lean, mean, unpretentious thrillers in which existential characters are energised by street-smart storytelling and expertly staged action sequences. The Driver fuses the cool methodology of Jean-Pierre Melville with the pure pulp of dime store fiction to focus on the professional rivalry between a getaway specialist (Ryan O’Neal) and an obsessive cop (Bruce Dern), both of whom are aided and impeded by an elusive femme fatale (Isabelle Adjani). Hill’s characters exist in the moment, rarely considering consequence, which makes The Driver as ambiguous as it is exciting.

The Warriors (1979) is the socially prescient story of a small-time New York gang that is framed for assassinating Cyrus, the charismatic underworld leader who has been trying to bring a truce to the streets. They attempt to escape the South Bronx, only to be attacked at every turn by gangs with such menacing monikers as The Orphans and The Baseball Furies. Accused of inciting violence upon release, The Warriors is an electrifying excursion into urban subculture, which utilises such locations as Coney Island, Central Park and deserted subway stations to unsettling effect.

The protagonists of Southern Comfort (1981) are also being hunted, but this time our heroes are National Guardsmen, the urban jungle has been replaced by the boggy marshes of a Louisiana swamp, and the antagonists are Cajuns who do not like to be disrespected on their land. Although Southern Comfort can be viewed as a metaphor for the Vietnam War, with American soldiers becoming undermined in an environment that they do not understand territorially or culturally, it is first and foremost a suspenseful action picture that gradually grips through a sustained sense of sweaty atmosphere.

Each of these films is influenced by the pared-down moral universe of the western, and Hill attempted to revive the moribund genre with The Long Riders (1980), an evocative vision of the Old West which offers a sympathetic portrait of the Jesse James gang, with real-life acting siblings cast as the brothers that formed the outlaw posse. Although the pace is leisurely compared to the director’s contemporary thrillers, the film exudes the authenticity which would later distinguish the HBO series Deadwood, which Hill produced.

Extreme Prejudice (1987) and Johnny Handsome (1989) serve as examples of Hill’s late-80s creative decline. The former features Nick Nolte as a Texas Ranger taking on a drugs cartel, while the latter stars Mickey Rourke as a hideously disfigured criminal who is offered a second chance at life following extensive cosmetic surgery. Both are more melodramatic than Hill’s earlier oeuvre, and concede to, rather than challenge, the conventions of action cinema. While these later studio assignments are defined by the time in which they were made, Hill’s early films are visceral genre vehicles that are still ahead of the curb.

John Berra


Black White + Gray

Format: DVD

Release date: 18 August 2008

Distributor: Revolver Entertainment

Director: James Crump

USA 2007

69 mins

Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe is an interesting but flawed feature documentary that seems as concerned with righting a historical wrong as with probing the relationship between these two fascinating men. Mapplethorpe, who died of Aids in 1989, remains one of America’s most famous photographers, who alternately shocked and delighted the art world in the 70s with his dramatic, sado-masochistic photography. Wagstaff was an enigmatic, highly influential art curator and collector who also, as this film suggests, discovered Mapplethorpe. Both his lover and sugar daddy, Wagstaff played a central role in Mapplethorpe’s success, which, together with his own impact on the art scene, has been mostly forgotten by the current generation of art fans. James Crump’s documentary details Wagstaff’s life, from his privileged birth to his passion for photography in the early 1970s and his death from Aids in 1987, placing him firmly back at the centre of an explosive period in 20th-century history.

The film presents Wagstaff as a man with chiselled good looks who rejected his rightful place at the top of New York society. Gay but stuck in the closet, Wagstaff had a miserable time in the 1950s, according to the musician Patti Smith, who was extremely close to both men and whose interviews are one of the film’s highlights. He abandoned his career in advertising and devoted himself to studying art history, initially concentrating on the work of early Italian masters. Soon his focus changed dramatically, and he became a champion of Minimalism, staging a landmark exhibition entitled Black, White and Gray at the Wadsworth Atheneum in the early 60s, as well as advocating the work of emerging artists such as Andy Warhol. In 1973, Wagstaff plunged into the world of photography, building up an incredible collection of images with the millions he inherited from his mother.

The radical changes that took place in American society in the 60s and 70s allowed Wagstaff to essentially transform himself from a straight-laced aristocrat to a man who could openly explore his own sexuality. His relationship with Mapplethorpe, 25 years his junior, drew him in to a world of coke and clubs, orgies and S&M parties. It is a real tragedy that this scene ended so horrifically with the scourge of Aids in the 80s and the premature death of both men, and the documentary is at its most affecting when recounting those events. The archival footage of Mapplethorpe shot while he was ill shows a weak, greying artist who has lost all the glamour and sex appeal that he so vividly exploited at the peak of his career.

The main problem with the documentary is that the exploration of this revolutionary era is staged in such a dull and unoriginal way. Interviews with gallery owners, art critics, friends of the couple and so on are all conventional talking heads, shot in their studies, offices, back garden. The narration is dry and stilted. While the interviews are cut with some terrific photos of Wagstaff and Mapplethorpe, as well as Wagstaff’s own outstanding collection of photographs (sold to the J Paul Getty Museum for $5 million in 1983), the documentary fails to do full justice to the two dynamic men at its heart.

Sarah Cronin

Black White + Gray is part of a new strand of art documentaries released on DVD by Revolver Entertainment in association with Arthouse Films. Other releases include The Cool School and A Walk Into the Sea.



Format: DVD

Release date: 25 August 2008

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment

Director: Georges Franju

Writers: Arthur Berní­Â¨de, Jacques Champreux, Louis Feuillade, Francis Lacassin

Cast: Channing Pollock, Francine Bergé, Edith Scob

France 1963

94 mins

Also included on the DVD:Nuits Rouges

Director: Georges Franju

France 1973

104 mins

Georges Franju’s reputation (in the UK at least) is built on just one film – his second feature, the hauntingly beautiful Les Yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face, 1960). His early documentaries are rarely seen, as are the films he subsequently made throughout the 60s and 70s. Judex (1963) and Nuits Rouges (1973) – packaged together here – are both homages to Louis Feuillade, the French director of silent serials much loved by Buí±uel and the surrealists. Franju was instrumental in the creation (with Henri Langlois) of the Cinémathí­Â¨que Franí§aise where Feuillade was ‘rediscovered’ in the 1940s. Judex is a remake of Feuillade’s 1916 serial and was co-written by his grandson Jacques Champreux.

Judex (Latin for ‘judge’, we are informed) is a masked and cape-wearing avenger who exacts retribution on the wicked capitalist Favraux whilst combating the evil doings of the vamp Diana (Francine Bergé) and her henchmen. Diana was played by Musidora in the original and is almost identical to her Irma Vep character in Feuillade’s greatest achievement, Les Vampires – a knife-wielding cat-suited cat-woman. Judex himself could be another of Feuillade’s characters, the daring thief Fantômas, but despite all the accoutrements of the villain, he is a good guy. He is played by the American magician Channing Pollock who, though a bit stiff as an actor, displays his talent for producing white doves from silk handkerchiefs at every given opportunity.

Franju attempts to recreate the mood of the silent era with slow pacing and expressionist lighting (with great shadows) as well as decorative intertitles and even a few iris shots and a keyhole mask. However, he ignores the quality that made Feuillade’s style so distinctive – his stunning visual compositions. In the original, whole scenes were shot with little editing and a still camera (this was pre-Griffith of course), with the action beautifully framed, often in depth. In Franju’s revisitation, it is replaced with classic continuity editing. Yet, he equals if not betters Feuillade in achieving dreamlike expressionism from (unlike the German silents) real locations, finding the poetic and lyrical in reality much as he did in his documentaries.

The iconography of Feuillade’s world is perfectly captured – most notably in the moonlit rooftop scene where two women in leotards (one black and one white of course) fight to the death. Franju even trumps the original’s surrealist tendencies with the bizarre masked ball at the start of the film, in which all the guests wear creepily realistic bird heads – Judex a hawk and Favraux a vulture. Other moments of startling poetry include the scene in which a drugged Jacqueline (Franju regular and the masked star of Les Yeux sans visage Edith Scob, with her own face this time) is thrown from a bridge and floats down the river before being rescued by children. If Franju’s film has a major flaw it is in trying to cram five hours (12 episodes) of serial plot into a 90-minute movie. The silent era storyline must at times seem rather far-fetched to modern audiences but in such a magical film it almost works.

Perhaps the main difference between the two versions is one of intention. Feuillade is aiming for pulp entertainment and almost accidentally hits poetry whereas Franju sets out to make an enchanting lyrical film, paying little attention to the drama. Nevertheless, there are enough brilliant set pieces and beautiful cinematography to thrill the fans of Les Yeux sans visage.

Paul Huckerby

Who Saw Her Die?

Who Saw Her Die?

Format: DVD

Release date: 25 August 2008

Distributor: Shameless Entertainment

Director: Aldo Lado

Writers: Francesco Barilli, Massimo d’Avak, Aldo Lado, Ruediger von Spiess

Original title: Chi l’ha vista morire?

Cast: George Lazenby, Anita Strindberg, Adolfo Celi

Italy 1971

89 mins

Serious Boobs…

…was one of the things Who Saw Her Die? DIDN’T have, which was disappointing considering the content of the trailers showcasing Shameless’ other 1970s movie offerings, including Strip Nude for Your Killer and various other self-explanatory titles. What it DID have, however, was shoddy dubbing, pink 70s blood, masses of pigeons, a skinny, shrivelled George Lazenby and some rather limp and pathetic boobs which appeared on screen for mere seconds before being replaced by more bloody pigeons.

This film reminded me of one of those late 1990s point-and-click PC adventure games, in which stunning but faded backdrops contrasted with poorly drawn, pixilated characters and puzzles that really blurred the line between ‘lateral thinking’ and ‘random’. Here, a grainy Venice of muted browns is the landscape for mysterious killings of red-haired children and the film features some magnificent atmospheric shots, making the city more of a genuine character than the players.

Unfortunately, the depth and heritage imbued in the Italian landscape is wasted on a plot and cast that are so contrived and shallow that any sense of realism is completely destroyed. Not a single character rings true, the parts seeming to consist entirely of entering stage left, saying something pertinent, then leaving stage right. The characters seem superficially interesting but no insight into their personalities is provided beyond the bare necessities of the story. There appears to be no reason behind any of the murders, and any character that might shed some light on what the hell is going on is killed minutes before they get the chance to explain. The unnecessary twists simply make no sense and fly in the face of everything that has gone on before, and the anticipated revelation at the end is replaced with a fat man shouting: ‘He was an imposter! He wasn’t even a priest at all!’

It doesn’t make any sense IN context either.

But there is one thing this film does fantastically, and it does it so well that you can look past the technical issues mentioned above. Throughout the entire hour and 40 minutes of irresponsible parenting and tropical bird feeding, I was well and truly terrorised. This guilty pleasure was due to one thing and one thing only: Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack. The music is sparse but haunting and immediately transforms the film into a work of art. It doesn’t try to blend with the subtle framings of Venice and its inhabitants so much as trample all over them, but it gets in your head, and the theme for the killer is unforgettable. Never has a bit of veil draped over a camera whilst shuffling towards a girl been so terrifying, or a pair of hobnailed boots more sinister.

And that changes everything. Who Saw Her Die? is a film that wishes it were a mystery thriller but is in fact a psychological horror movie. It doesn’t have to make sense because it gets you on a visceral level. And most horror movies have a stupid ending anyway.

Although usually they have more boobs.

And less pigeons.

Oli Smith