Monday, August 29, 2016

The Case of the Bloody Iris (1972) - Part 2 of 3

This is Part 2 of our discussion of The Case of the Bloody Iris (1972). Part 1 is here. We have witnessed two murders and been introduced to seven suspects. The latest murder was the drowning of the model Mizar in the bathtub. Who will be next?

Mizar’s body is found dead in the bathtub of her apartment. The team investigating the murder scene includes the police commissioner himself, who is far more interested in finding a Jamaican air mail stamp on a letter than in finding evidence. He sees a familiar face poking around the apartment—the elderly woman next door. “Didn’t we see you just yesterday about a murder?” he asks her before he steals another envelope to get the stamp.

Meanwhile, we learn that Andrea the architect has arranged to get Mizar’s apartment for Jennifer and her ditzy friend Marilyn. They’re a little disturbed that their new apartment was a murder scene the previous day, but it’s better than their current apartment, and Andrea will be their first houseguest.

The police commissioner visits Mizar’s nightclub, giving us a look at the beautiful set in the daylight.

 “I never had anything immoral in here,” the club owner says. “I run a clean show.” The commissioner doesn’t buy it: “You’ve got a record as long as both my arms and legs together.” After roughing up the club owner, the commissioner gets the names on his client list.

Jennifer and Marilyn move into their new apartment. Andrea is visiting, and the film masterfully throws our suspicion on the handsome architect. He makes a point of saying this is the first time he’s been in the building, but he knows that Mizar’s body was found in the bathroom—because of the pictures in the newspapers. When Jennifer cuts her finger opening a can, Andrea nearly faints at the sight of blood—he couldn’t possibly be a murderer. When Jennifer hears violin music, Andrea says it must be the retired university professor who lives next door—he knows this because as the building’s architect his office gets constant complaints about all the violin-playing from the 20th floor. After Marilyn plays a tasteless joke by jumping out of the bathtub, Andrea punches her in the jaw. “Murder isn’t a joke for heaven’s sake, you idiot!” Are his excuses and his instability hiding the psyche of a killer?

Later, Jennifer and Marilyn are introduced to another resident of their floor: Sheila, the daughter of the elderly violin-playing professor. Perhaps she is the murderer. After all, she wears a big yellow hat that looks like it might be made of rubber. Sheila looks like someone who would want her hat to match her gloves. Coincidence?

The commissioner confronts Andrea. He doesn’t blame Andrea for being attracted to Mizar, even though Andrea has told the commissioner that he never met her. The commissioner reveals this to be another one of Andrea’s lies; he has the receipt for the dinner Andrea and Mizar shared. “Every man wants a black girl,” the commissioner says. “Sin can be as black as you, and your color has corrupted me.” (Although it sounds like one, this line is unfortunately not the name of another giallo movie.) So the commissioner has now jumped onto our list of suspects.

The commissioner then recaps why Andrea should be worried: “The body of a girl is found in an elevator, and the girl who found the corpse is drowned in the same apartment house, and by a coincidence that seems to me pretty phony, the last person to see that poor girl alive is the architect who so very conveniently has all the plans to the apartment house building where the murders have been taking place!”

Andrea responds with a quiet, “Is that all?”

The commissioner orders his assistant Redi to tail Andrea.

And what about Adam? Jennifer finds a crushed Iris on the sidewalk. When she returns to her apartment, Adam confronts her and nearly rapes her.

The commissioner orders his goofy goofy assistant Renzi to tail Andrea. Redi checks in with the commissioner constantly, describing what they ordered in a restaurant and where they stopped when they walked through the park.


It is unfortunate the police are not following Jennifer, because when she arrives home she is attached by the yellow-gloved killer. He grabs her while she is taking off her shirt, a precursor to the scene in Tenebre's t-shirt murder 10 years later in 1982.

The killer assaults her but she escapes to the apartment next door, where Sheila and her father the professor live. Sheila is clearly attracted to Jennifer, and she convinces Jennifer to return to the apartment to investigate the attack. They find the titular bloody iris on the floor....

...along with a bloody handprint on the closet door. When they open the closet, Adam's body falls out, a knife protruding from his stomach.

This horrific discovery gives the police commissioner another chance to recap the plot: "Your husband was a sadist. He beat you. To have any satisfaction with a man like that, a woman would have to be a masochist, and the fact of the matter is you're not at all like that. Your husband had a mania for group sex which revolted you. He used to poke juice into his brain to cure his headaches and you didn't like that either. He even tried raping you. Hah. From what I can tell, there are plenty of good reasons here for a person to murder an individual like him." But Jennifer has an argument that's impossible to refute. Would she have ripped her own clothes off, killed a man, and left him in the closet? No, the commissioner says. "That theory doesn't hold water. Nobody suspects you." Then he tells Jennifer he wants her to continue living in the apartment as bait for the killer. Of course, the police will keep her under surveillance.

This sounds like a professional plan that will no doubt quickly catch the killer.

What happens next? We'll have to wait for Part 3. So far, we have witnessed the result of a third murder and the addition of a few more suspects. Will there be more murders? The answer is yes [spoiler]. Will we discover the identity of the killer? The answer is yes again [spoiler]. Stay tuned for Part 3.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Case of the Bloody Iris (1972) - Part 1 of 3

The masterpiece we’re going to consider next is the Italian thriller with the English title The Case of the Bloody Iris, from 1972. In your backward universe, this film would be called a giallo, which means yellow in Italian. The name giallo is ridiculous. The reasons for it are shrouded in history. (Please don’t write to tell me about yellow book jackets. That makes no sense. The reasons are shrouded in history, I tell you.) In my Universe-Prime, these films are called jello films because the color and sometimes the consistency of the blood on display are reminiscent of a red gelatin dessert. A much more sensible name for the genre.

This film’s original Italian title is Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer? (What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood on Jennifer’s Body?), which puts the film in the company of the surprisingly few jello--that is, giallo--titles that are also questions, along with What Have You Done to Solange? (1972), What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974), and Who Saw Her Die? (1972). This is an odd case where the original title could be considered more literal than the English title, though the English title has the advantage of ambiguity: Does “iris” refer to a flower, or a part of a camera, or a part of the human eye? Answer: It refers to a flower [spoiler].

The movie opens in a phone booth where a blonde woman named Lorna makes a call. “Come on up,” the female voice on the other end says. “I’m alone.” Accompanied by a very 1972 light rock score, she walks to an apartment tower, unaware she is being followed by a man in a car. This leads directly to the film’s first suspense set piece. Lorna gets on a packed elevator. There are closeups of the passengers’ faces watching the floor numbers light up. The elevator stops on floor 6, where several passengers get off. Suspense is only increased by the fact that the lights on the outside of the elevator indicate the elevator is between floors 3 and 4. One man in a dark overcoat gets on. We don’t see his face. In the elevator, we see him pull on a pair of yellow rubber dishwashing gloves. (Perhaps this is where the name "giallo" comes from in your universe...)

Soon the elevator is nearly empty. On lucky floor 13, the last passengers except for Lorna and the man in the dark coat get off. Before the door even closes, the man presses a cloth against Lorna’s mouth and pulls a scalpel from his pocket. What are his intentions?

Unfortunately for Lorna, his intentions are to stab her repeatedly with the scalpel, after which he quickly exits on floor 16, pushing the button for floor 20. Lorna’s body crumples to the floor.

On floor 20, just about every resident of the floor is loitering at the elevator lobby. There is the beautiful young black woman named Mizar wearing a fur coat, the elderly bespectacled gentleman, and the even more elderly, even more bespectacled woman.

The fateful elevator arrives. Lorna is sprawled on the floor with her blood draining away. The residents are confused. Who is this girl? They don’t think she lives in the building. It is very important to them to establish whether they know the girl or not.

Mizar has to hurry or she'll miss a rehearsal, so she heads off toward, presumably, the stairs. The elderly woman just walks back to her apartment. Soon the grumbles of disgruntled tenants rise from the stairway due to the elevator not moving. "A girl's been murdered here, if you must know," the elderly man calls down the stairway. Then he walks off as well.

In a lesser movie, one of the tenants might display more than mild annoyance at a brutal murder. But one of the strengths of this film is that it has places to go, things to do, characters to introduce. It doesn't have time to waste on emotion.

Case in point: We cut immediately to a photo shoot. (It can't be a 1970s giallo movie without a photo shoot.) A photo of Mizar, the young woman from the apartment building, is under consideration for a modeling job. The photographer--the actor plays him as a quirky Woody Allen impersonator, but more racist--describes her as "black, but not too black."

The photographer's gesticulations indicate he is probably enrolled in an Introductory Red Herrings course at the local technical institute. His client, on the other hand, acts a bit less suspiciously--he is an architect looking for print materials to sell the apartments in his newly constructed building. The architect--Andrea, played by George Hilton--watches the photo shoot and one of the models--Jennifer, played by Edwige Fenech--strikes his fancy.

But enough about them. The film has no more time for them. It cuts to a nightclub that features Mizar as the headliner. Her act is perhaps a little unconventional, though perhaps variations were common in Italy in the 1970s. She appears onstage in a bikini and the men in the audience volunteer to attempt to have their way with her while she fights back. It’s like those wrestling demonstrations where ordinary citizens are offered cash prizes to last three minutes in the ring with Gorgeous George, only with 100% more (attempted) rape.

Andrea happens to be in the audience during the performance. He talks to the bartender to try to make a date with Mizar.

But the film has no time to find out how this works out. It cuts to another photo shoot with the Woody Allen impersonator and Jennifer. Jennifer sees a man lurking at the back of the photo studio. She whispers his name, Adam. Shocked, she knocks over a light, prompting Woody Allen to say “She must be crazy! Crazy! Crazy!” But Adam isn’t really there. He was all in her mind. Maybe she is crazy crazy crazy.

As Jennifer leaves the studio, we find out that she is in fact not crazy crazy crazy. She did see Adam, and she sees him again. He signals his presence by dropping a white iris (the flower, not the part of the camera or the eye) on the sidewalk. It turns out that the iris is the symbol of the group that Jennifer used to belong to. A fuzzy flashback shows us this group was some kind of group sex cult, and Adam was not only their leader, he was also Jennifer’s husband. He wants her to return but she refuses: “I feel so ashamed. I need to belong to someone, and no one else.” 

Naturally, Adam is incensed that he can’t be the man in her life. Apparently having passed his Introductory Red Herrings course with flying colors and moved on to Advanced Red Herrings, Adam threatens Jennifer with a hypodermic needle. She brushes him aside and runs into the streets of Rome.

Having cast serious doubts about Jennifer’s taste in men, the film cuts back to Mizar as she returns to the apartment tower. She has a flashback about Lorna’s body in the elevator so she walks up to her apartment on floor 20. At the top, she is slightly annoyed by the climb but not winded in the least.

We are 20 minutes into the movie, so it’s time for a suspense sequence in Mizar’s apartment. The lights don’t work. Someone is stalking her inside the dark apartment. She strikes a match so she can see who is there, but he appears behind her and gives her a karate chop with his yellow dishwashing gloves. Though she fends off aggressive men for a living, she is no match for a karate chop.

We see a little more of the killer this time—he wears a black hat in addition to the black coat and yellow gloves, but his face is covered by a black cloth hood. He ties her up and moves her to the bathtub. She wakes up as he turns on the water. Soon the water rises over her head and she drowns in the bathtub.

With this second murder, we shall close Part 1 of our investigation into The Case of the Bloody Iris. Only 22 minutes have elapsed, but we have already witnessed two murders and been introduced to a number of potential killers: the elderly man, the elderly woman, the architect, the Woody Allen impersonator, the nightclub would-be rapist, the model with the poor taste in men, and her ex-husband. What could possibly happen next? Will there be more murders? The answer is yes [spoiler]. Will there be more red herrings? The answer is also yes [spoiler]. Farewell until next time!

Read Part 2 here.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Demon Wind (1990) - Part 2 of 2

The is Part 2 of Demon Wind. Part 1 is here. Last time, Cory and Elaine and five of their friends were trapped in Cory's grandmother's interdimensional farmhouse, fending off demons, ghost children, and a cold fog driven by a light breeze (the demon wind of the title). The twists and turns continue...

After the unexpected arrival of Willy and Reena, Dell and his girlfriend decide to set out on foot, undeterred by the threat of the cold fog, or even the light breeze. “I don’t think they're gonna make it,” says Jack when they're a few yards away. “I don’t think so either,” says Cory.

Needless to say, Dell and his girlfriend swiftly meet a foggy, demonic end. So our group quickly numbers five again.

Cory and Jack come up with a reasonable plan. What if the barn also contains an interdimensional portal? Why, it would have to be the center of the force that’s opposing them, and they can fight it in some unspecified manner. They make their way to the ruins of the barn door, and it is in fact a portal into an intact barn. There they find a skeleton propped against the wall, but instead of a human skull it’s adorned, charmingly, with the rather larger skull of a bull.

Cory knows it's an altar to the devil. Reena says it's really beautiful, which the skull perceives as an invitation. In a terrifying sequence of stop-motion animation that puts Ray Harryhausen and Willis O'Brien to shame, the skull's jaws open and a prehensile tongue drags the girl to her bloody death. Then the jaws slide shut.

With one more down, four remain.

They race back to the farmhouse, running from the demonized magicians and then the demonized Reena. At this point, the screenplay serves up another brilliant twist: Cory remembers the magic daggers he found in the farmhouse. He stabs Reena with one, turning her from a gleeful demon to a mopey human. Then electric blue light emerges from her eyes and she disappears.

Speaking of the screenplay, it continues to be two or three steps ahead of the audience. We are never given the details of Cory's master plan, so we are surprised when we see the results. If the plan was to lose more of his team to a cattle skull and run back and forth between the barn and the farmhouse, then the plan succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Likewise, if another part of the plan was to get the barn to spew dozens of demons, then this part was similarly successful.

Back in the farmhouse, Cory realizes that Willy was still in the barn. One more down -- Willy stumbles out the barn door as a demon. Only three of the friends remain.

But this film has still more surprises up its sleeve. As the demons advance on our friends barricaded in the farmhouse, more blue electricity crackles around the walls. Cory's grandmother's protective spell is still effective! Ingenious!

The friends are elated, while the audience realizes with amusement that this means everyone was protected in the farmhouse all along. Cory and his friends could have remained inside, playing gin rummy, enjoying exploding turkeys, and sitting by the warm fire made of family photographs.

That is, until the demons break the spell by taking a few steps closer to the farmhouse. The electricity vanishes and Cory and his friends are vulnerable once again. Honestly, the twists and turns of this cinematic jigsaw puzzle are enough to take one's breath away.

Inverting the usual narrative trope in which humans besiege a confined space full of well-armed zombies, Cory, Elaine, and Jack confine themselves in the back rooms of the farmhouse and try to defend themselves from the oncoming horde of demons. This strategy works fairly well. In one room, Cory and Elaine hold off the demons until Cory realizes he would like to do some light reading and his grandmother's diary would be just perfect. In another room, Jack receives only a harmless bite from one of the demons.

Cory sends Elaine to get Jack, but in a shocking twist, Jack has somehow become a demon, a transformation which appears to have improved his ears but not his eyesight or his taste in fashion eyewear.

Elaine stabs Jack with a magic dagger and he is enveloped by white light, transforming from his demon form back to a human, then to a young boy, then to a baby, and finally, of course, into a white dove that flies away.

With only Cory and Elaine remaining, the demons overrun the house. All seems lost, until a voice beckons the demons back outside. "Our time is at hand," the voice says. "I bring you greetings from the Shadow Father." It is the ghost of the devil worshipping settler mentioned in the diary, arriving just in time to rescue Cory and Elaine by turning the demons into orange lights.

This devil worshipper's plan has a downside, however: He wants to take Cory with him and end his family's lineage, which will allow the villain to take over the world. The devil worshipper uses the energy of the demons to transform into a slightly taller, slightly uglier demon.

Realizing the diary is the key, Cory and Elaine draw a chalk circle on the floor and recite one of his grandmother's protection spells. Knowingly, Cory takes some flash powder and ignites it with a candle as everything comes together and Cory transforms into his bald-headed superhero alter ego.

After the tall demon throws Cory around the room and plays some mind tricks on him, Cory reveals the truth: The demons are terrified of the humans because only humans feel emotion. "You hide behind your cheap magic tricks because you're dead," Cory explains before entreating Elaine to read the last spell from the diary. As she does so, the fireplace explodes, lightning the tall demon on fire and causing devils that look like Halloween decorations at a kindergarten party to burst from the demon's flesh.

The farmhouse explodes (again), this time without the aid of a snowglobe, but Cory and Elaine survive. Overcome by their love for one another, they squeeze each other's elbows briefly and check out the wreckage.

There is nothing left to do but drive back to the gas station, confront the counterperson, now a demon, and suck him or her into the diary, which now has magical powers itself. In the final shot of the film, as Cory and Elaine drive away, we see a demon girl who might or might not be the girl pointing the stick at the beginning. Everything has come full circle. The End.

As you have no doubt discerned from my description above, Demon Wind is a sophisticated rollercoaster ride full of twists and turns. It represents the peak of the cabin in the woods genre. It takes the basic situation of movies as disparate as The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), and Evil Dead (2013) but adds layers of complexity and emotion that work on many different levels. For example, themes of love versus familial responsibility are intertwined throughout the narrative. Cory and Elaine say they love each other at the most stressful times, but the most they can manage at the film's climax is a shoulder squeeze. On the other hand, Cory’s relationship with his grandmother, who died long before his birth, is more passionate: in the dream where he appears nude, his grandmother is the one confronting him; later in the farmhouse, his grandmother’s ghost beckons him into the bedroom. Is the film saying that familial love is more important than romantic love? Or simply that Cory prefers middle-aged blood-spattered women?

In the end, however, I think the movie resonates so well, and was such a massive commercial success in the more sophisticated Universe-Prime, because it is at heart a magic show. While some in your universe may deride the grand entrance of the magicians as silly, those in my universe were enchanted by the melding of magic and demonic cabin horror. Magic is a constant through the story, not just literal magic tricks performed onscreen as tricks but also in special effects like the friends walking through the interdimensional doorways, the demonic transformation scenes, and of course Jack’s final metamorphosis into a dove. Magic tricks impart a sense of wonder, and this film reminds us that it doesn’t matter if we know the trick ultimately not real.

Demon Wind strikes close to the essence of what is special about the movies, and it does so while also serving as a public service announcement about the dangers of snowglobes. What could be more timeless--and heartfelt--than that?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Demon Wind (1990) - Part 1 of 2

Our last movie, The Nightmare Never Ends (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) delved into philosophy and theology, but our next masterpiece is a gripping tale of unadulterated terror.

In my Universe-Prime, 1990's Demon Wind is an acknowledged classic of that most venerated of all the genres, the cabin in the woods film. Inexplicably, however, this film is not as loved in your universe. For example, Jigsaw wrote, “I think that it was a little drawn out and some of the acting is awful." On Amazon, Francis DeMarco wrote, “This movie, I think, could have been alot better, if there was more gore, and made a little more sense.The acting was typical b-rated I guess. About as corny as you're gonna get.” However, not all your universe’s reviewers are so clueless. A Customer (finally, a real name!), also on Amazon, wrote: “Evil Dead and Night of the Living Dead in one, but alot better, with a better storyline!” Alot better, indeed.

The story begins with a prologue set in a farmhouse in 1929. A burning skeleton hangs from a cross. A woman has barricaded herself in a room, sealing the door with a big wooden crucifix. Something outside is trying to get in. She rushes into the arms of her husband George, but particularly nasty digestive issues are transforming him into a demon.

The woman thrusts a snowglobe into George's face, hoping it will bring his human memories back, but he lunges to bite her throat. Given no choice, she drops the snowglobe and it shatters against the floor. We all know what happens when a snowglobe breaks: The farmhouse explodes in a fiery conflagration, killing everyone and everything.

Sixty years later, a young girl points a stick at a car driving down a dirt road. Her stick-pointing is masterful. Even though she is a half mile from the car, her stick points straight at it. And we are privileged to watch her do it for several minutes. Until she directs it to the ground, where earthworms crawl atop a cow's skull.

The car is driven by Cory, who along with his girlfriend Elaine is searching for his grandparents' farm. They reach a mysterious gas station/cafe sitting in a field.

The sight of the gas station causes Cory to remember a dream in which he stood naked in front of this same gas station while his blood-stained grandmother welcomed him home. Naturally, Cory and Elaine stop and ask the gas station attendant for directions to the Carter farm. In a clever subversion of expectations, the white-haired attendant actually refuses to direct them to their destination, reporting that there is no such place. It seems the old man is wary because of events that transpired years ago.

Cory and Elaine enter the cafe, where the ambiguously gendered counter person offers them beer, Coke, water, or goat's milk.

As Cory and Elaine enjoy their Cokes, four of their friends arrive at the cafe. The friends are charmingly quirky, unique characters. Dell is athletic and brash, and he greets all the women by kissing them on the lips. Jack is introspective, wears glasses, and searches for logical explanations to apparently supernatural phenomena. Their girlfriends are unremarkable.

In the cafe, the audience is treated to not one but two scenes expositing on local history.

First, Cory explains why he has asked his friends to accompany him into the wilderness. When his father was four days old and sleeping in a hospital incubator, his family disappeared from their farmhouse. After Cory was born, his father returned to the farmhouse and apparently never left it, until recently when Cory found his father in an apartment and spoke with him for a few minutes, after which his father slit his wrists.

Next, holding the group at gunpoint, the old gas station attendant explains that in the summer of 1929 there was a wind was so hot that the cattle and the crops were burned to a crisp. When the Carter family missed church one Sunday, the attendant went to find them, but found only black blood on the walls and mysterious figures laughing in the dark.

"Please, boy. Don't go up there," the attendant says. Cory responds, "I have to." So the attendant says, "I know. Well, you just follow that road till it ends."

After they step outside, we are introduced to (apparently) the last of Cory's friends: an opera-caped Kung fu magician and his sidekick with a Mr. Microphone. When the beer-swilling bully of the group, Dell, tosses a beer can at the magician, the magician drop-kicks the can, then sends it back into Dell's face with a roundhouse kick.

The requisite shenanigans out of the way, the eight friends drive on to the Carter farmhouse. The day is sunny and cheerful. As they pass a bird's nest, an egg cracks open, revealing the traditional good-luck sign of wriggling earthworms.

But things take a darker turn when they reach the farmhouse and find it is just a burned ruin, the result of the tragic snowglobe accident from the prologue. The skeleton from 1929 still hangs on the cross out front.

Though I believe the skeleton would normally be interpreted as another good omen, Cory and his friends are wary. They investigate the ruins of the farmhouse, where only the front wall and door are left standing. But when they open the door, it leads into the fully intact--though in need of some light housekeeping--farmhouse.

Exploring the farmhouse, they find writing on one wall in both English and Latin. Of course, they speak the Latin phrase aloud, which results in all manner of spontaneous fireplace ignition, trembling roasted turkeys, shaking furniture, and flying cutlery.

Sensibly trying to get as far away as possible, but hampered by car batteries at least as dead as the skeleton on the cross, the friends set out on foot. They are soon overtaken by a cold fog driven by a light breeze (the titular demon wind). The fog transports them back to the farmhouse ruins.  Oh, and a frightening encounter with ghost children turns one of the unremarkable girls into a blood-stained doll that spontaneously combusts. With one gone, seven friends remain.

Beset by the cold fog and a script that has given them no choice, they spend the night in the  farmhouse. They sit down and try to get some sleep.

During the night, while Cory is exploring the farmhouse, his grandmother's bloody ghost appears. Surprisingly, Cory is not naked this time, as he was in his earlier dream set in front of the gas station. Beckoned by the ghost into a bedroom, Cory finds her diary, most of which is written in Nordic runes. Cory reads a passage in English whose purpose is to summon a demon called Delos for protection. Shockingly, his grandmother was a witch. The diary also directs Cory and Elaine where to find two magical daggers. It further explains that the farm is on land that housed a settlement of devil worshippers.

Later, after a comfortable fire has been made in the fireplace with the family photos as kindling, the magician and his sidekick stand watch. They peer outside to see a topless woman calling their names. In another twist that subverts our expectations, the topless woman is not a friendly passerby but a demon in disguise! Our heroes see through the clever ruse, load their assorted firearms, and venture outside to hunt the demons.

Fortunately for the prestidigitators, their guns make short work of the demonized settlers, but when the ammunition runs out, the only choice is Kung fu. After a roundhouse kick decapitates one of the demons, the other demons prove too much for our heroes, and tragically the body count climbs to three. When morning comes, the five remaining friends view the bodies of the magician and his sidekick lying in the field.

But fear not! The narrative still has tricks up its sleeve even if the late magicians do not. With the number of friends dwindling, it's time for two new characters drive to the farmhouse. Willy and Reena arrive in their Suzuki Samurai, ready to help Cory unlock the mystery of the family farm. Now the human occupants of the farmhouse number seven again.

What will happen to our seven intrepid friends as they investigate the mysteries of the farmhouse? By the time the mysteries are solved, will seven friends remain? The answer is no [spoiler]. Come back next time for more adventures of Cory and his companions (read Part 2 here). Farewell for now!

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Nightmare Never Ends (1980) - Part 3 of 3

The is Part 3 of The Nightmare Never Ends. Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here. Last time in our discussion of The Nightmare Never Ends, we watched in horror as David Cassidy stripped off his boots and socks to reveal he has the legs (or at least one leg) of a goat. Where will the story take us next?

Finished with James Hansen's nephew's girlfriend, David Cassidy returns to the disco to toss the distraught woman out of a moving limousine, spurring James' nephew Jim to take matters into his own hands. Pistol drawn, Jim, who cuts a dashing figure in a blue silk bowling shirt with his name stenciled on the front, finds the Cassidy mansion, breaks and enters, and, following in the footsteps of the late Mr. Weiss, slips through the silk curtain into the master bedroom, which now resembles a foggy wasteland. Mr. Cassidy appears from the fog and transforms into the boar demon. Is this the end of Jim?

Yes. Yes, it is.

Lt. Sterne finally questions Mr. Cassidy over Jim's body in the city morgue, which now sports a cracked window. Sterne thinks the wealthy Mr. Cassidy believes the lieutenant to be a cockroach. No, says Mr. Cassidy, the epitome of cosmopolitan wit. He considers the lieutenant to be a piece of crap.

As might be expected, Papini then disguises himself as a priest in a confessional to persuade Claire, a devout Catholic, to visit a fortune teller whose performance suggests that he might or might not be blind.

Along with Weiss and Papini, the fortune teller is one of the movie's three wise men. He imparts this sophisticated philosophy to Claire: "Good and evil are one and the same, ma'am. It is the motive behind the act that makes it one or the other. Killing Hitler was good. Killing an innocent baby is evil." He also explains that, because Claire is deeply religious and believes Satan to be real, Satan can never touch her. He can only reach her husband because he doesn't believe. Surely this is a relief to those believers who consider Satan a threat; the movie argues persuasively that Satan cannot influence the devout.

Claire continues trying to get her husband to abandon his attack on God, but he has to rush to a TV station to rehearse an interview. He makes her promise not to go into their master bedroom. Ten seconds later, she climbs the stairs to the master bedroom but she is waylaid into a walk-in closet. Here, in a masterful presentation of cinematic ambiguity, she is either attacked telekinetically by flying suitcases and clothing or she tries to escape the locked closet by pulling all the clothes off the hangers.

James's "interview" turns out to be a monologue for a program called Newscene in which James broadcasts his revolutionary and shocking view that the Christian God doesn't exist, and if the Christian God doesn't exist, then those other gods from the miscellaneous other religions must not exist either.

I hardly need to describe the next part of the movie, which unfolds as it must: After James's televised speech, David Cassidy invites James to his mansion, which is now on an island and must be accessed by motorboat. Mr. Cassidy keeps James waiting. Night falls. James is chased through the house by two Indians with tomahawks.

Mr. Cassidy appears, dispatches the Indians, and entreats James to serve his master, Satan. James says he doesn't believe in Satan any more than he believes in God. This comes as a shock to Mr. Cassidy. He offers James the chance to recant his life's work, giving James the time it takes for a silk handkerchief to fall to the floor. James looks terrified that something supernatural will occur when the silk hits the ground, but not worried enough to recant (or even pretend to recant) his skeptical views. When the handkerchief hits the floor, spots of blood appear on James's face. Is this the end of the Nobel laureate?

Yes. Yes, it is.

Meanwhile, back at the disco, cinematic history is made as Cameron Mitchell dances with joyful abandon.

Finally, Papini has had enough. He impersonates a surgeon to confront Claire and elaborate on the point the (possibly) blind fortune teller was trying to make: Murder is not necessarily evil in itself. 

Claire must make a choice. Will she commit murder to save the world from David Cassidy and his undisclosed plans that seem to involve attending ballets and discos?

Leaving Claire to mull over what must be done, Papini decides to confront Mr. Cassidy at his island mansion/lighthouse, but poor Papini is killed by a supernatural wind that shoves him down the lighthouse stairs, across the beach, and into the ocean.

Is this the end of Papini?

Yes. Yes, it is.

Finally, Lt. Sterne has had enough. He has been scouring the walls of Mr. Weiss's apartment for months, poring over newsprint with photos of David Cassidy in military uniforms from various periods of history, many of them circled in red marker. At last, Lt. Sterne and Dieter put one and one together and decide they finally have enough evidence to make Mr. Cassidy pay for his centuries of murder and war-mongering.

The intrepid detectives race off to the mansion. Unfortunately for them, Mr. Cassidy is ready for them. While Sterne tries to get into the house, Dieter waits in the car. Mr. Cassidy appears and shines a flashlight at Dieter, which of course has the effect of locking the car doors and windows and filling the car with steam. Sterne rushes to help his partner, but just as he arrives and grabs the door handle, the car explodes.

Is this the end of the detectives?

I think you know the answer.

Finally, Claire has had enough. She has made her decision. She will kill David Cassidy because he is pure evil. She finds him in a park and runs over him with her car, which makes him giggle incessantly.

She and her nephew's girlfriend Ann stuff Mr. Cassidy into the trunk and drive him to the hospital where Claire works as a surgeon.

In the truly gripping climactic sequence, Claire and Ann perform unnecessary surgery on Mr. Cassidy. Claire and Ann wear scrubs but forego the surgical masks and hair restraints. Ann vomits at the sight of blood, then starts hacking at Mr. Cassidy's chest with surgical scissors. Claire manages to cut out Mr. Cassidy's heart, toss it into a microwave, and nuke it for 30 seconds. But when Claire turns back to the operating table, in a twist worthy of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, she realizes she has operated on Ann and not Mr. Cassidy after all.

In the final shot, Mr. Cassidy strides out of the hospital, proving yet again that The Nightmare Never Ends (or Cataclysm, or even, I suppose, Satan's Supper).

Directed by Tom McGowan, Greg Tallas, and Philip Marshak, this movie proves that three directors (not to mention three titles) can make a movie three times as brilliant as the average movie. The script by Philip Yordan (who won a 1954 Oscar in my universe and yours for writing the Western Broken Lance) provides the complex structure and the polished dialogue presenting both sides of the debate about good versus evil. The screenplay is not afraid to raise questions with no definitive answers: Can committing an evil act be the right thing to do? In a world where Satan freely walks the earth, is atheism doing the work of the devil? Was that fortune teller guy blind or not?

It is not surprising that many of the filmmakers dabbled in religious themes previously. In 1977, Tom McGowan directed Phillip Yordan’s script for Brigham, a biography of Mormon leader Brigham Young that featured Charles Richard Moll as Joseph Smith as well as Faith Clift, who plays Claire Hansen here. Still, The Nightmare Never Ends must be considered their theological masterwork.

Strong though the script and direction may be, the movie would slide into mediocrity  were it not for the flawless performances of the trinity of Moll, Clift, and Mitchell. Each displays a fascinating range, moving from stiff disinterest to hysterical screams, frequently in the same scene. Moll comes across as a classically trained thespian here, with his deep, controlled enunciation of Yordan's words. Clift is quieter and more direct in her delivery, displaying more range only when screaming upon waking from a nightmarish vision, fighting with clothing, or maniacally digging through the devil's internal organs. But it is perhaps Mitchell who gives the greatest performance as the detective so obsessed with helping his murdered friend Weiss that he moves into the deceased man's apartment and stares at the conspiracy wall nonstop for months, only to finally see what has been in front of him the whole time. With all that Lt. Sterne goes through, when Cameron Mitchell dances at the disco near the end of the film, our hearts dance with him.

And so we have come to the end of our consideration of 1980's finest film, The Nightmare Never Ends. I am certain that if you somehow failed to appreciate this film before, your eyes have been opened and you can now appreciate it for what it is: a masterpiece of interdimensional proportions. So says Doctor Pseudonymous! And remember, in the immortal words of the possibly blind fortune teller, "Killing an innocent baby is evil." Don't you forget it! Farewell!