Tag Archives: 1973

CAPSULE: HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB [EL ESPANTO SURGE DE LA TUMBA] (1973)

DIRECTED BY: Carlos Aured

FEATURING:

PLOT: The head of a medieval warlock possesses the bodies of young people staying at an isolated country estate, turning some into zombies and causing them to kill each other.

Still from Horror Rises from the Tomb (1973)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Horror Rises is a worthwhile, but not quite exemplary, illustration of the tendency of 1970s Eurotrashy fantastique horror to elevate atmosphere and effect over sense and logic. Made out of equal parts camp, decadence, and incoherence, it’s a decent choice for a midnight viewing some evening when you don’t want to think too hard while getting some pre-bedtime chills.

COMMENTS: Most of the plot developments in Horror Rises from the Tomb need to be prefaced with the phrase, “for unclear reasons…”  When invited to a seance with a medium, swinging playboy Hugo suggests they contact an ancestor of his who was hanged for practicing witchcraft (and vampirisim and lycanthropy), then decapitated so his head and body could be laid in separate graves to prevent him from rising from the tomb.  The same warlock ghost has been haunting Hugo’s artist pal, dripping blood from his severed head on his canvases.  After successfully contacting the spirit, Hugo, the painter and their girlfriends travel to Hugo’s isolated country estate to go digging for the head but are waylaid by bandits, then rescued by vigilantes who execute the criminals on the spot.  Upon arriving the foursome hires village locals to dig up the head, or buried treasure, whichever they find first.  Halfway through the movie, after the cast is mostly dead or possessed, the caretaker’s daughter remembers that her father hid a magic talisman that would protect them from any evil spirits that would rise from the nearby tomb in a well.  Besides possession, the warlock also creates a mini-army of walking corpses, and when daylight comes Hugo goes to dredge up their corpses from the river (where he dumped them earlier—for unclear reasons) and burn the bodies, even though he already incinerated them the night before.  And so it goes. The storytelling is jumpy—characters are killed off before you even realize who they are—and awkward editing exacerbates the problem.  According to legend, star Naschy took anywhere between two days to a week to write the script, and it’s easy to believe.   You go into every story segment presuming it’s not going to make sense, and you’re surprised when, on reflection, there’s a hidden logic to some development.  Besides writing the script, Naschy is also credited as playing three roles (the warlock and Hugo are two of them, but somehow I missed the third one). Horror Rises gets by on atmosphere—beautiful, misty Spanish scenery; gorgeous doomed women in gauzy nightgowns; floating heads; zombies; Paul Naschy flinging his black cape about and keeping his bushy arched eyebrows flying at full mast.  There’s also a screechy organ score that is irritating but effective in keeping you on the edge.  The decadent exploitation, in combination with the disjointed storytelling and jittery editing, produces a comic-nightmarish effect typical of 1970s Eruohorrors; it’s a style that can become addictive if you give yourself over to it wholeheartedly.

The version of Horror Rises from the Tomb reviewed here is the edited, full frame version, likely compiled for television broadcasts, that’s commonly found in multiple-movie bargain packs.   This edition cuts out the abundant nudity and most of the gore (including, reportedly, heart-eating) and runs 10-15 minutes shorter than the uncut film.  The frequent edits to produce a TV-friendly, PG-rated product likely increase the incoherence factor, but given the movie’s edited in the purely expository scenes, I don’t believe the complete version makes significantly more sense.  The out of print but widely available BCI/Eclipse DVD contains both cuts of the film, along with a third “clothed” version intended for European distribution that substitutes alternate takes for some of the nude scenes but keeps the blood and guts intact.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…there was no denying the strange, unsettling otherness of this film as I watched it in a dark room, illuminated only by my portable black-and-white TV set.”–Troy Guinn, Eccentric Cinema (remembering a 1970s TV broadcast)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: EMPEROR OF THE NORTH POLE (1973)

AKA Emperor Of The North

DIRECTED BY: Robert Aldrich

FEATURING: Ernest Borgnine, ,

PLOT: A maniac conductor sadistically stalks hobos along his Depression era freight, smashing their skulls with a club hammer when they try to ride the rails.  NO ONE rides his Number 19 train for free.  Evil incarnate, he exists only to hunt men.

Still from Emperor of the North Pole (1973)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Emperor Of The North Pole may not have the requisite look, feel, or scary music, but it is very much a horror movie.  Instead of the supernatural, the monsters are men.  The killer is no cloaked slasher striking by night, but a crazy-eyed, obsessed railroad man, insane with twisted rage, filled with frothing blood lust, armed with cruel and unusual instruments of punishment.  He gets his kicks by smashing in skulls and he strikes in broad daylight unrestrained, with complete impunity.  This incongruency—a horrifying film that masquerades as a suspense drama by telling an unconventional, real-world story—makes for an unusual viewing experience.  Add larger-than-life archetypal characters; bizarre, colorful monologues; and a deceptively simple plot about a symbolic evil vs. slightly-less-evil struggle, and the result is a riveting, weird movie.

COMMENTS:  Pastoral Oregon locations set an illusory bucolic tone in the opening shots of Emperor Of The North Pole as a steam locomotive winds its way through rural woodlands.  This is Union Pacific’s Number 19 freight, and it has a madman on board.

It is 1933, the depths of the Great Depression, and 1/4 of Americans are unemployed.  Many of them are literally starving to death.  A mobile army of homeless men roams the country looking for temporary work, stealing rides on the rails.  They are nomads who live by no law but their own, and the Railroad Man is dedicated to their destruction.  On the Portland route, that man is Shack (Borgnine), a ruthless conductor who enforces the “paying passengers only” rule with deadly reverence.

Railroads don’t like it when you stow away on board or trespass on their tracks.  Today they employ a battalion of federally licensed, armed railroad detectives to catch you, and these men behave like real bastards when they do.  But in 1933 even the railroads were hard up.  His actions condoned by underfunded, undermanned, corrupt law enforcement, Shack takes the job of controller, making sure that no one rides for free.  Drawing from his own sadistic black book of dirty tricks he patrols his train like a monstrous gargoyle, perpetually on the lookout for bums.

Relentless and Argus-eyed, Shack is a real-life Terminator: he can’t be reasoned with, he can’t be bargained with, he has no mercy to appeal to, he is hard to kill, and he will never, ever stop.  Shack has a savage arsenal of bizarre, creepy weapons at his disposal, but his favorite is the engineer’s heavy, double-headed club mallet.

When Shack, creeping along the speeding 19’s boxcar catwalk, finds a tramp riding on the frame of a hopper car, he sneaks up on the hapless man.  The bum, enjoying a sandwich, is blissfully unaware of the danger.  With a fell swoop of the club hammer, Shack smashes the man’s skull.  His head laid open, dangling between cars, the hobo begs for his life before being sucked under.  In a spectacular, graphic sequence the rail cars’ sharp under-hangs ensnare the tramp and violently wad him up before the heavy wheels slice him in half like a biscuit.

For the Railroad Man, his pension and gold watch are at stake.  For the hobo, it is a matter of survival.  But for both, there is also pride.  Shack is determined the hobos not see him as a free ride.  He is humiliated and taunted when the hobo community marginalizes him by defying his rules.

The hobos hate Shack, but they also want to prove themselves to each other.  To be a master hobo, a skilled man of the road who can survive in style and avoid arrest, is to become “Emperor of the North Pole,” king of the tracks.  The term is cynically self-deprecating.  Penniless, desperate, with no past, no future, no clout and nobody to vouch for them, the hobos perceive that they lead a futile, near meaningless, existence.  Anybody presiding over the North Pole would be emperor of a worthless desert.

In this context, the alpha male tramp of the West Coast hobo “jungle” camps is the admired A-Number One (Marvin).  A#1 is determined to prove himself Emperor Of The North Pole by successfully riding notorious Shack’s Number 19 all the way to Portland.  He is dogged by a swaggering, inept, tag-along, upstart named “Cigaret” (Carradine).  Using numerous tactics to sneak aboard and avoid detection on the 19, A#1 is caught between Shack’s criminal tactics and Cigraret’s malicious recklessness. Despite A#1’s paternal attempts to mentor him, Cigaret continuously betrays A#1 out of a sense of misguided competition.

In trying to derail Shack, A#1 and Cigaret nearly derail the entire train.  To distract and misdirect Shack, A#1 and Cigaret do their best to compromise and professionally ruin him with a series of sidetracking stunts.  But the stunts are not mere jokes.  They are heavy, malicious felonies which endanger the hobos, other trains, and entire crews with imminent bloody death.

While the ‘bo’s believe Shack deserves killin’, their actions justify Shack’s murderous rampage as well.  Like a runaway train, the perverse feud escalates beyond the boundaries of any sensible limits.  The locomotive steams and roars.  The whistle shrieks.  The pistons churn.  The black smoke streams into the sky.  The trio of enraged men highball over the steel rails.  Their murderous plots against each other descend into a maelstrom of frothy, blood-soaked madness.  As they barrel along among the swaying cars of the speeding train, the inflamed trio hurtles toward an ultimate gladiatorial showdown to determine who will be Emperor Of The North Pole.

Writer Christopher Knopf’s deceptively minimalist script was tailor made for Robert Aldrich’s now familiar themes: men in their primal state squaring off against each other, the ultimate confrontation, man against environment, life as arena, life as a game, men and machines.  The characters are simplistic and archetypal, and the space they occupy, like a gladiatorial ring, is very small: the area enclosed by two rails.  The universality of these simple building blocks enabled Knopf to forge an engrossing adventure to which audiences can easily relate.

Knopf considered the political tempo of the times, the populist social attitudes of the downtrodden, the quest for survival, the attitudes of the elites; i.e. the fabric of society and its rules.  He rendered these factors down into a raw story about a conductor who won’t have hobos on his train and the two hobos bent on defying him.  The result is powerful and directly accessible without being dumbed down.

Every shot is carefully assembled as if it will be a still photo submitted for exhibit.  Each frame showing a character is an artistic portrait.  The selection of shots and the way they are edited is expressive and precise.  Additionally, Aldrich used a fine grain film stock which reveals very sharp detail.  The resulting visual impact dramatically emphasizes the action.  This gives everything about the film a larger than life feel, and reinforces the conceit of archetypal characters in an archetypal situation.

Emperor Of The North Pole was re-released on DVD in 2006.  The DVD reflects that the original film print was carefully preserved.  The re-release has dazzling sharp picture quality.

Emperor Of The North Pole was inspired by Jack London’s On The Road and From Coast To Coast. It was shot along the Oregon Pacific and Eastern short line railroad near Cottage Grove, where Stand By Me (1986) was filmed in 1985.  Viewers who see both will recognize the distinctive countryside.  Stand By Me was the last of several motion pictures to be filmed on these tracks.  The first, in 1926, the was The General, Buster Keaton’s famous period piece about a Civil War locomotive chase.

Surviving for over 90 years, the Oregon Pacific and Eastern was constructed in 1901 to bridge Cottage Grove southeast to the Bohemia mining district.  The last train ran the line in the mid 1990s.

The steam locomotive and trains used in the filming of Emperor Of The North Pole were part of the actual working stock of the railroad, still in use in the the 1970’s.  Shack’s Number 19 locomotive featured in the movie is a 1915 Baldwin 2-8-2.  It pulled excursion trains well into the ’70’s along the Oregon Pacific and Eastern (pictured below).


Old #19, Oregon Pacific and Eastern – photograph by John Goldie

Number 19 still runs today, pulling the “Blue Goose” excursion train on the Yreka Western Railroad between Yreka and Montague, California.

The terms “hobos,” “tramps,” and “bums” have been used interchangeably in this recommendation for purposes of convenience.  This is actually not correct usage, as the names have distinctly different meanings.  Here is the rule for remembering them: a bum sits and loafs, a tramp loafs and keeps moving, but a hobo works and moves, and he is clean.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an unusual, uncompromising and much underrated film.”–Film 4

CAPSULE REVIEW: BABA YAGA (1973)

AKA:  Kiss Me Kill Me

DIRECTED BY:  Corrado Farina

FEATURING: Carroll Baker, George Eastman, Isabelle De Funès,

PLOT: A fashion photographer is beguiled by a lesbian witch who seeks to dominate, seduce and consume her.

Still from Baba Yaga (1973)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTBab Yaga is straight Euro-thriller.  While such films have an unconventional feel by US standards, the style is characteristic of this distinctive 1960’s-’70’s genre, and therefore very conventional on its own terms.

COMMENTSBaba Yaga is a very stylish Italian occult film in the Euro horror tradition of Suspiria.  It is based on artist Guido Crepax’s highly stylized graphic novel about a sorceress who tries to bewitch a fashion photographer.  Crepax adapted the novel from his risqué S&M comic .

Valentina (De Funès) is an up and coming fashion photographer with a knack for controversial shoots.  After she has a chance encounter with the fashionable and alluring society matron Baba Yaga, her life takes strange and eerie turns.  Yaga discovers Valentina on a darkened street, becomes attracted to her and begins to inject herself into the young shutterbug’s life in odd ways.  Yaga develops a strange fixation on Valentina, one that is more than platonic.

Yaga lives in a striking Gothic Revival mansion, it’s interiors bedecked with layers of satin, red velvet –and heavy leather in the boudoir.  While the house is very luxurious, it is in need of a few repairs.  There is a nasty hole under the oriental rug in the drawing room—the opening of a bottomless pit to Hell.  It is only fitting to have an eccentric home, because the owner isn’t exactly mainstream.  Babs is taken with keeping vipers and Australian fruit bats for pets, has some creepy taxidermy a la Norman Bates, and owns a collection of cursed curios.

In a gesture of benevolence, Baba Yaga gives Valentina a large Victorian doll “to protect” her.  Valentina counters that she doesn’t need any protection.  Well, she does now!  The Continue reading CAPSULE REVIEW: BABA YAGA (1973)

55. O LUCKY MAN! (1973)

“Lindsay… was never into realism.  He wanted it real, but not realistic.”–Malcolm McDowell

O Lucky Man! is a film about the real world.  I think that everything in it is recognizable to people who look around with open eyes and can see the kind of world we’re living in.  But of course it makes it’s comment through comedy and through satire, because I think the world today is too complex and too mad and too bad for one to be able to make a straight, serious comment.”–Lindsay Anderson

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Lindsay Anderson

FEATURING: Malcolm McDowell, , , Arthur Lowe, Alan Price, Lindsay Anderson

PLOT: Mick Travis is an eager, ambitious trainee at a coffee company who gets a big break when the firm’s top salesman in the Northeast territory goes missing under mysterious circumstances and he’s picked to replace him.   With his engaging smile and can-do attitude, his career begins promisingly, but soon a sting of unfortunate coincidences befall him.  A plague of strange events drive him across the 1970s English landscape, as he is mistaken for a spy, volunteers for medical experiments, falls in with a touring rock band, becomes the personal assistant of a ruthless capitalist, goes to prison, and works at a soup kitchen.

Still from O Lucky Man! (1973)

BACKGROUND:

  • McDowell is Mick Travis in this film.  He played a character of the same name in three of director Lindsay Anderson’s films, each completed in a different decade: If… (1968), O Lucky Man! (1973), and Britannia Hospital (1982).  Other than sharing the same name, there is no evidence that Mick Travis is intended to be the same character at different stages of life.
  • McDowell came up with the core idea for the script, drawing on his own pre-fame experiences as a coffee salesman.  McDowell worked on the script with screenwriter David Sherwin (If…).  In an interview, McDowell recalls that he was having trouble thinking of an ending and Anderson asked him how his real life adventures as a coffee salesman ended.  “That’s your ending,” Anderson told him.
  • This was McDowell’s next project after completing A Clockwork Orange in 1971, cementing his position as the most important weird actor of the early 1970s.
  • Director Anderson had tried to make documentary about singer-songwriter Alan Price before he began O Lucky Man!, but could not obtain funding to license the songs.  Anderson instead invited Price to write the songs for this movie and to appear as the leader of the touring band in the film.
  • Almost all of the actors in the film play multiple parts.  Arthur Lowe won a BAFTA Best Supporting Actor Award for his triple-role as Mr. Duff, Charlie Johnson and Dr. Munda (in blackface).

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The final party scene, with the entire cast dancing to the theme song while balloons drop from the ceiling, although the shot of Dr. Millar’s medical experiments is unforgettable as well.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: As if Mick Travis’ improbable class-trotting adventures across 1970s Britain weren’t strange enough, Lindsay Anderson sprinkles weirdness and non sequiturs throughout, including Kafkaesque interrogations, a half-man half-hog, and an unexpected breastfeeding scene. Any film in which a boarding-room neighbor inexplicably gives a young man a “golden” suit and sends him out into the world with the sage advice “try not to die like a dog,” is tipping to the weird end of the scale.

Short clip from O Lucky Man!

COMMENTS: The standard line on O Lucky Man! is that it is a satire on the capitalist Continue reading 55. O LUCKY MAN! (1973)

21. THE WICKER MAN (1973)

“I think it is a film fantastique in a way… a film fantastique can have almost anything in it, it’s based on facts but it can take flights of fancy which are still rooted to the truth, to the reality of the story, so the imagination can roam.”–Robin Hardy

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Robin Hardy

FEATURING:  Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland,

PLOT:  A devout Christian policeman flies to the isolated island of Summerisle off the coast of Scotland to investigate a report of a missing girl.  When he gets there, everyone denies knowledge of the girl, but he notices with increasing disgust that the entire island is practicing old pagan rituals and licentious sex.  As his investigation continues, he uncovers evidence suggesting that the missing girl was a resident of the island, and may have met a horrible fate.

the_wicker_man_1973

BACKGROUND:

  • Screenwriter Anthony Shaffer was a hot property in 1973 after adapting his own successful mystery play Sleuth into a 1972 hit movie with Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, and penning the screenplay for Frenzy (1972) for Alfred Hitchcock.  His clout was so great that this film was released under the official title Anthony Shaffer’s The Wicker Man.  He later adapted Agatha Christie novels such as Murder on the Orient Express (1974) for the big screen.
  • Director Robin Hardy, despite doing an excellent job on this film, did not direct a feature film again until 1986’s Wicker Man variation, The Fantasist.
  • Christopher Lee, who had just come to the end of his run as Hammer’s Dracula, donated his acting services to the production.  He was quoted in 1977 as saying, “It’s the best part I’ve ever had.  Unquestionably.”
  • The “wicker man” was a historically accurate feature of Druidic religions that was first described to the world by Julius Caesar in his “Commentary on the Gallic Wars.”
  • In Britain the film was released on the bottom half of a double bill with Don’t Look Now, perhaps the most impressive psychological horror double feature in history.
  • Shaffer and Hardy published a novelization of the film in 1976.
  • “Cinefastique” devoted an entire 1977 issue to the film, calling it “the Citizen Kane of horror movies.”
  • In 2001, an additional 12 minutes of deleted scenes were added to create a “Director’s Cut” version.
  • Some of the original footage is believed to be lost forever, including part of the scene where Sgt. Howie first meets Lord Summerisle.  The original negative was accidentally thrown away when original producer British Lion Films went under and cleaned out its vaults.
  • The climax was voted #45 in Bravo’s list of the “100 Scariest Movie Moments.”
  • The 2006 Neil LaBute remake starring Nicolas Cage had as little as possible to do with the original story, was universally reviled, and was even accused of being misogynistic.  Some argue that it is so poorly conceived and made that it has significant camp value.
  • Hardy released a “spiritual sequel,” The Wicker Tree, in 2011.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The wicker man itself (although, for those of a certain gender, Britt Ekland’s nude dance may be even harder to forget).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Hardy and Shaffer create an atmosphere like no other; it’s an encounter of civilized man with strange, primeval beliefs.  Select scenes are subtly surreal—observe how the villagers break into an impossibly well-choreographed bawdy song about the innkeeper’s daughter preternaturally designed to discomfit their sexually repressed guest.  Other weird incidents are more outrageously in the viewer’s face: the vision of a woman breastfeeding a child in a graveyard while delicately holding an egg in her outstretched hand.  Almost invisible details such as the children’s lessons scribbled on the classroom blackboard (“the toadstone protects the newly born from the weird woman”) saturate the film and reveal how painstakingly its makers constructed a haunting alternate world of simultaneously fascinating and repulsive pagan beliefs.  The rituals Sergeant Howie witnesses don’t always make sense (and when they do, their significance is repulsive to him), but they tap into a deep, buried vein of myth.  The viewer himself undergoes a dread confrontation with Old Gods who are at the same time familiar and terrifyingly strange.

Original trailer for The Wicker Man

COMMENTS: CONFESSION: The version reviewed here–horrors!–is the 88 minute theatrical Continue reading 21. THE WICKER MAN (1973)

1. DON’T LOOK NOW (1973)

AKA A Venezia… un dicembre rosso shocking
Recommended

DIRECTED BYNicolas Roeg

FEATURINGDonald Sutherland, Julie Christie

PLOT: John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) lose their daughter in a freak drowning accident. Life goes on, however, and they travel to Venice as planned, where John is directing the restoration of a Gothic cathedral. While there, they meet a blind psychic woman who tells them she can see their daughter, and John begins to catch glimpses out of the corner of his eye of a red-hooded figure that looks suspiciously like his drowned daughter.

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BACKGROUND:

  • This was director Nicolas Roeg’s third film, after Performance (1970) and Walkabout (1971). The movie was adapted from a short story by the British novelist Daphne du Maurier, whose works also inspired Rebecca and The Birds.
  • The love scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland was so graphic for the time that (unverified) rumors persisted that they had actually had intercourse on the set.  Roeg has since dismissed the rumors.
  • Some of the style of the film may have been influenced by Italian giallos of the period, though this connection has been exaggerated simply because of the Venetian setting.
  • Don’t Look Now is #8 on the British Film Institute’s list of the all-time great British films.

INDELIBLE IMAGE : The color red. (More would constitute a spoiler).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDDon’t Look Now is subtly unnerving—perhaps toos ubtly—throughout. But the last 20 minutes are a truly unsettling, nightmarish experience, capped by a shocking, largely unexplained resolution that leaves it to the viewer to solve the film’s mystery. By the end, the city of Venice has turned into a strangely deserted, Gothic labyrinth that may haunt your nightmares.


Trailer for Don’t Look Now narrated by John Landis

COMMENTS: Near the opening of Don’t Look Now is a fast-moving montage in which key Continue reading 1. DON’T LOOK NOW (1973)