Loosely based on the novel of the same name by Peter Straub, John Irvin’s Ghost Story (1981) follows four elderly men (Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and John Houseman) who have formed a private club to tell each other creepy tales.
Released for the first time in the UK by Second Sound, Ghost Story is out now on Blu-ray and DVD.
More information on Hannah Jenkins can be found at here.
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Lindsay Duncan, Jeremy Cooper
UK, Canada 1990
Philip Ridley’s acclaimed tale of childhood, vampires and the prairie is as beautiful and menacing as ever.
Marking its long-overdue return with a handsome 25th anniversary restoration, this oft-overlooked oddity from multimedia artist, playwright and filmmaker Philip Ridley has lost none of its surreal power. Although it disappeared into obscurity after picking up 11 awards during its international film festival run, this welcome re-issue of the cult favourite suggests a healthy revival could be nigh.
A quarter century on, the film looks magnificent (Dick Pope’s exterior photography is exquisite), while tonally it feels as deliriously offbeat and unpredictable as ever, fusing together as it does elements of David Lynch, Guy Maddin and Edward Hopper. Its director described it as a ‘mythical’ look at childhood, and the young Jeremy Cooper anchors the neo-Gothic nightmare effectively as the imaginative and increasingly desperate Seth Dove, whose nearest and dearest are floundering around him in ever-more sinister circumstances.
The adults are a mixed bag of damaged souls. Mum is a gibbering wreck, while Dove’s father is a hopeless, blubbering oddball who buries his head in comic books about vampires. Only Dove’s brother (Viggo Mortensen, in an early screen performance), returning from military service in the Pacific, offers any real sense of hope, even when veering wildly between attentive and caustic. A local English widow, Dolphin Blue (Lindsay Duncan) nicely reflects the boy’s lively imagination and inherent fears, while a mysterious gang of local thugs in a black Cadillac add to the unknown menace. There is clearly foul play at work.
The film oscillates almost brashly between the inexplicable and the overt, while leaving much to question. None of the characters are really adequately explored – they appear to be a motley crew of misfits, left fending for themselves in the glistening prairies of 1950s America – yet there is a world of depravity just beneath the surface of this corn-pickin’ facade.
Even with the current crop of offbeat narratives inching towards mainstream cinema, it’s hard to imagine a film like this being green-lit today. At its core lies a sombre, foreboding tale of neglect and retribution, with little sense of hope as our young protagonist inevitably faces the consequences of his actions (and those around him). The Reflecting Skin is both strikingly bleak and beautiful, near-riveting in its relentless pursuit of the dark and horrific, and a rare and unusual work that deserves its place among similar, better-known fare in the genre.
The re-issue features a remastered print, a director’s commentary, two documentaries about the film, plus a collection of Ridley’s shorts.
Cast: Kurt Raab, Jeff Roden, Margit Christensen, Ingrid Craven, Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Produced by R.W. Fassbinder, Ulli Lommel’s take on real-life serial killer Fritz Haarmann is restrained and stylised.
On paper, Tenderness of the Wolves (1973) is an unlikely project, to say the least. The film was produced by legendary German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, but bears little similarity to his powerful and astutely observed social dramas; it’s certainly difficult to imagine Fassbinder tackling the story of a prolific German serial killer in one of his own films. It was obviously a very personal project for long-standing Fassbinder associate Kurt Raab, who wrote the script and starred as the vampiric, cannibalistic killer. Another Fassbinder contact took the director’s chair: Ulli Lommel, later known in cult circles as the director of the supernatural slasher flick The Boogey Man (1980).
In the wake of World War Two, Fritz Haarmann lives out a comfortable existence, thanks to a campaign of petty crime: fraud, theft, black-market racketeering. He’s a convicted homosexual with a long rap sheet (homosexuality was illegal in Germany at the time), but the overworked and understaffed police turn a blind eye to his activities because Haarmann is a valuable informant. Haarmann himself exploits his police connections by regularly ‘patrolling’ the local train station, which feeds into his secret career as a brutal serial killer who preys on young men and boys, many of them drifters who take shelter at the station. After each kill, Haarmann always has plenty of fresh meat to sell to his friends and neighbours, and give as presents to his police friends.
Despite the grim subject matter, Tenderness of the Wolves is relatively restrained. Although violent and bloody scenes do feature in the film’s final third, for much of its length it focuses on a stylized representation of Haarmann’s life and his interaction with others. While it’s clear that he is killing people, the acts are not depicted, just the initial meeting and the subsequent distribution of ‘meat’. This is not without interest, but it does rob much of the film of any tension or suspense, leaving Tenderness of the Wolves left to survive mainly on Kurt Raab’s distant, slightly otherworldly performance. Raab is consistently excellent as the shaven-headed monster, but like the film as a whole, he seems to move at a deliberate and stately pace, as if forced to figure out his every move in advance, step by step. How much enjoyment you derive from the film is largely dependent on your tolerance for its slow pacing, but Tenderness of the Wolves is not without its rewards.
Director Ulli Lommel has had a varied career, to say the least. Born into a showbusiness family, Lommel’s father was a prominent stage comedian who appeared in a number of films in the 1920s and 30s. Like his sister, Lommel took to stage early in life. In the mid-60s he formed a friendship with then-theatrical director Fassbinder. When Fassbinder began moving towards cinema, Lommel went with him, first as an actor, then as a scriptwriter and director. By the late 1970s he had moved to New York and become associated with Andy Warhol’s Factory scene, eventually directing films, including Cocaine Cowboys (1979) and Blank Generation (1980), both of which featured Warhol himself. They also brought him into contact with actress Suzanna Love, a wealthy heiress that Lommel would later marry. Lommel and Love made a series of low-budget horror films together, including The Boogey Man, psycho-thriller Olivia (1983) and witchcraft revenge story The Devonsville Terror (1983), all of which are quirky, interesting takes on standard genre frameworks. From there Lommel directed a series of increasingly dull, anonymous action flicks and TV movies. He resurfaced in the 21st century with a string of zero-budget zombie and slasher movies, most of which showed absolutely no evidence of the talent and ability that Lommel’s earlier films demonstrated.
Watch the Arrow Video Story to Tenderness of the Wolves:
Original title:Pusong wazak: isa na naming kwento ng pag-ibig sa pagitan ng puta at criminal
Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Elena Kazan, Nathalia Acevedo
Philippines, Germany 2014
Khavn de la Cruz’s Filipino musical noir compensates for its lack of plot with oodles of style.
At its worst, Ruined Heart feels like what happens when an ‘edgy’ fashion shoot gets out of hand, gets bitten by a radioactive DJ set and mutates into something less than a movie. It doesn’t have a story as such. After some rockin’ black and white tattoos-on-a-dead-guy titles we are introduced to some archetypes: the Whore, the Criminal, the Friend, the Pianist, the Godfather. Everything after that is a series of rambling tableaux, set mostly in the crowded streets and covered markets of a nameless town (or towns) in the Philippines. Loosely, the Criminal falls for the Whore, the Whore gets killed by the Godfather, the Criminal takes up the gun, it doesn’t end well. But even this simple narrative is chopped and screwed. There’s no real dialogue, though occasionally characters utter poetic and lyrical profundities; instead we have an ultra-cool soundtrack playing over street celebrations and fights and fireworks and car rides and killings and parties and orgies and a lot of scenes of the Criminal and the Whore running and walking and dancing and fucking and falling in love. The imagery is occasionally upsetting and obscene, often repetitive and mystifying.
That said, the cinematography is by Chris Doyle, so it looks amazing and feels energised and rackety and fluid. Asano Tadanobu (Criminal) and Nathalia Acevedo (Whore) are both photogenic as hell and fun to watch, and the eclectic hip jukebox score is a blast. So while the film often tries the viewers’ patience it also delivers up sublime moments where it all clicks into place and you’re grinning from ear to ear as the characters dance, in a decidedly unchoreographed fashion, to ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’ by John Holt, or ‘She Said’ by Hasil Adkins. It tests Godard’s maxim that ‘all you need for a movie is a gun and a girl’ to breaking point, delivering both less and more than most would expect from a night at the picturehouse. We get dazzling imagery and fine musical moments by the skipload, and moments of that elusive beast ‘pure cinema’, but a decided deficit of anything else to chew on. It’s an exercise in style over, well, pretty much everything, but it’s a buzzy, seductive style nonetheless.
Much credit should go to Brezel Goring of Stereo Total, who created the bulk of the soundtrack, with mentions for contributions from Grauzone and the Flippin’ Soul Stompers, who play live on screen. Khavn De La Cruz wrote, directed and produced, I’d cast a wary eye out for the rest of his work, but I’d definitely accept an invite to any party he’s hosting.