Tag Archives: sex


Rabid 1

Format: Blu-ray + DVD

Release date: 16 February 2015

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: David Cronenberg

Writer: David Cronenberg

Cast: Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver

Canada 1977

91 mins

Rabid was David Cronenberg’s second Canadian exploitation film, a phase that evolved more or less naturally from his period as an underground filmmaker, before he mutated into a more mainstream auteur via films such as The Fly (1986). It even features a cameo by Adrian Tripod himself, Ronald Mlodzik, star of Crimes of the Future (1970). Bigger in scope than its predecessor, Shivers (1975), but perhaps more rough-edged, it explores the effects of an experimental surgical technique performed on an injured motorcyclist (porn star Marilyn Chambers) where she is treated with ‘undifferentiated tissue’ – an idea borrowed from William S. Burroughs which anticipates current developments in stem cell research. The unfortunate and unexplained side effect is the growth of a retractable, penis-like spike in her armpit, through which she sucks blood and passes on a rabies-like virus.

Cronenberg has always played nonchalantly innocent about this subject’s misogynist undertones. Chambers becomes a kind of Typhoid Mary, immune to the disease herself but passing it on through her depredations, which are all redolent with sexual subtext (hot-tub lesbian encounter; porno cinema pick-up). Though Cronenberg rightly says that the character is portrayed as sympathetic, it is also somewhat hard to relate her given her strange denial of what is clearly going on. The virus seems to induce a kind of amnesia: her victims go about their business after being vampirised, until suddenly going berserk in a way familiar to viewers of Romero or Danny Boyle flicks; Chambers seems to know she’s draining blood, but thinks little of it until the discovery that she’s been spreading a kind of plague brings about a crisis of conscience. Her eventual fate seems uncomfortably like a puritanical judgement, or a deliberately provocative pastiche of one.

The film betrays its status as an early, crude effort, in other lapses in psychology and logic. The opening motorcycle crash seems to happen on a straight stretch of road where the mobile home parked across the road would be clearly visible for some considerable distance; but the hero just yells in panic, drives straight at the obstacle, and then swerves at the last possible moment. That hero (Frank Moore) presents a considerable problem. Cronenberg is only partway to his eventual solution to the monster movie problem, which involves making the monster the main character. Here, our attention and empathy are needlessly diffused by the useless Moore character, whose defining trait is his tendency to be wherever the plot is not unfolding (because if he was ever in the right place at the right time, he would perish immediately). The same problem would afflict the lumpen protagonist of The Brood (1979), but in Scanners (1981) and Videodrome (1983), the hero is himself deviating from the normal, and in the latter film we actually view the entire action filtered through his gradually mutating consciousness, a trope the filmmaker would return to repeatedly.

It’s notable that Cronenberg has never fully embraced the idea of a female lead character. His heroes can develop vaginal openings in their abdomens or be penetrated in their lower spine by Willem Dafoe wielding a bolt gun, they can turn into insectoid hybrids, they can be one consciousness split between two bodies, and they can be psychotic. But they can’t have one of those alien openings from birth: they have to be supplied by the special effects department.

Rabid is most intriguing in its adoption of the plague narrative form used by George Romero in The Crazies (1973), or by Eugene Ionesco in his play Here Comes a Chopper. Rather than following a single character, we follow the disease itself as it filters through society: the scenes of psychodrama with Chambers alternately weeping and feasting are distractions from what could be a perfect Cronenberg hero: a quasi-sexually-transmitted virus.

David Cairns

The Nightcomers

The Nightcomers
The Nightcomers

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 23 February 2015

Distributor: Network Distributing

Director: Michael Winner

Writer: Michael Hastings

Cast: Marlon Brando, Stephanie Beacham, Thora Hird

UK 1971

92 mins

‘Marlon, you’re a great actor. I’m not a great director. Do what you like.’ This was supposedly how Michael Winner began his unlikely collaboration with the king of the method players. Brando was in the midst of a severe career slump, from which he would only escape with the double whammy of Last Tango in Paris and The Godfather the following year. The Nightcomers marks the last gasp of Brando’s wilderness years, which had stretched through pretty much the entire previous decade (fascinating though some of those films maudits are).

The idea of a prequel to Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw is an odd one for any studio seeking commercial success: Jack Clayton’s adaptation, The Innocents, had appeared exactly 10 years earlier, and despite being an artistic masterpiece it hadn’t done terribly well at the box office. Too subtle, too intelligent, too defiantly non-generic. Only the last quality really applies to Winner’s movie, which is even more of an odd duck than the eerie Cinemascope ghost story it both follows and foreshadows.

Giving no acknowledgement to the 1961 classic, The Nightcomers nevertheless starts with a snatch of ‘Willow Waly’, the folk song/nursery rhyme sung in spooky solo over the credits of Clayton’s film. This is promptly followed by a jarring crash zoom, neatly encapsulating the clash of temperaments that makes up the film’s style: half literate and dreamy, half leering and vulgar, rarely very successful.

It’s a shame, since Robert Paynter’s moody, muddy photography is beautiful and atmospheric, making something evocative from the mixture of dim, wintry daylight and dancing grain. It’s just that everything Winner makes him do with his camera, save the wide shots, is rather trashy. Many of the scenes might have been rescued, since Winner is at least shooting a decent range of coverage, but he insisted on cutting the film himself (using the admittedly hilarious pseudonym of Arnold Crust Jnr), and he has absolutely no sense of rhythm, mood, drama, character, or any form of continuity beyond the most basic – making sure the actors are standing in the right places. It’s not that the props or costumes jump around when you’re not looking, it’s that none of the shots build to a total effect, and the actors often seem to be staring into space rather than at their off-screen co-stars (which is probably the case, given Brando’s tendency to take off whenever not required for a close-up).

Brando himself is… sort of good? It’s quite an extreme version of an Irish accent he’s doing, but it’s at least less goofy than Orson Welles’s in The Lady from Shanghai, still the gold standard in rogue brogues. Trying to suggest an alluring, poetic psychopath, Brando is slightly hampered by his excess years and pounds, though Winner, whose eye was usually unflattering in the extreme, protects both his star and his audience by framing out the Brando bare belly (which was back under control, briefly, in time for his sexual exploits of 72).

The script by Michael Hastings riffs off the clues provided in James’s novella, but actually rewrites fictional history to create a more (melo)dramatic story, in which Brando’s lusty gardener corrupts both nanny Miss Jessel (luscious, warm Stephanie Beacham) and the two children under her charge. Touching on the themes of Forbidden Games and Lord of the Flies, the movie slowly turns its emotionally damaged children into horror movie monsters, complete with an ending that strongly implies that classic horror movie trope, ‘It’s all going to happen again!’ In fact, readers of James and viewers of Clayton will be aware that things are not as simple as that, and certainly neither artist intended for their uncanny children to be seen as deranged killers.

Hastings’s dialogue is often smart, strange and literate, suggesting the alien mindset of the Victorian era with its odd, stilted formality. This gets pushed further into the realms of the bizarre by the kids’ line readings, and the very particular acting style of Thora Hird as the housekeeper (it’s a style a less charitable critic might call ‘reading it out’, but I love Thora and would never put her down like that). Brando seems genuinely amused by his unlikely co-star.

What will likely interest viewers most in this age of shifty grades of fey, is the sex, which includes all the unsafe bondage techniques and dubious consent issues people seem to want nowadays. The kinky stuff gets dealt with pretty quickly, but is fairly strong for the time. Winner’s melting it together in those lap dissolves reserved for tasteful sex scenes back in the day gives it a safely old-fashioned quality, though, which explains why this wasn’t seen as taboo-busting in the same way as Last Tango. Though in both films Brando degrades his partner by making her repeat lines after him and makes reference to pigs, so I guess we can be fairly sure that’s what he was genuinely into. Future biographers take note.

David Cairns

Watch the original trailer:

The Belly of an Architect

The Belly of an Architect

Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 18 June 2012

Distributor: BFI

Director: Peter Greenaway

Writer: Peter Greenaway

Cast: Brian Dennehy, Chloe Webb, Lambert Wilson, Sergio Fantoni

UK/Italy 1987

119 mins

The films that Peter Greenaway made in the 1980s, even the lesser known examples shot between The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982) and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989), all share many aspects. These include deliberate camera movements across elegant tableaux vivants, an interest in food, sex and mortality, visual and textual references to art and mathematics and a score by Michael Nyman. This is not say that these films are disappointing in any way, but just that if you’ve seen one of them you know what to expect from the others. Having seen all of the director’s 1980s films except The Belly of an Architect, I wasn’t surprised by its style, pace and content - and even though Nyman didn’t score this film, Wim Marten’s music is very similar in style.

In this 1987 rumination on sex, death, art and food, underrated character-actor Brian Dennehy is cast against type as an intellectual romantic lead, in contrast to his usual roles as cops and agents of the law in quirky thrillers and Westerns. Dennehy plays overweight architect Stourley Kracklite, whose obsessions with intestinal disease and mounting an exhibition on the fantastical French neo-classical architect í‰tienne-Louis Boullée are costing him his marriage and sanity.

Boullée is an apt obsession for Kracklite, who is better known for his uncompleted and lost projects rather than the few that survive. Echoing the grand follies that his 18th-century forebear wanted to leave as his legacy, the modern architect struggles with realising his predecessor’s work in an exhibition beset by spiralling costs and local meddlers who want to seduce his wife or invite him to feasts, adding to his already prodigious waist line. As each generation of architects is bound to be replaced by the next unless they are able to realise monumental projects within their lifetimes, Kracklite is doomed from the moment he enters Italy while impregnating his wife on a train - her pregnancy mimicking the tumour that is growing within his belly.

Greenaway beautifully lets each of the architect’s obsessions contrast with the other: while he finds and enlarges numerous photocopies of classical sculptures that fill the floor of his apartment, his self-obsession drives his wife into the arms of another, who can worship her body in his stead. The director chooses a variety of stunning backdrops across Rome and his lead actor’s physical presence contrasts well with the classical landscape.

As the eponymous belly expands with a tumour inside and the story winds its way to inescapable tragedy, Greenaway’s film adds to the legacy of sex and death attached to Italian cities on film. From the endless murder and copulation in the ancient Rome featured in Caligula (1979) to cannibalism and revenge in modern day Florence in Hannibal (1991) - not to mention most of Dario Argento‘s oeuvre - it seems that the spectre of reoccurring carnal tragedy haunts dramas played out in classical metropolises south of the Alps.

While the finale may seem inevitable from early on and the directing style telegraphed in advance, the film is both solid and morbidly reassuring, like the architecture it promotes, as well as sumptuous and easily digestible like the feasts and wine that hasten the architect’s demise.

Alex Fitch