Tag Archives: Mystery

#110 – Three Deaths for the Magi

(1973, It, 93 min original (61 min surviving)) Dir Andrea Tontorre. Cast Marco Bostoni, Angella Min, Franco Francini.

Super rare festive knife-fest from shooting star Andrea Tontorre, the Jean Vigo of the giallo with a mere two films to his name before he died, run over by his own car on the outskirts of Rome when he opened the driver’s door to be sick and fell out. Unlike Vigo his innovations went unheralded by the film mainstream and his features remain out of print – I’ve only seen Three Deaths for the Magi by virtue of attending a private party thrown by octogenarian über-producer Hans Belli, appropriately enough in the catacombs under Paris. The print was old and scratched and the loss of two of its six reels left more gaps in logic than is usual, even in giallo, but despite this Belli’s old eyes were brimming with tears by its end, so moved was he by the sight of so much youthful vigour lost. The basic plot is your basic giallo meat and potatoes – Marco Bostoni witnesses a murder and finds himself of the killers hit list. There are only three days until Christmas and killer’s M.O.? You guessed it – leaving gold, frankincense and myrrh at the crime scenes. Can Marco work out the connection and find the killer? The set prices that remain still stun, bursting with a colour and verve that should be equally credited to Tontorre, similarly doomed cinematographer M. Bris (seafood accident, 1977) and soundtrack artists Imp. Hopefully one day Tontorre’s slim oeuvre makes it out of an old man’s catacomb party and into the world at large…

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#103 – Dark Watch, The

(1996, GB/Ire, 105 min) Dir Fintan O’Driscoll. Cast Bob Hoskins, Stephen Rea, Bronagh Gallagher.

Belfast, 1974. Joe Wilson is the head of the Dark Watch in Northern Ireland – a secret regiment deployed into warzones on behalf of the British army to spread superstitious fear. He’s an older man now, a veteran of service against the Mau Mau in Nigeria and various unspecified deployments in South East Asia. Now he’s using the popularity and the scandal of the recent films like The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby and so on to leave evidence of black magic and witchcraft in the bombed out buildings of Belfast and Derry, to instil fear into the population and make them think twice about going out at night. Unfortunately for him this means that Wilson himself is out at night with three decades worth of ghosts in his head. Is this why he’s seeing the devil in the shadows of burned out buildings? Is that why he hears the sound of hooves following him down the empty streets? A fantastically atmospheric chiller with a cracking performance from Hoskins that has the advantage of being filmed on the streets of a Belfast still divided by conflict and marked out O’Driscoll, following the also excellent The Peat Cutters, as a director worth watching. While dismissed by many a critic at the time for the absurdness of it’s premise it has been found, in recent years, to have had a greater basis in fact that might have been supposed.

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#97 – Walking on a Moonbeam

(1968, US/Fr, 80 min) Dir Dean Wold.

After a proposed Little Nemo feature fell through Dean Wold had to span the Atlantic for his first feature, the funds for an idiosyncratic non-Disney animation such as this not immediately forthcoming in his home country. Whether this contributed to his decision for the film to be entirely dialogue free is open to debate – the man himself has given contradictory accounts in his rare interviews. Either way the decision works and no doubt contributed, along with the stream of consciousness plotting, to the film being embraced by the counter-culture on its release. Not that this isn’t a children’s film because it most certainly is. A unnamed boy is woken in the night by a beam of moonlight under his bedroom window’s blind. He pulls up the blind to investigate further and sees, to his surprise, a cat outside the window frolicking on the beam as though it were a solid road leading to the moon. He lifts the sash window and tentatively steps out to follow the scampering kitten and ends up travelling all the way to the moon where it appears all manner of creatures live – men made of melting cheese, hot air balloon heads floating through the skies and, in a fit of virtuoso animation, a ball room made of shimmering glass populated by similarly glistening glass dancers. As this description might suggest the influence of Nemo is writ large here. These adventures end with the boy back in his bed, tucked in for his parents to find him in the morning, both of them baffled by the appearance of a new pet cat in his room. A charming and inventively made film that brought the unknown Wold to the world’s attention.

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#82 – House of Midnight, The

(1987, It, 100 min) Dir Mario Andreotti. Cast Paula Pitt, Robert Englund, Romeo Romero.

One film in and already Mario Andreotti needed a comeback but thankfully for him The House of Midnight was it. Young Alison (then muse/now wife Pitt) is somehow convinced into moving into what has to be the shadiest piece of real estate in Rome by what must be the palest, creepiest agent in the biz. Maybe it was young blonde neighbour Al (Romero) and his habit of wandering shirtless into the hall that did it? We’ll never know. So she moves in and everything and everyone there is, as expected, super weird. But it’s okay – Al will protect her. But is he what he seems? Spoiler alert: no, he’s not. Mr Black Harkness on the top floor (a slippery, snakey Englund) wants her young body for something something devil satan and if it means murdering everyone she knows to the accompaniment of Iron Maiden then by gum that just what he’s going to do. The man’s got a bee in his bonnet! It’s not hard to see why this worked commercially for Andeotti – he pretty much stole the story from better and already proven films, he got his attractive female lead to take her clothes off as much as she could and he staged a half dozen inventive and gratuitous murder scenes that would have done Argento proud. Not a perfect film but one that’s definitely worth it’s weight in pure disgusting fun.

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#72 – Sadist, Der (Sadist, The)

(1978, WGer, 120 min) Dir Hans Berg. Cast Jean-Louis Trintignant, Jürgen Prochnow.

Named after the non-fiction book by psychiatrist Karl Berg (no relation to the director) about the life and crimes of notorious serial killer Peter Kürten who had previously been immortalised on the screen as the inspiration for the killer played by Peter Lorre in Fritz Lang’s M. The film begins as a two-hander between Kürten (Trintignant) and Berg (Prochnow) as the former details his life to that point. Trintignant is impeccable as Kürten, betraying no emotion on the surface, his excitement at recounting his terrible deeds manifest as nothing more than a dull glint in his eye. The only distraction to his performance is the imperfect dubbing which occasionally serves to flub the odd dramatic moment. The flashbacks are the model of restraint, with Kürten’s words painting the picture and not the camera which makes it all the more absurd that the film spent six months being banned in it’s home country before an outcry saw this decision overturned. This was the first film that showed the future promise of director Berg – he was previously known for two entires in the awful Dieter film series about a dictatorish child but would go on to have a distinguished career in the decade ahead.

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#71 – Hadley Close

(1966, GB, 100 min, b/w) Dir Eric Conway Bryce. Cast Dirk Bogarde, Denholm Elliott, Billie Whitelaw.

Based on the infamous real life case of the so-called ‘Bloody Blonde’, Hadley Close comes second only to 10 Rillington Place in my mind in it’s portrayal of humdrum post-war Britain and in their depictions of squalid murder – both films seem to exist in a sooty pall. The more unsettling thing about Hadley Close however is the fact that the case remains to this day unsolved – the one 1952 murder in an abandoned house in, yes, Hadley Close yielded no convictions, no plausible motives and no likely suspects. Dirk Bogarde in convincingly haunted as Detective Samuel Gately who headed the investigations and never, it is said, let it go. Denholm Elliott and Billie Whitelaw are the victim’s parents whose grief runs through the film like the writing in a stick of rock, their undying faith in Gately battering him down more and more as the years go on. A grimly solid depiction of the times and of the terrible effect of murder on a people.

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#70 – Dans le mur (In the Walls)

(1990, Fr, 129 min) Dir Roland Sacher. Cast Daniel Auteuil, Jean Rochefort, Emmanuelle Béart.

French thriller about famed neuroscientist Paul Mauchard (Auteuil) who has the unfortunate habit in his downtime of killing women and secreting their corpses in the space between the walls of his country house, all while his wife (Beart) and two children live there unknowing. Aging detective Fandeur (Rochefort), meanwhile, is trying to track down the missing Valerie Cassin who we have seen lured to Mauchard’s house and killed in the film’s extended opening. The two storylines play out side by side, converging and separating in nail-biting fashion as Fandeur picks up clues and finds the trail to his missing person, all the while not knowing that he’s on the trail of a serial killer. The whole thing is glacially paced and shot at the expected remove by Sacher, the camera coolly watching over the players without giving away a thing. This all means that when the expertly handled tension breaks out in the film’s latter half it will be an impossible watch for viewers without nerves of steel. An American remake has been mooted since the original was released but here’s hoping that if that comes to pass it’s not the slick, shallow interpretation that fans of the original have been dreading.

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#68 – Octember

(1992, Can, 90 min) Dir Ben Roy. Cast Bobby Rusk, E. Emmett Benn, Alison Shaker.

Young Alex finds himself trapped in the missing month of Octember, a twilight month that slipped between October and November many years ago and was never found again. Octember manifests itself as an empty world – the rest of its residents having gone straight to November – though he’s not the only one there. A host of lost souls are adrift with him in this phantom month, some there so long that they have become unhinged. His initial wanderings around his depopulated neighbourhood after waking in his empty house are eerie in the extreme with whole streets rendered very Marie Celeste, the evidence of people littering yards and kitchens and driveways but nobody is there. The perfect kind of kids movie – by virtue of its small-scale made for TV production it occupies the kinds of spaces familiar to children like the house and the street and so on which is perhaps why it’s left such an impression on those, like myself, who saw it at an impressionable age.

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#21 – Quattro gocce di sangue in una stanza buia (Four Drops of Blood in a Darkened Room)

(1971, It, 98 min) Dir Antonio Marretti. Cast Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, Jack Taylor.

In 1971 Edwige Fenech was in the middle of a hot giallo streak with Five Dolls for an August Moon and Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key just two genre classics she shot around the same time as this. Quattro Gocce, while not achieving the lasting reputation of the others, has plenty for the aficionado. Fenech is an eager student by day and dissolute boot model by night in go-go Rome when her life is turned upside down following the horrible murders, in the same night, of one of her student friends and one of her model friends. It’s obvious to her (but not to the feckless polizia) that someone is closing in on her but who could the killer be? Among the many red herring are Hilton’s photographer friend and Taylor’s sweaty-palmed peeping tom, both caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Of course the reveal makes no sense it’s at least in keeping with the randomness of the rest of the feature and it’s flashy visuals, peppy Morricone soundtrack and some stylish kills make this a fine addition to any Friday night’s viewing.

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#20 – Skull and Jones and the Return of the Scarlet Ghost

(1942, US, 83 min, b/w) Dir Irving Pichel. Cast Preston Foster, Susan Hayward, Rita Johnson, Joe E. Brown.

Two years from the Scarlet Ghost’s first appearance and for America the war is now in full swing. Joe E. Brown is shipping magnate Forster Blueford who hires our crime fighting hero and his disembodied pal to investigate the sabotage happening in the docks, sending his secretary Hayward along for the ride. Of course the Germans are responsible and at their head is the Ghost herself, who by this time has morphed into the blonde Rita Johnson and has been rebranded as the head witch of an occult wing of the Nazi party. She kidnaps Skull and hypnotises Jones into a hallucinating stupor and reprogrammes him with anti-American sentiment to act as their stooge. Of course he can’t follow through, stopping before he can strangle Blueford as bidden and rescuing Skull but getting the slip from the Scarlet Ghost, who makes off in a U-boat to plot another day. Great fun that belies it’s propaganda purposes with Preston Foster now wearing the role as comfortably as an old jumper, chatting away to his skull in a bag as though it were the most normal thing in the world.

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