Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Killer-Works Memories: Suspiria

Back in 2008, I began posting a string of film reviews for Killer-Works. The web site has recently shut down, so I'll slowly re-post the reviews here. This week, I return to the first film in Dario Argento's "Three Mothers" trilogy: Suspiria. The review originally ran on June 23, 2008.


Susan (Jessica Harper) is the new American student at an exclusive German school of dance. In addition to making friends with her classmates and making enemies with the teaching staff, she investigates the murder of one of the students (who died on the same night that Susan arrived). What she uncovers is a century-old conspiracy involving witchcraft.

The plot is somewhat threadbare and doesn't work as a traditional mystery since it's fairly obvious early on who is behind the murder. What elevates this 1977 film to its classic status is the beautiful work of director Dario Argento, who composes each scene like a surrealist masterpiece, full of bright colors and strange details. Argento is never one to sacrifice beauty for logic, however, so some of the more beautifully composed scenes don't always make sense. Each murder is shot like a music video and otherwise bland expositional scenes are rendered captivating by the surrounding scenery. The whole film comes off looking like a dream; but don't worry ... there's no such cop-out ending.

Just as important as the camerawork is the soundtrack, provided by The Goblins. It's rare that a soundtrack has been so perfectly suited to enhancing a nightmarish atmosphere and it's hard to imagine this film acquiring its cult status without the unsettling score. At several points in the film, the word "witch" can even be overheard being harshly whispered through synthesizers.

While Suspiria stands very well on its own merits, it is later revealed to be the first part in a trilogy of films known as The Three Mothers. Inferno(1980) and finally Mother of Tears (2007) round out the infamous collection.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Dead Boys Review on Book Boyfriend Reviews

A few weeks back, Book Boyfriend Reviews posted a nice review of Dead Boys. Check it out.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Killer-Works Memories: The Night Porter

Back in 2008, I began posting a string of film reviews for Killer-Works. The web site has recently shut down, so I'll slowly re-post the reviews here. I was told to focus my reviews on disturbing films and I found a likely candidate in Liliana Cavani's 1974 art film, The Night Porter. The review was originally posted on June 16, 2008.


Love can be the most frightening emotion, especially if you find someone who loves you because of your worst traits rather than despite them. The Night Porter is the story of a Nazi concentration camp guard and prisoner who fall in love.

The story begins in Vienna 1957. Max (Dirk Bogarde) is the night porter at a hotel, living a life of quiet obscurity, but seemingly content. He still has ties with his old Nazi allies, men in hiding who occasionally meet to discuss their past actions. Their conversations resemble a grim parody of group therapy sessions, in which the Nazis try to purge their own feelings of guilt (while at the same time plotting the murders of any witnesses who could turn them in to the authorities). It is noteworthy that even the other Nazis find Max's crimes to be especially hideous. Max is not portrayed as a man filled with regret for his past crimes, nor as a man filled with hope for the resurrection of the Third Reich. At the story's beginning, he seems to lack emotion entirely, content with his quiet life.

Into the story comes Lucia (Charlotte Rampling), wife of a composer staying at the hotel where Max works. She is also a former camp prisoner with whom Max had an affair. We see in flashbacks that this courtship involved rape, humiliation and exploitation. Max is at first afraid that Lucia will expose his terrible past to the authorities; while Lucia is overwhelmed by her buried memories. Both are surprised to find that they have feelings for one another besides fear or hate and they re-kindle their love affair.

Max and Lucia end up risking everything, including their lives, to keep one another safe from Max's Nazi allies (who want to silence them both). What at first appears to be a film about an abusive relationship slowly becomes a story about star-crossed lovers, whose love is challenged by forces far greater than themselves. Like all great love stories, there is an undercurrent of tragedy. The viewer is left to wonder if the greater tragedy would be splitting these two apart or keeping them together in a relationship that truly should not exist.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Dead Boys Review on The Dowser's Delusions

Joe Bonadonna posted a review of Dead Boys on his blog, The Dowser's Delusions, a few months back. Check it out, then go pick up some e-books from both of us.

Joe's written the wonderful sword & sorcery / hard-boiled detective fusion collection, Mad Shadows, and an old-fashioned space adventure novel, Three Against the Stars. He's also teamed up with David C. Smith for a supernatural pirate adventure, Waters of Darkness.Getting high marks from Joe is quite the compliment.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Killer-Works Memories: Dumplings

Back in 2008, I began posting a string of film reviews for Killer-Works. The web site has recently shut down, so I'll slowly re-post the reviews here. Last week, I reposted my inaugural review of Cannibal Holocaust, a classic in transgressive film. I followed that review with a more recent work, a short subject by Fruit Chan titled "Dumplings". The review originally ran on May 12, 2008:


Most of the time, we are not informed of atrocities so much as reminded of them. We already know how animals are slaughtered for meat, how foreign labor is abused to provide us with cheap products, how oil is linked to terrorist organizations, how pharmaceuticals are tested on animals. We normally reconcile it all under the sad label of "necessary evil". If we were, each of us, offered an elixir of eternal youth, how much thought would we give to the strangers who had to suffer to produce it?

"Dumplings" tells the story of Mrs. Li, an aging actress who fears her husband will soon leave her for a younger woman. She meets Mei, a working-class woman who runs a dumpling shop out of her apartment. Mei's dumplings are reputed to restore youth to those who eat them and thus fetch a high price. What makes this story so disturbing isn't the revelation of what's in the dumplings (you can probably figure it out before you even see the film), but rather how it is not mentioned outright, simply understood. The violent scenes in the film not only shock, but also add to the subtler theme of the piece, illustrating how casually Mei (and eventually Mrs. Li) observe it all. The finale is appropriately understated, shocking us by what has been done without explicitly showing us. The final scene is made chilling by a quiet sound rather than a bloody image.

Dumplings originally appeared as the first short feature in an anthology film titled 3 Extremes. A longer, full-length feature version was later made and can be found in the two-disc set of 3 Extremes. Personally, I would recommend the shorter, original version. The longer version is padded out with additional scenes of dumpling preparation, back-story into the life of Mei and Mrs. Li's husband's affair. All of this additional scenery seems to take away from the true horror of the piece...how a decent woman can slowly become indifferent to evil. Worst of all, the extended version replaces the original ending with one that manages to be both gorier and less brutal.

Enjoy Dumplings as a short subject on how we each reconcile with evil.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Dead Boys Review on Black Gate

A couple months back, John O'Neill published a review of Dead Boys on Black Gate. Beyond the book itself, he also goes a bit into how we first met at the Top Shelf Books open mic event, a monthly reading series which has recently come to an end. Since it's impossible for me to imagine producing this work without the support of various reading events and writers groups, it's good that John mentioned it in a review.

Check out the review and, while you're there, nose around the site a little. It's updated daily with information about more science fiction and fantasy novels than you could ever finish reading.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Killer-Works Memories: Cannibal Holocaust

Back in 2008, I began posting a string of film reviews for Killer-Works. The web site has recently shut down, so I'll slowly re-post the reviews here. Site runner Jill Cooper asked for reviews of disturbing films and I decided to start off with one of the most disturbing films of all time. So here it is: originally posted March 10, 2008:


Four filmmakers go into the Amazon rain forest in search of a cannibal tribe. They are never seen again. Six months later, their footage is recovered. If it sounds familiar, keep in mind that Cannibal Holocaust predates The Blair Witch Project by twenty years. The whole "found footage horror" sub-genre (which includesBehind the Mask, Last Broadcast, The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, andDiary of the Dead) started with this 1980 cult classic.

What the format allows is a bird's eye view of human depravity. A simple laundry list of atrocities will give you an idea: castration, firing squad executions, rapes, abortion, cannibalism, amputations, the iconic impalement scene and several (by all accounts, real) animal mutilations. The Italian government was allegedly fooled by the realism of the footage and actually put the director on trial for murder.

The question I keep asking myself isn't why someone would make this movie (money); but rather why I watched it. I first saw it during a midnight screening at an art house theater. Halfway through the movie, I began to wonder about the audience around me. What drove each of us to spend a Saturday night watching a movie like Cannibal Holocaust? The director's motive was as clear as that of any drug dealer: to provide the product that customers demand. But why the demand? In the end, the audience members are revealed as being the true monsters with our unexplainable need to view human misery.

For nearly thirty years, Cannibal Holocaust has stood as a gold standard for disturbing cinema. The more polished Hollywood horror shows haven't even come close to its brutality or ability to generate self-loathing in an audience for watching it. However, after viewing recent box-office successful films likeSaw and Hostel, director Ruggero Deodato has stated that he feels mainstream audiences may be ready for a big-budget re-make. There seems little reason to update the story for this decade, however, since the original does such a splendid job of delivering "what the audience wants", while at the same time forcing that same audience to ask why they want it. Approach with caution!