Bae of Blood

Item under review: https://www.amazon.com/Bay-Blood- Blu-ray-Claudine-Auger/dp/B003Y3ZHUS/ref=tmm_mfc_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1465678637&sr=8-2

If you want to begin your journey into the world of Italian Exploitation cinema, consider Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood (aka Twitch of the Death Nerve, Carnage, Last House on the Left Part II, and so, so many other alternate titles) your ground zero. Famously constructed around “13 characters, 13 murders” Bay of Blood also set the template for all slasher films that followed its trendsetting run thru Drive-ins in the early ‘70’s. Viewed today, it is still a potent experience, with considerable levels of gore and bloodletting. The genesis of the project was Bava and his screenwriters dreaming up murder sequences, and then constructing a plot to connect these set pieces. While this seems standard for horror films now, for its time this approach was revolutionary.

With a murder occurring every 5-8 minutes, Bay of Blood did more than any other film to set the temp for the modern slasher film.

Concerning the quest for various groups of nefarious characters trying to gain the inheritance of a desirable waterfront property (the titular Bay), no sympathetic characters emerge. Like an insane game of checkers, one group bumps off another after another, characters are introduced in smash cuts while bumping off already established characters. The victims are perpetrators and the perpetrators are victims. The real, true, villain is greed and man’s inhumanity to man.

Mario Bava was a master of economy. When the script required a forest to run through, and the location was barren, Bava glued branches to some stands and ran them in front of the camera to replicate a real forest. To accomplish long tracking shots and dollies, he used a child’s toy wagon that he personally stood in (he also doubled as the film’s director of photography in a further penny pinching move). To create the coveted waterfront Villa the characters are vying for, Bava personally painted a glass matte of one.

There are two blu-rays readily available for Bay of Blood: a domestic release from Kino Lorber and an import release from international genre label Arrow Video. For the purpose of this review, the Arrow release is the one sampled. It contains two crucial supplements to enhance your viewing experience. The first is the slightly longer Italian language version of the film. All scenes containing dialogue were shot two ways: the first was meant for the international dubbed releases of the film, and the second version was shot for the native Italian language release. Bay of Blood plays a bit better in its native language, dialogue is better, character details are more nuanced, and the dialogue exchanges feel less stilted.

For fans of the film, it is a fascinating alternative to the more common dub release (think the difference between watching a Kung Fu film dubbed vs. subtitled). The second crucial supplement is a commentary track featuring the foremost Bava biographer, Tim Lucas (who also runs the essential Video Watchdog magazine). Lucas does an encyclopedic job in tracking all the creative contributors to Bay of Blood, and their careers before and after this film. Lucas also clearly delineates the underlying themes and clarifies some at times confusing plotting.

Bay of Blood also has one of the most nihilistic, never repeated, final shots in film history. Once you’ve made your way through this one, you will know if the world of Italian exploitation is for you or not. The dividing line is drawn here.

Written by Michael Felix

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“Is this movie in 3D?”

“No, but your face is!”

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The wages of ‘The Wages of Fear’

Item under review: Sorcerer Blu-Ray

Much like the titular truck, William Friedkin’s film Sorcerer was destined for doom. A high profile remake of the French classic The Wages of Fear, Friedkin’s film had the grand cosmic misfortune of opening a mere one month into Star Wars’ game changing blockbuster run. Theatergoers stayed away in droves and cinema owners pulled it from screens in favor of re-booking that space opera. Sorcerer was soon forgotten by critics and audiences alike and consigned to the dustbin of history.

Critical reviews of the time were harsh, it was seen as too cerebral, hard to follow, and a folly by some. Like Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie before it and Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate after it, Sorcerer was seen as an indictment of the “New Hollywood” system: it was too downbeat, had unlikeable characters, and a generally pessimistic worldview. Also, like the soon to come Apocalypse Now, it was characterized as a runaway production: a young, hotshot director taking his production far away from the studio’s oversight and deep into the jungle where it was subject to escalating costs and egos. Sorcerer was everything about the current Hollywood system that was on its way out and Star Wars was its obvious future.

After its brief theatrical run, Sorcerer was a film more talked about than seen. It had shoddy video releases on VHS and DVD at the respective dawn of each of those formats, and neither did justice to its lush cinematography and innovative Tangerine Dream score. A few years ago William Friedkin famously had to sue the two co-producing studios, Paramount and Universal, to map out who had home video rights to pave the way for its blu-ray release. That blu-ray release now seems to be teetering on the brink of being out of print, with copies now only available on the 3rd party/reseller circuit, and beginning to command high prices.

Despite these issues, Sorcerer has slowly collected a critical rehabilitation among those who seeked it out over the past four decades since its release. It has even been hailed as Friedkin’s lost classic, to be ranked up with The Exorcist and The French Connection as a pure distillation of his strengths and talents.

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Sorcerer’s greatest weaknesses are also its strengths. Critics of the time took issue with the film’s obtuse structure: the first 45 minutes of the film are a series of globally disparate back stories for the film’s protagonists, most of which are filmed in languages other than English. This structure was seen as alienating and off-putting at the time, with the foreign releases restructuring the film into a traditionally linear format and refashioning these scenes to be used as flashbacks peppered throughout the film. The fact that many of these foreign releases of Sorcerer also retitled it to Wages of Fear goes to show how much even the film’s own distributors reacted against Friedkin’s original vision. If Christopher Nolan used this same narrative structure today, he would be seen as daring. For Friedkin in the ‘70’s it was seen as a bridge too far.

After the grand failure of Sorcerer, Friedkin’s Hollywood career never quite recovered. No major studio entrusted him with the kinds of budgets and freedoms that he enjoyed with Sorcerer. That is not to say that his career was over, To Live and Die in LA proved that he could create work that was both critically and financially successful. Cruising proved that he could still move forward projects with dark and challenging subject matter. Like the successful truck in Sorcerer, Friedkin had to alter the course of his career and improvise to survive.

Written by Michael Felix

c507bdd2-78ff-4a92-bff1-0c6fa8e395bc“Is this movie in 3D?”

“No, but your face is!”

Follow me on twitter @cinefelix

The Nicer Guys: Where to go once you let Shane Black’s The Nice Guys into your life

If you are reading this post, intended as a supplement to our fearless leader’s glowing review of Shane Black’s The Nice Guys, I’m going to assume a couple things. First I am going to assume you are in the minority of cinemagoers who chose to watch The Nice Guys over seeing The Angry Birds movie or seeing Captain America: Civil War for a second time. And secondly I am assuming that seeing The Nice Guys has ignited in you a desire to see more shaggy dog detective stories and you need to know where to go next. Don’t worry, I’m here to help.

The most obvious answer on what to watch Shane Black’s other films, especially his directorial debut,
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a similar detective yarn, albeit in a more contemporary milieu than The Nice Guys. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is also credited with the recent cultural rehabilitation of Robert Downey Jr., so you have Iron Man to thank Shane Black for. RDJ repaid the favor to Shane Black by ensuring the Iron Man 3 directing gig went to him. As a writer Shane Black is responsible for a large chunk of your formative cinema experiences: Lethal Weapon, The Monster Club, Last Action Hero, and The Long Kiss Goodnight are all products of his pen.

After you’re done familiarizing yourself with the filmography of Shane Black you should catch up with The Nice Guys closest and most recent cinematic cousin, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice. Set in a similar ‘70’s time frame as The Nice Guys, Inherent Vice is another detective film, told in a dreamier, obtuse atmosphere than TNG. Both these films seem like natural double feature and one could amuse themselves imagining characters from one film crossing over into the other.

Now onto the real pay dirt: actual detective films from the ‘70’s. Your first stop should be a viewing of Robert Altman’s endlessly entertaining The Long Goodbye. A showcase for both the director and its lead actor, Elliot Gould, The Long Goodbye share a lot of the same DNA as TNG: a loose, freewheeling narrative, characters that are equal parts cliché and unexpected quirk, and a peek at the underbelly of the post Watergate era. Pay close attention to the music and camera movements for some of the great artistic dividends The Long Goodbye has to offer.

Finally, if The Long Goodbye has given you the bug for more Elliot Gould, you should check out Busting, which pairs Gould with Robert Blake as a pair of uncongenial vice cops seeking to make a big bust beyond the sordid pimps and prostitutes that are their day to day work.

I could go on and on from here, but this should start you off right. You are welcome.

Written by Michael Felix

c507bdd2-78ff-4a92-bff1-0c6fa8e395bc“Is this movie in 3D?”

“No, but your face is!”

Follow me on twitter @cinefelix