Tag Archives: Argentinian

CAPSULE: LAVA (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Ayar Blasco

FEATURING: Voices of Sofía Gala Castiglione; (English dub)

PLOT: The world is invaded by mysterious beings whose arsenal includes broadcast hypnotism and giant cats; a tattoo artist and her friends try to survive.

Still from Lava (2019)

COMMENTS: There’s a threat to mankind, and it goes well beyond the mysterious bus-sized cats, the paralysis-inducing video broadcasts, and the ever-increasing horde of giant Wicked Witches patrolling the streets. Yessir, the real threat is the rise of the “Lachrymal Culture”.

For a movie as silly as Lava, the nigh-archaic term “lachrymose” crops up a lot. However, it’s what Débora and her friends must fight against. We are told that the tattoo artists are the chosen ones, and they will be saved; we are told that “fanzines” are the only way to combat the menace; we are told that the cats can be thwarted with a K4 automatic rifle—or, as with regularly-sized cats, spritzed water will do. We are told a lot of things as this gang of Argentine misfits wanders around. Further topics of discussion include: mythology (particularly Norse), fluid identity, and layered conspiracies.

With something this breezy and laid-back (and adequately amusing), it’s tough to be too critical. It’s also tough to find much to write about when the “Plot” description above hits just about all the major points. Between that and the screen-capture provided, you’ll probably know if Lava is right for you. The movie’s barely over an hour long, and it feels like a web-toon series pasted together (the animation style strongly suggests it, with cuts to black every five-to-eight minutes reinforcing the sentiment). I haven’t watched it in the original (Argentine) Spanish, but the dub worked well enough—perhaps even adding some amusing incongruency, what with Garofalo and others performing in their American tones while referring to Spanish-language signs and newspapers.

On a personal note, as an advocate of interpersonal communication in person, I approved of Lava‘s general “anti-smartphone” attitude. And, naturally, the giant cats were darn cute.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this isn’t for everybody. In fact, I’d venture to say it’s for a narrow range of film buffs who grew up in the 90s, have a certain simpatico for sci-fi and fantasy, don’t mind a little romance, and prefer their movies to be as completely whacko as they possibly can be – the less mainstream, the better… don’t say I didn’t warn you about the weird part.”–Carlos de Villalvilla, Cinema 365 (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE CURIOUS DR. HUMPP (1969)

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DIRECTED BY: Emilio Vieyra

FEATURING: Ricardo Bauleo, Aldo Barbero, Gloria Prat, Susana Beltrán

PLOT: A mad scientist uses his monster army to drug and kidnap horny hippies, whom he arouses so he can drain a fluid from them.

Still from The Curious Dr. Humpp (1969)

COMMENTS: At bottom, The Curious Dr. Humpp is a formulaic 1950s-style mad scientist flick enlivened by a couple of bizarre touches. Most obviously, there is a lot of simulated sex. The threadbare plot involves Humpp sending his masked “monsters” to kidnap libidinous youngsters and feed them aphrodisiacs so that he can extract a mystery substance from them when they are sexually aroused, which he uses in the typical mad scientist quest for immortality, or something. This scenario leads to perverse permutations of the typically shoddy mad scientist dialogue (“I must position this positive electrode against the nerves of the libido. If this experiment succeeds, I’ll not only be able to restrain lust, but also turn humans into veritable screwing machines!”) These elements mix together to create a movie that you might call “curious.”

The original Argentinian cut of the film (La venganza del sexo) ran only about 70 minutes, so the American producers added an additional 15 minutes of softcore writhing (along with the extra “p” in Dr. Humpp’s name) before releasing this monstrosity to grindhouses. Some of the transitions between new and old footage are abrupt, with the soundtrack not following the visuals. Scenes of a perpetually masturbating blonde, for example, are clearly spliced in with re-used reaction shots of Dr. Humpp and his buxom nurse assistant to create new scenes. The new prisoners’ cells in Humpp’s manor look exactly the same as the rooms from which they were initially abducted.

Despite its South American origins, the enterprise has an early Eurosleaze vibe. The cinematography is far superior to the script; the camerawork is crisp, utilizing interesting angles. One sex scene, for example, is shot with a bubbling beaker in the foreground tastefully blocking colliding genitals from view. The discordant sci-fi soundtrack, with its theremins, jazzy vibraphone interludes, and the sounds of bubbling laboratory liquids used as a percussive element, is also above the otherwise low baseline the film sets. And there are a few minor bits of weird genius, like the monster serenade pictured above, and the under-explained talking brain in the jar (which may have inspired the similar character in Blood Diner).

I’m pretty sure that, if I’d first seen this in my twenties, I would have thought it one of the strangest curiosities in existence; so, if you’re a dedicated fan (or Humpper, as dedicated fans of this movie have never been called), I can understand. But I’ve been spoiled by decades of watching movies, and at this point Humpp no longer appears so singular. But the movie does lie squarely within the weird zone, and, if you have a high tolerance for long stretches of simulated black-and-white humpping, it’s unique enough to recommend to the curious.

2021’s Something Weird/AGFA Blu-ray reissue includes the original La venganza del sexo cut for the first time (you can even watch it with subtitles!) There’s also a commentary track from genre maven , trailers, and the campy sleaze short “Tomb It May Concern” (Something Weird’s Humpp DVD featured three bonus shorts—“Rasputin and the Princess,” “The Girl and the Skeleton,” and “My Teenage Fallout Queen”—so this is actually a rare Blu-ray downgrade).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Chock full of bumping and grinding in both lesbian and straight sex varieties, The Curious Dr. Humpp might not make a whole lot of sense but it doesn’t matter, it’s seriously weird enough to work.”–Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop! (Blu-ray)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE AERIAL (2007)

La antena

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DIRECTED BY: Esteban Sapir

FEATURING: Rafael Ferro, Sol Moreno, Alejandro Urdapilleta, Jonathan Sandor, Julieta Cardinali

PLOT: Mr. TV’s grip on the city is nearly complete, since he controls the only citizen known to be able to speak; however, not only does he want to control the people’s only voice, he wants to rob them of their words as well.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: A scattered analogy is the easiest way to argue this: The Aerial is Guy Maddin directs Alex ProyasDark City with a comic-book noir-Expressionist flair in a silent city whose populace communicates in colliding sub-, super-, and fore-titles.

COMMENTS: I generally don’t like my sociopolitical allegories to slap me so hard across the face, but The Aerial can feel free to slap me all it wants to. As you might infer from that mental image, Esteban Sapir’s movie is incredibly heavy-handed. It drops symbols like hot rocks (rocks so hot that, at one point, there’s a blistering contrast between some broadcasting baddies and their swastika-shaped device and the broadcasting goodies with their Star of David-shaped device). It’s overt in its rhetoric: “They have taken our voices, but we still have our words.” And even if the evil “Dr. Y” had a bigger mouth-enlarger-screen attached to him, it couldn’t have screamed “NAZI SCIENTIST!” any louder. But at this point I am hopeful that you’re wondering, “Just what is going on?”

What’s going on: Mr. TV lords over a voiceless city. The only person who can speak—“The Voice”—is controlled by Mr. TV and his ubiquitous media concern (TV billboards cover the metropolis, and the populace is fed with “TV Food”). The protagonist (credited only as “The Inventor”) loses his job with the TV monopoly after losing another balloon-man advertising sign (which is just what it sounds like). When a parcel containing “eyes” is delivered to the wrong address (and is conveniently received by the Inventor’s daughter), we learn that The Voice’s eyeless son can also speak. Meanwhile, Mr. TV conspires with crazy, creepy scientist Dr. Y to use The Voice to extract everyone’s words.

By now you probably see why I am feeling forgiving. Plus, the movie has a constant visual *pop*. Going into it, I wondered at the “very little dialogue” remark in its description. That is a bald-faced lie. There’s plenty of dialogue, and it is All Over The Screen. Not being a Spanish-speaker, I read the subtitles, but these were subtitles for everywhere-titles. They moved like hands on a watch, they were completed with “o”s from a smoke ring, and they were hidden behind fingers before a reveal. This town, though voiceless, is full of communication: the citizens read these words that are “spoken”. Even the blind boy “reads lips” by feeling the text. This gimmick was astounding to behold, and marvelously executed.

The rest of the movie’s aesthetic is just as lively, feeling at times like something from Dziga Vertov after he slammed back a samovar of strong tea. The visual mash-up (piano hands playing a typewriter while a ballerina in a snow globe desperately maneuvers what looked like a DDR challenge, for example) is consistent throughout, and although patently artificial, feels natural. Nothing looks cheap, and the film is helped in no small part by the actors as they deftly walk the perilous tightrope of Expressionism and film noir styles. I still feel The Aerial‘s energy, and so must stop myself. Suffice it to say, I wish more moralistic beatings were this pleasurable to suffer through.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It has a deeply weird story that appears to have a number of interpretations, or variations on a theme: the iniquities of media mind-control… Try as I might, I couldn’t make friends with La Antena, despite its distinctiveness and self-possession. There was something whimsical and indulgent about it, and its convoluted, flimsy narrative – oddly forgettable – seemed to have no traction.”–Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: TERROR 5 (2016)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Sebastian Rotstein, Federico Rotstein

FEATURING: Walter Cornás, Lu Grasso, Gastón Cocchiarale, Arias Alban

PLOT: An anthology of horror stories in an Argentinian town told over a single night, involving revenge, zombie-like creatures, and snuff films.

Still from Terror 5 (2016)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: What strangeness is to be found here can mostly be credited to shoddy construction.

COMMENTS: If you’re looking for something nice to say about Terror 5, then the camerawork isn’t bad. There’s a nice shot of a blue neon cross, whose glow becomes reflected in the luminous eyes of the “zombies” who spontaneously appear when the local mayor is cleared of corruption in a construction tragedy. And there’s nothing wrong with the acting; the players do the best they can to inject some life into the dull scenarios.

But the script! Ay! It all plays out in one Argentinian town in a single night, and the five plot strands—each of which is supposedly inspired by an urban legend—connect, somewhat. But none of them are well thought out or interesting in themselves. Nor is the overall architecture sound. While the movie cuts between four of the stories, the worst, a tale of students who take revenge on their teachers at night, plays out in its entirety right up front. Since there isn’t much to it—the characters all buy into the absurd conceit with little resistance, with no explanation of why the teachers don’t fight back and no tension or internal conflict to be found in the new student seduced into the cabal—it lowers expectations for the rest of the tales. One of the remaining plotlines is basically an extended sex scene with a senselessly brutal finale. Another involves two men in their cars, waiting patiently for a plot that never arrives; it’s largely a conversation over walkie-talkies, with another grisly out-of-nowhere ending. It makes almost no sense at all. (At one point one of the men says “I’m super confused,” and that’s before his pal starts talking about “the shower game” and parallel universes.) The introductory and climactic story involves the aforementioned non-zombies and makes a weak stab at a generic satire about political corruption. That leaves one episode of some interest: a booze-and-pot costume party at which a jerk dressed in KISS makeup dares the assembly to watch a snuff film and bullies a heavyset kid until he snaps. Due to some reasonably convincing acting from the greasepainted lout and his victim, it’s the best segment, but it’s still a yawner.

Each of the stories are ridiculous and poorly motivated, but they aren’t executed in a dreamlike or absurd fashion that might engage our interest. Instead, they’re played straight, as if they were really horror shorts. Although there is a mildly surreal aesthetic at work here in the unreal scenarios, what weirdness results is largely by accident rather than design.

The idea of making a hypertext horror is not a bad one, and the filmmakers don’t do anything especially obnoxious, but Terror 5 just plain fails on a storytelling level. With ruthless cutting, they might have salvaged a (still relatively lame) 30 minute short from this material. For sleaze film fans, it offers a smidgen of sex and nudity and a modicum of violence and gore. There’s very little terror, though, and even less sense.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Terror 5 is a movie that will turn viewers on and probably trip them out once they realize the almost certainly ominous object of their salacious contemplations…”–Misty Wallace, Cryptic Rock (DVD)

CAPSULE: LUCIFERINA (2018)

DIRECTED BY: Gonzalo Calzada

FEATURING: Sofía Del Tuffo, Pedro Merlo, Malena Sánchez

PLOT: When Natalia is informed of her mother’s dramatic death, she abandons her life at a convent to help her sister at home, and joins her sister and a group of her psychology class buddies in visiting an out-of-town shaman for some soul-cleansing, where things get darkly religious.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The culminating “sexorcism” aside, Luciferina is as by-the-numbers as a young-people-make-bad-decisions-with-theological-overtones horror movie could be. It was only halfway through, during an intense birthing/exorcism set-piece, that I was even reminded that there was something “bigger” going on than a gaggle of college kids getting high on an ancient weed.

COMMENTS: I will make no secret of the apprehension I felt before watching this movie. It had been kicking around 366’s internal review wish-list for about three weeks before I finally stepped forward to get it out of the way, and then it lingered in my DVD player for another week and a half before I finally dove into this 1-hour, 53-minute, 4.5-IMDB rated slice of feminist-Catholo-pagan horror. The good news is that it is actually an okay movie. The less-good news is that it never really rises above that level.

Natalia happily busies herself as a novice in an Argentinian convent that doubles as an outreach/care clinic for young drug (?) offenders. Her little world of religion and routine is scotched when the mother superior informs Natalia that her mother has died in some not-terribly-well-explained accident. Home she goes to find her father somewhat vegetative in the attic and her sister hooking up with one of those inexplicably angry young men that always seem to get the pretty girls. But there is some bonding, some bugs, and a party during which a trip to a shaman is discussed. Off they go into the outskirts of the nearby jungle and knock back some stuff that… makes the whole thing the Catholo-pagan-horror movie that it is.

Like Baskin and Session 9 before it, Luciferina makes the unfortunate mistake of thinking it’s a horror movie when actually it should have been a melodrama. I liked the college party people, other than the angry young man (and even his back-story, were it ever to be revealed, could have interested me). Instead, we get some hyper-religious imagery of various flavors, young people getting killed off in unpleasant ways, and some CGI fetus oddness bookending the movie. (That perhaps merits some clarification: from what I was able to decipher from the movie, the credits,1 and some research, the opening fetus is Natalia, a child of Satan, and the closing fetus sets up the sequel[?], and may also be a child of Satan, as conceived, perhaps, with his own child. I know, I know, but the Lord of Darkness is unlikely bound by human socio-sexual norms.)

And all this adds up to what? Like I said, this really should have been a story about an abused young woman (Natalia’s sister) as she tries to work through her issues (and hopefully ditch her boyfriend) in the company of her charismatic psych-student buddies. Instead, we have Luciferina, a title that hits one over the head with its pretensions. The horror doesn’t work (though thankfully the jump scares are few and far between), the religious angle is muddled at best (Natalia’s ability to see a “glow” around people – or not – seems to accomplish little), and the less said about the possessed boy named Abel, the better. It was competent. It was well acted. It was well researched. It was also a waste of time and talent.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Gonzalo Calzada’s vividly atmospheric film is itself a space in which reality and dreams overlap, in which formal narrative structures break down as our heroine strives to gain control of her identity and destiny…. The delirious style of the film lends itself to high drama.” –Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film

CAPSULE: ZAMA (2017)

DIRECTED BY: Lucrecia Martel

FEATURING: Daniel Giménez Cacho

PLOT: A Spanish magistrate at an Amazonian outpost in Argentina longs for a transfer so he can return to his family.

Still from Zama (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s subtly strange, but we prefer much more strangeness and less subtlety.

COMMENTS: Form follows theme in Zama, a movie about a man waiting for a transfer that never comes, in which the viewer waits for a reason to keep watching that never arrives. If one is looking for things to praise, the usual arthouse accoutrements easy enough to point out: the wild Amazonian locations, the widescreen cinematography that captures it, and Daniel Giménez Cacho’s performance as the weary, increasingly resigned magistrate. After that, I fear, you’re pretty much on your own.

Zama has many plot oddments but next to no plot. It may too effectively capture the feeling of being trapped in a stifling, dull job while wishing you were somewhere else. It’s a series of mostly middling anecdotes with little connection, vague developments that often mystify without involving. A young boy declares our hero Zama is “a god who was born old and can’t die.” Zama secretly courts a fellow official’s wife. Anachronistic Hawaiian exotica plays (admittedly, this sounds pretty cool). A black messenger repeatedly shows up with instructions for Zama; he doesn’t wear pants. Zama gets into a fight with a Spanish emissary for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. The governor promises to write a letter requesting a transfer for the magistrate, but never gets around to it. A llama wanders onto the set and the actors ignore it and continue the scene. (This shot impressed many critics, maybe because they were eager to praise the film but couldn’t find much else going on to talk about.) We learn that Zama has a bastard son. The colonists play dice; a geode is offered to cover a bet, but Zama insists it’s worthless. Zama hears a minor character’s thoughts. Zama catches a fever and moves to a hovel. He betrays a friend, hoping to get a letter of recommendation. Things pick up a little at the very end when he grows a beard and joins an expedition to hunt down the outlaw Vicuña, whom he has spent the movie insisting is dead. Then Zama dies. I don’t know what to make of these events, but I’m not inspired to make the effort.

While other critics raved about Zama‘s anti-colonialist ethos and poetic aesthetic, I side with general audiences in thinking that this one is—to put it bluntly—boring. It would benefit from cutting thirty minutes off of its meandering front end. Perhaps the problem is that it’s too faithful an adaptation of its 1956 source novel—Zama‘s meditative pace seems like it would read better on the page than it plays onscreen.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a patient, delicately strange film chronicling an increasingly impatient man and a destiny beyond his control.”–Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune (contemporaneous)