All posts by VirginieSelavy

Side Effects

Side Effects

Format: Cinema

Release date: 8 March 2013

Venues: UK wide

Distributor: Entertainment One

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Scott Z. Burns

Cast: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law

USA 2013

106 mins

A dizzying, dazzling affair at times, bearing witness to Steven Soderbergh’s craftsmanship, Side Effects might be compelling in the heat of the moment but, like a bad drug, it’s a quick fix that leaves you all the more frustrated afterwards.

Emily (Rooney Mara) should be nothing but happy since her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison after a four-year sentence for insider trading. And she tries to be, duly swallowing every pill her friends, family and doctors recommend, but she can’t help feeling down: Martin’s return has brought back her long-suppressed depression, which soon pushes her to hurt not just herself but those around her. When after a long sleep on a new antidepressant she finds her husband stabbed to death, she can’t seem to remember a thing. Suddenly all eyes are on her psychiatrist (Jude Law), who prescribed the medication and emerges as the outlaw in a mix of pharmaceutical cover-up story, conventional psycho-thriller, unpredictable plot twists and wayward solutions.

Emily’s subtle transformation from the troubled loving wife to diabolical femme fatale is a little rocky, but a confident cast and their director largely keep the film aloft: it’s another genre exercise for Soderbergh that he has managed to pull off with the help of his Hollywood friends to entertaining, if ultimately rather underwhelming, effect.

Pamela Jahn



Format: DVD (Region 1 + 2) + Blu-ray

Director: Joseph Ruben

Writers: David Loughery, Chuck Russell, Joseph Ruben

Based on the play by: Kenneth G. Ross

Cast: Dennis Quaid, Max von Sydow, Kate Capshaw, David Patrick Kelly, Christopher Plummer, Eddie Albert

USA 1984

99 mins

A few months before Freddy Krueger began stalking the sleep of American teens in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, and almost three decades before Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Joseph Ruben’s Dreamscape used the world of dreams as a battleground. Where A Nightmare on Elm Street subverted the slasher genre and Inception was an inverted heist movie, Dreamscape was a sci-fi thriller in which the very future of the planet was at stake. Very loosely based on a treatment author Roger Zelazny wrote of his novel The Dream Master (1966), Dreamscape touched on an issue very much in people’s minds at the time. With fears of the possibility of nuclear Armageddon at their height, Ruben’s movie posited a scenario in which a trained dream-assassin would murder the president in his sleep, thus killing him in real life and halting his plans to bring nuclear proliferation to a halt.

Shady government agencies, compromised scientists and powerful psychics scheme, betray and fight in both the real and dream worlds. Dennis Quaid’s Alex Gardner, an affable but wayward psychic, is coerced into assisting on what is ostensibly a government-funded project to cure people of their nightmares. The programme’s star pupil and covert dream-assassin, Tommy Ray Glatman (David Patrick Kelly) – brash, egotistical and deeply troubled – is the Yang to Gardner’s Yin. Glatman’s damaged psyche makes him a dangerous weapon, easily able to terrorize the minds of those around him. Kelly gives a memorable performance as the proto-Krueger; turning dreams to nightmares, shape-shifting and even sporting blades for fingernails at one point. Gardner, by contrast, reconnects with his conscience and moral values as he is charged with stopping Glatman from carrying out his mission. The equally apposite, and equally manipulative, figures of Doctor Paul Novotny (Max von Sydow) and the project’s overseer, CIA operative Bob Blair (Christopher Plummer), are the older reflections of Gardner’s naïve protégé and Glatman’s malleable prodigy. While Novotny wants to use the psychic’s abilities as a force for good, Blair’s crooked agent is bent on stopping the President’s plans, believing they will hand the initiative in the Cold War to the Russians.

Blending action movie tropes with horror movie imagery into a science fiction narrative written as a thriller gave Dreamscape a fresh feel and cross-genre appeal. Visions of monsters conjured up in the imaginations of psychologically scarred children, and post-nuclear wastelands in the president’s tortured mind, are as fittingly nightmarish as could be realised on screen by special effects teams at the time. The theme of dream and inner worlds, alternate realities and what-if scenarios seen in many later science fiction and horror movies, from Brainstorm to Source Code, Dream Demon to From Beyond, proved an enduring and endlessly recyclable one. The fact that the ‘enemy’ in Dreamscape comes from within, literally and figuratively, leaves the viewer in no doubt that Ruben and screenwriters David Loughery and Chuck Russell understand that sometimes those guarding our safety can do as much to endanger it as any perceived external threat. That the president is seen as a figurehead to be maneuvered and toyed with marionette-like by those agencies also speaks volumes for their views on the true locations of the power bases in American politics.

Somewhat under-appreciated, possibly due to a superfluous romantic sub-plot involving Gardner and Kate Capshaw’s research assistant Jane DeVries, Dreamscape nonetheless remains an important step on the evolutionary road for science fiction cinema. Alien, Blade Runner and the Star Wars franchise may be the era’s science fiction titans, but Dreamscape, along with Brainstorm, deserves more recognition for delving into inner rather than outer space in its futuristic what-if narrative.

Neil Mitchell

Sleep Tight

Sleep Tight

Format: Cinema

Release date: 1 March 2013

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: Jaume Balagueró

Writer: Alberto Marini

Original title: Mientras duermes

Cast: Luis Tosar, Marta Etura, Alberto San Juan

Spain 2011

102 mins

Focusing on seemingly mild-mannered concierge César, Jaume Balagueró’s Sleep Tight is an exceptional psycho-thriller that keeps its cards very close to its chest.

While César goes about his daily routine, doing odd jobs around the apartment building, most of the residents look right through him. However, César has secrets no one would even imagine: he is an adept predator that hides under a meek appearance.

César’s strange belief that he was born without the ability to be happy pushes him to start making a conscious effort to turn life hell for those around him. However, his methods are more deviant and despicable than any of the residents can imagine – and as Marta Etura’s Clara proves almost impossible to crack, César resorts to increasingly extreme measures.

Taking a break from the Rec franchise, Balagueró returns to his earlier style of filmmaking: tense and deftly handled camerawork coupled with a meticulous and disturbing story, which is revealed ever so slowly. Just like he did with Darkness Balagueró uses shadow and light to great effect – considering the setting, this is an approach that pays off handsomely. It’s a further joy that the film’s high production values accentuate the terror of César’s actions: modernity and comfort clash with his disturbing intentions in a series of tableaux that push the audience out of their comfort zone time and time again.

Spanish superstar Luis Tosar is incredible as César, pulling off a performance that can easily rival the best within the genre. With his nondescript appearance and almost shy mannerism he is one of the most dangerous men ever to be portrayed on screen, proving that one does not need loud noises to scare the audience.

Screenwriter Alberto Marini knows exactly how to toy with audiences’ expectations and turns the screws multiple times through the compact running time – even seasoned viewers will find themselves disturbed by where the film’s plot line is going to. His real achievement, however, lies in getting the audience to identify with a character like César: in one exquisitely plotted, breathtaking set-piece it’s hard not to wish for the psychotic handyman to get away with his actions.

All in all, Sleep Tight is one of the most disturbing and brilliantly made genre films to come out of Spain within the last few years, which, considering Spain’s prolific output, is a genuine achievement.

Evrim Ersoy



Format: Cinema

Release date: 1 March 2013

Venue: Key cities

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Director: Park Chan-wook

Writers: Wentworth Miller, Erin Cressida Wilson

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode

USA/UK 2013

98 mins

Stoker marks Korean director Park Chan-wook’s first foray into making a Hollywood feature in English, but he has not strayed too far from his roots. Following on from the themes he explored in his previous movies, Stoker is a sexually deviant tale of lust, jealousy and the very unenviable task of coming of age, explored with much of Park’s customary visual style. Closer to last year’s Korean hit The Taste of Money or even its prequel, The Housemaid (2010), than anything released in the mainstream, Stoker is a gorgeous marriage of style and substance.

The story revolves around 18-year-old India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), whose life is turned upside down following the death of her father in a tragic car accident. Left with her emotionally unstable mother (Nichole Kidman), India is further thrown into disarray with the arrival of her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode): a man hitherto unknown to her and who might have ulterior motives.

The performances from the trio of leads is impressive: the dance between Charlie and India is set to a vicious and sexual beat – Wasikowska and Goode are more than adept at capturing it – while Kidman brings a sense of disdain and jealousy to her character that Bette Davis would’ve been proud of. Wentworth Miller’s script is an unfolding joy: taking its cue from Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), it explores the story with a sense of sexual deviancy that Hitchcock would surely have approved of, while Park’s use of visual motifs within the film recalls the more abstract images in Vertigo (1958). However, the film’s real coup is the use of physical space. It is deliberate in its attempt to disorient the viewer: impossible exits and entrances, sudden shifts within rooms and a lot more bring to mind the architectural deliberations of Mark Z. Danielewski’s novel House of Leaves.

Something must also be said for the incredible supercharged soundtrack by Clint Mansell, to which is added a Philip Glass piece that captures the emotional glass heart of the film perfectly. Emily Wells is the icing on the cake of what might indeed be the best soundtrack of the year, alongside Maniac.

Although the film will have its detractors, it’s hard not to be impressed with what Park has achieved here: a Korean movie in Hollywood clothing, Stoker is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.

Evrim Ersoy



Format: Cinema (UK)

Release date: 12 July 2013

Distributor: Metrodome

Format: Cinema (USA)

Release date: 1 March 2013

Distributor: Revolver

Format: DVD (Region 2)

Release date: 4 March 2013

Distributor: Revolver

Format: DVD (Region 1) + VOD

Release date: 29 January 2013

Distributor: Mongrel Media

Director: Ciaran Foy

Writer: Ciaran Foy

Cast: Aneurin Barnard, James Cosmo, Wunmi Mosaku, Jake Wilson

Ireland 2012

84 mins

Numbing, gnawing and sheer unrelenting fear is the primary element driving this creepy, terrifying dystopian shocker. Citadel, which without question was one of the best films of 2012, trains its lens upon the fears of the disenfranchised – those eking out their existence amidst poverty, crime and societal indifference in blasted-out housing projects – Citadel plunges us into a reality that is as recognizable as it is fantastical. Indeed, given the constant state of bleakness brought about by financial crises and war, these could well be all our fears.

Ciaran Foy’s Citadel resembles an approach to fantastical genres that began in the 1940s American studio system. This particular brand of cinematic horror is inspired by a myriad of artistic influences from fairy tale through to classical literature, with much of it based on European sources, the fact remains its beginnings are as American as apple pie (drenched, of course in noir-like shadows). In the past decade or so, we’ve seen films with a similar temperament, like The Others (2001) or The Sixth Sense (1999), reach heights of critical and box office success but, while these works are not without value, they always felt to me like kinder, gentler horror films, rather than something designed to leave you quaking in your boots. Citadel stands well apart from these films and blends traditions of Val Lewton’s 1940s horror masterpieces and the heightened, raw realism of the best of 1970s horror.

Read Greg Klymkiw’s interview with director Ciaran Foy here.

Val Lewton was the first person within Hollywood’s mainstream studio system to tell real stories, about real people with real fears, mostly within contemporary settings and yet, all against the backdrop of genres designed to bring much-needed returns to a near-bankrupt studio.

In his view, what really scared people were those things they had to deal with every day. He believed that setting the wheels of reality in motion against a fantastical backdrop yielded a much better chance of scoring at the box office. Without Lewton, one wonders if we’d have ever seen certain classics of both genre and cinema as a whole.

Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963) and Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961) followed in Lewton’s footsteps to explore mental illness within the context of seemingly straight-up ghost stories and, lest we forget, Nicholas Roeg’s extraordinary Don’t Look Now (1973), which begins with a child’s accidental death, moves through parental grief and eventually into territory of the most horrific kind. Those are all pictures Citadel shares its worthy pedigree with.

With the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, the increased likelihood of apocalypse as America ramps up its greedy desire to control oil in the name of fighting terrorism and the obvious New World Order desire to cull the world’s population, we are living in dangerous times. So much so that writer/director Ciaran Foy’s Citadel definitely feels like it is forging similar territory introduced to the genre and cinema itself by Val Lewton some 60 years ago.

Foy’s picture is, first and foremost, a film about a palpable fear brought on when the film’s young protagonist watches – not once, but twice – as those he loves are brutalized and/or snatched away from him. His fear intensifies so unremittingly, with such grim realism, that we’re placed directly in the eye of the storm that is his constant state of terror.

Contributing greatly here is lead actor Aneurin Barnard as the young father Tommy. He delivers a performance so haunting it’s unlikely audiences will ever shake its full impact. Off the top of my head, I can think of very few (if any) scenes he does not appear in. We follow his story solely from his point of view and given that the character is almost always in a state of intense apprehension, the whole affair could have been utterly unbearable. He breathes such humanity into the role that we not only side with him, but I frankly defy anyone to NOT see aspects of who they are and what they feel within this indelibly overwrought character. (It’s such an extraordinary performance that in my 2012 round-up of the year in cinema over at my site Klymkiw Film Corner, I was compelled to bestow my own Best Actor accolade upon him.)

As the film progresses, Tommy lives alone in a desolate housing project – a single father alone with his baby. On the few occasions he must leave the house and enter a world of emptiness, squalor, constantly grey skies and interiors lit under harsh fluorescents, his head is down, his eyes only occasionally looking around for potential danger and/or to literally see where he is walking (or rather, scurrying to). Just as Tommy is constantly in a state of terror – so, unnervingly, are we.

There are seldom any points in the proceedings when we feel safe and when an occasional moment of warmth creeps into Tommy’s existence, the effect is like finding an oasis in the Sahara. Unfortunately (and brilliantly), Foy’s screenplay doesn’t allow safe harbour for too long. Dramatically, we’re almost constantly assaulted with natural story beats that yank us from our (and Tommy’s) ever so brief moments of repose.

Tranquillity is a luxury and Foy fashions a living hell that plunges both the audience and Tommy into the here and now as opposed to a very near future. Citadel sadly reflects a reality that pretty much exists on many streets in every city of the world. This is an increasing reality of contemporary existence and like all great science fiction, the film’s dystopian vision acts as a wake-up call that hopefully will touch many beyond the converted.

Things must change or more and more of us will be experiencing this. We can, like Tommy does for a good part of the film, shove our heads, ostrich-like, into the false safety offered under the sand, but sooner or later we/he will be ripped out of the temporary safety of darkness to face two distinct realities: the horror of the world and, even worse, the horror of his/our own fear and cowardice. Neither are happy prospects to be emblazoned upon anyone’s hearts and minds when the meeting of one’s maker is not far behind.

Tommy will have to make the right decision. He’ll need to become proactive in finding his inner strength to fight for what is right. The options are black and white. Fight and die trying, or just die.

Now, before you think I’m suggesting the film is more starkly depressing than Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light (1963), first remember that this is, indeed, a horror film and Foy jangles our nerves with the panache of a master. Have no doubts going in – this movie will scare the living bejesus out of you. It is, on that level, one hell of a ride.

The other happy element at play is a character rendered by the phenomenal actor James Cosmo. Now if you thought Gene Hackman was suitably two-fisted as the stalwart man of the cloth in Ronald Neame’s The Poseidon Adventure (1972), he is, in the parlance of louts the world over, a ‘pussy’ compared to Cosmo. Cosmo plays the most mentally unbalanced, kick-ass, foul-mouthed priest I’ve seen on film in some time – possibly of ALL time.

The Good Father knows the score, and then some. To paraphrase the tagline from the delightfully ludicrous Stallone cop picture Cobra (1986): ‘Fear’s a disease. The Good Father is the CURE!!!’ The few people left of good character in this world of empty, battle-torn housing projects all believe The Good Father is completely off his rocker.

Cosmo’s performance is stellar and, as The Good Father, he adds one extremely salient detail to Foy’s film – humour. Great genre pictures always have some element of humour – not of the tongue-in-cheek variety, but the kind that’s rooted in the central dramatic action of the narrative. The other great thing about The Good Father is his sense of Faith – and, believe me, it’s not necessarily residing in honour of the God of Abraham. He really only has faith in one thing amidst the dark dystopian days Foy etches so indelibly: survival.

At first, Tommy is intimidated by the curmudgeonly bonkers priest, but over time, it becomes obvious this slightly fallen Man o’ God is the only one who makes sense. Something is rotten to the core and Our Father has a plan to root out the pestilence.

You see, there is an infection.

Have I mentioned the infection yet?



I’ll let you discover it yourself.

As my regular readers are aware, I do everything in my power to know as little about a movie before I see it. I was so happy to know NOTHING about this movie prior to seeing it save for the title. The fact that I saw it at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival was also, by osmosis, a tiny giveaway since this stellar event’s programmers are delectably twisted sick puppies. That said, I knew nothing – just as I hope YOU will attempt to keep things before seeing Citadel.

The script, as well written as it is, hits a few (perfectly acceptable) marks that telegraphed a handful of items to me (and no doubt to a select few others) while watching the film, so there is little gained in pointing in their direction. In spite of this, I was quite unprepared for the full, heart-stopping, scream-inducing (yes, I screamed like some old grandmother), vomit-inspiring, drawer-filling (with, of course, your excretion of choice – I demurely keep mine to myself), flat-out dizzying, jack-hammering appalling climax of pure, sickening, unadulterated terror.

This is one mighty mo-fo of a scary-ass picture. The mise en scène is dazzling and the tale is rooted in both a humanity and reality that will wallop close to home for many. There’s nary a misstep in any of the performances and as the movie inches, like Col. Walter E. Kurtz’s ‘snail crawling along the edge of a straight razor’, Foy plunges us into an abyss at the top of the stairs.

In Apocalypse Now (1979), Kurtz (with Marlon Brando’s expert nasal intonations) summed up the image of the snail on the straight razor thusly: ‘That’s my dream!’

Frankly, Citadel is MY dream of one great horror movie.

Fuck it!

It’s no dream.

Citadel is a bloody nightmare!

Greg Klymkiw



Format: Blu-ray

Release date: 25 February 2013

Distributor Eureka

Director: Kaneto Shindō

Writer: Kaneto Shindō

Cast: Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Satô

Japan 1964

100 mins

Kaneto Shindō’s Onibaba (1964) is an allegorical tale of transformation and uncovered deception. The narrative is set in rural 14th-century Japan during civil war between rivalling shogunates. Two women, a middle-aged mother (played by Shindô’s business partner and future wife Nobuko Otowa) and her daughter-in-law, (Jitsuko Yoshimura) scavenge to survive. Their modus operandi is to lie in wait in towering susuki fields (Japanese pampas grass) until unsuspecting samurais exhausted by the war pass. Then the women attack. They spear and kill the warriors then strip them for their clothes and swords that can be traded for meagre bags of millet. Systematically they work together to drag their prey to a deep hole and fling them in. Back at their hut they eat, rest, exchange their goods with a covert vendor and await new victims.

This stark austerity is caused by a war that is not the women’s but the generals’ and emperors’ higher up in the social order. But it is the overlooked world of the women that becomes Shindō’s focus. They are not condemned, after all they are doing what their male compatriots are doing a few miles away on the battlefields. Instead, their actions are portrayed as part of a world turned upside down where morality mutates, frost in summer ruins crops, a horse gives birth to a cow and the sun rises black in the sky. It is into this strange yet matter-of-fact cycle that Shindō injects a surreal depiction of erotic desire and a seemingly supernatural twist.

Tension in the film arises when this need for physical survival is met with erotic desire. When Hachi (Kei Satô) returns from fighting in Kyoto without the younger woman’s husband her mother-in-law is forced to consider life without her when she predicts she might leave with Hachi. The consequences are life-threatening, and a game of cat and mouse begins as the mother tries to keep her close. Here, Shindō moulds a childhood Buddhist fable warning against duplicity for his own means. In Onibaba, truthfulness is about finding the limits of your own freedom in an unfathomable moral sea.

The bleak brutality and violence is echoed in the stylistic choices for the film. The soundtrack scored by long-time Shindô collaborator Hikaru Hayashi provides minimal drum rhythms that are remindful of a racing heartbeat or blood pumping through the body. They harness a sense of survival of the fittest or the shrewdest. Like the sound, the mise en scène is pared down to eerie glimpses of sky, smothering fields of pampas grass, small stretches of water and caves. Close-up shots of the reeds make the most of their animistic qualities. Taller than a man or a woman, they seem to move of their own volition, animated and magical. Filmed from overhead they become an uncanny engulfing swell that can carry you along to meet concealed malign forces. This is where exhilaration and terror meet: what will these enigmatic grasses reveal?

Nicola Woodham



Format: Cinema

Release date: 22 February 2013

Venues: UK wide

Distributor: Universal

Director: Andrés Muschietti

Writers: Neil Cross, Andrés Muschietti, Barbara Muschietti

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse

Spain/Canada 2013

100 mins

Guillermo del Toro is fast becoming the Steven Spielberg of horror. The emphasis, at the end of a number of the films he has directed or produced, on the rescuing of some sort of family unit, whatever the cost, is more worrying than any of the terrors unleashed on the audience. Mama, directed by Andrés Muschietti and produced by del Toro, is a case in point: its conclusion conveniently gets rid of the member of the family who can’t be made to fit in – just like the del Toro-produced Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark effected some sort of reconciliation between two relatives by sacrificing the extra person in the family.

Like many of del Toro’s films, Mama is a dark fairy tale – maybe even more explicitly so than his previous offerings, opening as it does with ‘Once upon a Time’. When his two missing nieces are found in the forest after five years, Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his rock-chick girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) take them in, under the supervision of their psychologist, Dr Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash). But the adults gradually begin to realise that Mama, the imaginary carer the girls had invented to survive in the forest, may not be so imaginary after all.

Although the film has its moments (the discovery of the feral children in the cabin; the dream sequence that reveals the tragic events of the past; the scene, both sinister and humorous, in which Lilly, the younger girl, plays with an off-screen Mama), it is marred by implausible plot developments and, most importantly for a horror film, fails to deliver any scares. Despite telling a story that should pull on the audience’s heartstrings, the film is unable to generate any strong emotional attachment to the characters. This may be partly due to the misjudged casting: Chastain is not credible as a rock chick, her character is embarrassingly clichéd and contrived, and there is a total lack of chemistry between her and Coster-Waldau. The best actor in the film is the youngest: Isabelle Nélisse is ambiguous and troubling as the six-year-old Lilly, disturbingly animal-like as she scuttles on all fours, and both creepy and sweet in her attachment to Mama.

It does not help that the film echoes other motifs and character types already seen in films bearing del Toro’s name. As in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Mama features a woman forced to take on a maternal role to children who are her boyfriend’s responsibility. Like Julia’s Eyes, it has a scene in which a character uses the flash on a camera to see their attacker – in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, the same device is used to keep the monsters away. The recurrence of motifs in a creator’s work is natural, but here the effect is less of stylistic and thematic coherence than of unimaginative repetition.

Virginie Sélavy

The Hidden Fortress

The Hidden Fortress

Format: DVD

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Writers: Ryûzô Kikushima, Hideo Oguni, Shinobu Hashimoto, Akira Kurosawa

Cast: Toshirô Mifune, Misa Uehara, Minoru Chiaki

Japan 1958

126 mins

Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 action adventure The Hidden Fortress belongs to a swashbuckling genre of heroic derring-do: jidaigeki. Its main innovation was to concentrate its interest on the plight of a pair of quarrelsome cowardly peasants, Tahei (Minoru Chiaki) and Matashichi (Kamatari Fujiwara), who, in the aftermath of a large battle, are forced to bury the dead. The largely comic figures owe their mismatched comedy not only to Laurel and Hardy, but, going further back, Pistol and Bardolph in Shakespeare’s Henriad. They quarrel over gold, they are lazy, greedy, disloyal and potential rapists, always looking to get the upper hand and only ever thinking of rectifying their ways when in danger of imminent death. ‘Let’s be kinder to each other,’ they cry, only to go back to arguing once the danger has passed.

Kurosawa’s film is a straightforward action film on one level. Tahei and Matashichi meet up with an important general (Toshiro Mifune) and a princess in disguise, Yuki Akizuki (Misa Uehara), in the hidden fortress of the title. They are lured to helping the pair by the promise of the hidden Akizuki gold, which everyone is searching for. The motley band make their way with the gold disguised as firewood through enemy territory, hunted by soldiers, and heading for the safety of their own land. Like Kurosawa’s later masterpiece Ran, The Hidden Fortress also has within it the imprecation ‘take physic pomp’, as the verities of feudal loyalty are interrogated and the princess sees through her own eyes the unfairness and cruelty of the system of which she is a leading representative and beneficiary. She is made aware of the sacrifices – including the ultimate – that others are willing to make on her behalf and sees the sufferings of those who are not as fortunate as her in the nature of their births, particularly the position of a poor peasant’s daughter who is about to be sold into slavery when she is rescued by the princess. Notions of honour break down quickly when it is obvious that what everyone is really searching for is the Akizuki gold, and therefore many of the nobles are no better than Tahei and Mataschichi, who if anything, retain at least their knockabout honesty.

For the first time Kurosawa films in the Tohoscope widescreen format, and he uses it to great effect, showing a precarious Japanese landscape full of perpendicular steepness. A slave revolt tumbles down a steep set of Odessa-like steps, and our comic duo are constantly clambering up and down the sides of the gravelly hills in their attempts to elude capture. The fortress itself is no more than a ring of steep hillocks, surrounding a small redoubt. The characters’ difficulties are occasionally liberated by scenes of wonderful actions such as Mifune’s duel with an old enemy and the fire festival, which turns from an obstacle to a moment of revelation. Apparently, a 1970s science fiction film was influenced by it as well, but there’s plenty to enjoy without recourse to that.

John Bleasdale

Lisa and the Devil

Lisa and the Devil

Format: Blu-ray + DVD

Release date: 4 February 2013

Distributor Arrow Video

Directors: Mario Bava, Alfredo Leone

Writers: Mario Bava, Alberto Cittini, Alfredo Leone, Giorgio Maulini, Romano Migiorini, Roberto Natale, Francesca Rusishka

Original title: Lisa e il diavolo

Cast: Telly Savalas, Elke Sommer, Alessio Orano, Alida Valli

Italy 1974

92 mins

In all of Mario Bava’s weird career, there may be nothing as peculiar as Lisa and the Devil, his 1974 fantasy starring Elke Sommer and Telly Savalas, and the project’s history is as bizarre as the experience of watching it.

Bava had bounced back from late-career doldrums with the Gothic hit Baron Blood (1972) and that film’s producer, Alfredo Leone, offered him the chance to do whatever he wanted: a poisoned chalice few filmmakers can resist. Bava knew enough to stick to the horror genre: his recent sex comedy (Four Times That Night, 1972) and Western (Roy Colt and Winchester Jack, 1970) had been interesting divertissements, but didn’t really allow him room for the full-on delirium of his best work.

Bava’s recent work in the giallo field he practically invented, the wonderfully titled Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970), had shown less interest in inventive and bloody homicide, and more in chic interiors and glamour. Hatchet for the Honeymoon, the same year, was nastier, but impressed mainly by the sheer craziness of its plot, which leaves the audience bewildered and frustrated almost to the last frame. Lisa would be an attempt to take that derangement even further…

Essentially a dream-film, it plucks its tourist heroine, Sommer, from her Spanish package holiday and strands her at an eerily out-of-time villa, where Telly Savalas may be Satan, collecting the souls of the dead, and both necrophilia and serial murder may be part of the evening’s entertainment. Though it features a hammer attack so vicious that it was trimmed in Italy (the only country where the film saw release), the movie is far less interested in killing than in disorientation, kitsch surrealist beauty, off-kilter humour and throwing together a lot of weird elements. At times it’s as if Bava had set himself the game of confusing matters so thoroughly that no coherent outcome is possible; then he manages a last-minute expository splurge that more or less tidies away the more radiant red herrings; and then he decides he has a few minutes left and uses them to gleefully screw the whole affair up beyond all chance of recovery.

The necrophilia subplot leads to one of the strangest scenes not only in Bava’s scrambled oeuvre, but in all of cinema, as badly listing dreamboat Alessio Orano tries to molest a drugged Sommer, his decomposing former love arranged in rotting fragments on an adjacent bed. Finally, despite the plangent musical accompaniment, he screams at the deceased, ‘I can’t, while you’re there!’ One can see his point, though perhaps shovelling up the remains before attempting date-rape would have improved the odds of carrying the whole thing off without a hitch.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bava’s oneiric labyrinth of severed plotlines struggled to find distribution: The Exorcist had just come out, and the market was not hungry for a mixture of Alice in Wonderland and The Exterminating Angel. Leone took desperate measures, re-titling the film House of Exorcism and adding an embarrassment of new footage in which Sommer vomited pea soup at guest star Robert Alda.

Happily, Lisa and the Devil is now appreciated for the demented, soft-focus, Spanish-guitar-inflected masterpiece it is, and Leone’s commercially minded revision is reduced to the status of extra on Arrow Film’s new Blu-ray. It’s a welcome addition: devoid of artistic merit in its own right, the garbled re-edit adds yet another layer of weirdness to a truly odd film: it’s like an alternative pathway through Bava’s world, where one minute we’re in his Gothic hallucination, and then we round a corner and find a whole different scene that was never there before. It’s like walking through an idiot’s dream about a genius’s dream.

David Cairns