Category Archives: Film

“THE SKYJACKER’S TALE”— A Documentary

“The Skyjacker’s Tale”

A Documentary

Amos Lassen

In 1972, 16 people were shot on the grounds of the Fountain Valley Golf Club in St. Croix, part of the Virgin Island that was then and now an American “protectorate”. Eight died, and after a massive roundup of black militants, petty criminals, and whoever happened to be around, a self-styled revolutionary called Ishmael Muslim Ali was given multiple life sentences for the massacre.

He was born Ronald LaBeet to a local mother and a German father and he grew up poor and frustrated at the island’s color-based caste system. Technically he was an American citizen, and was drafted into the U.S. army, quickly shipped to Vietnam, and came back, like many others, radicalized by the experience. He got involved with the Black Panther movement and converted to Islam. Canadian filmmaker Jamie Kastner makes it clear that police used torture to get confessions from Ali and his codefendants and that the trial itself was a pure sham. The judge was a corporate hack appointed by Richard Nixon, and the lead lawyer, famed activist William Kunstler, just might have muddied the waters by over politicizing their defense.

Ali spent more than a dozen years in American prisons before returning to St. Croix on appeal. When that appeal was denied, he managed to smuggle a gun onboard the return flight and overpowered his guards and forced the American Airlines pilot to head for Cuba, where Kastner recently found him. Kastner does not seem to be interested in establishing Ali’s role in the first crime, although the victims of the hijacking (which happened without bloodshed) are less forgiving. Ali comes across as an unlikable character with no wisdom or insight. Here is a man who, on New Year’s Eve, 1984, hijacked a passenger flight en route to New York City from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Years earlier he been convicted for his part in a robbery that left eight people murdered, and while those facts are never in dispute, director Jamie Kastner manages to throw them aside.

The film’s early scenes focus on the two events most inextricably tied to Ali: the hijacking, in which he eventually forced the plane to land in Cuba, and the bloody event known as the Fountain Valley Massacre, which occurred in St. Croix in 1972. Kastner explores one and then the other, showing how the two crimes seem too different to have been committed by the same person. In order to take over the flight, Ali, as a prisoner, had to escape his handcuffs as well as outmaneuver several armed men. By contrast, the massacre was hard, fast, and violent, involving countless rounds unloaded rapidly at an upscale golf resort and for a small amount of money. It’s possible Ali took part in both crimes, but the mass shooting doesn’t seem to match his M.O. Also such a bloody deed also seems incongruous with a man who had served in the Vietnam War which haunted him. He subsequently rejected American ideals of democracy and embraced communism. The film makes a point that this was during the 1960s during a turbulent era in which legions of Americans went through similar forms of rebellion. In Ali’s case, he became awakened to the economic and racial inequalities in his homeland, and so he returned to St. Croix, where he supported himself through petty criminal activity while taking part in a movement for a free and independent Virgin Islands.

The first half of the film makes us question whether Ali could be a cold-blooded murderer while the second half explores how a possibly innocent man could be convicted for such a crime and punished with eight consecutive life sentences. Kastner’s theory is that the massacre hurt tourism to the islands, and so the U.S. government acted swiftly to punish Ali and several other co-defendants. Through interviews with various attorneys, law enforcement officials, and other parties who took part in the original arrest and trial, the film argues that the original proceedings amounted to a kangaroo court. Particularly, there’s the issue of whether torture was used by police to secure confessions, which the court, presided over by a flunky of the Nixon administration, treats in a manner that seems unlikely able to actual justice. Kastner gives equal time to persons on both sides of the case, yet the prosecution gradually seems less and less credible.

The film reframes the initial skyjacking as a desperate attempt to escape persecution, as opposed to a guilty man trying to avoid justice, and turns Ali into something of a hero. Kastner repeatedly uses dramatic recreations that allow for a visceral experience. During the staged version of the hijacking, there’s a moment in which the camera cuts to a series of worried reaction shots by the passengers after they learn their plane has been commandeered by none other than Ishmael Muslim Ali.

We can watch this film as an attempt to correct a possible miscarriage of justice, but it’s also a highly empathic tale of someone who made a desperate stab at freedom, only to be trapped by his own success. This is a documentary that is that filled with dramatic vibrancy and intrigue.

“HANS RICHTER: Everything Turns – Everything Revolves”— Redefining Art

“HANS RICHTER: Everything Turns – Everything Revolves”

Redefining Art

Amos Lassen

Hans Richter was a Dadaist, a radical provocateur, a surrealist painter, a pioneering filmmaker and a visionary educator but above all else, he was a major force in redefining art in the 20th Century. However, he remains largely unknown and often misunderstood and undervalued. He made great contributions to creating a new social art that forever changed the act of self-expression. This film explores just that through taking us on a journey through the century as we see Richter’s struggles to establish film as a unique art form.

Richter collaborated with his many friends (including Marcel Duchamp, Sergei Eisenstein, Tristan Tzara, Mies Van Der Rohe and Hans Arp) and he was part of the leading edge of the European Avant Garde. He established film as an art form in the 1920s with his experimental films “Rhythmus 21” and “Ghosts Before Breakfast”. With these, he liberated film from the theatrical conventions of script and actors. After being forced out of Europe by the Nazis in 1941, Richter escaped to the U.S. Here he became a prophet of modernism and was followed by young American artist/filmmakers, who would become the New American Cinema movement.

Now 25 years after his death, Hans Richter remains misunderstood and undervalued for his contributions to creating a new social art that forever changed the act of self-expression. With this film, Dave Davidson hopes to change that.

Those who disagreed with Richter claimed that he was nothing more than a witness to history or even a person who used his friends’ good names to get ahead. Here we see him as a visionary who was committed to creating communal art that held social significance.

As a young man, he was at a creative mind who dared to rebel against the European aristocracy during World War I. During the years between the wars, Richter collaborated with luminaries such as Sergei Eisenstein and Mies van der Rohe while making his own seminal experimental films. His radical political ideas and passion for the Avant Garde caused him to be exiled from Germany and labeled as a ‘degenerate artist’ by the Nazis.

In 1940, just as he was to be arrested by police in Switzerland, Richter escaped Europe and came to New York with little money and a limited command of English. He soon was able to get a teaching position at the newly formed Institute of Film Techniques at The City College of New York. For the next 17 years, Richter became an influential figure to generations of American filmmakers. He made them aware of documentary, experimental and European films unlike anything they had ever seen. He became an inspiration to filmmakers such as Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick who illustrate Richter’s lasting imprint. The film has captured Richter’s energy as a radical artist. He was at the epicenter of major art movements of the 20th Century and out of them, he strove to create a new social art.

The DVD contains the bonus shorts of “Rhythmus 21” (1921) and “Ghosts Before Breakfast” (1928).

“CENTRAL PARK: The People’s Place”— A Loving Portrait

“CENTRAL PARK: The People’s Place”

A Loving Portrait

Amos Lassen

Central Park is often referred to as New York’s collective backyard. It is the first truly public park and Martin L. Birnbaum paints a lovely tribute portrait to the green space among the cement towers that surround it. The film is “a biographyof a living place that continues to evolve as the city changes”. The documentary takes us to its creation as the first truly public park, its psychological and sociological significance, artistic design, and role as an urban oasis as the world becomes increasingly aware of the importance of green spaces.

We see nature’s seasonal changes with beautiful photography. Central Park is home to birdwatchers, sunbathers, children and their playtimes, musicians giving impromptu concerts and big events like Shakespeare in the Park and the New York City Marathon. It is safe to say that the name Central Park is a reflection of its centrality to the life of the city.

I remember my first trip to New York sometime back in the 1950s and my parents made sure that one of the places we went was to Central Park. It was important that we see the greenery in the city and not take it for granted as it is in New Orleans where I am originally from and where there are many green parks all year long. We see here Central Park’s democratic birth and diversity of people, activities, history, landscapes and values.  We also see the role Central Park plays in the lives of New Yorkers both as a communal backyard and as being of psycho-sociological importance as a green spot in an urban environment. We see and hear interviews with a cross-section of people who use the Park daily to those who are professionally connected to the park like Betsy Barlow Rogers, Art Historian and Founder, Central Park Conservancy; Morrison H. Heckscher, Lawrence A. Fleischman Chairman of the American Wing, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Francis Morrone, Historian/Writer; Edward Hallowell, MD Child & Adult Psychiatrist; and Douglas Blonsky, President & CEO, Central Park Conservancy. We also hear from the gardeners, the soil scientists and the volunteers.

With its 843 acres of green space, Central Park plays a unique role in the city and is a perfect place for picnics, strolling, dog-walking, outdoor concerts, Shakespeare under the stars, and a place for quiet contemplation, outdoor painting, and performing all kinds of music. Central Park has appeared in many famous movies and during the annual New York City Marathon, it represents the spirit of New York around the world. Many will be surprised to hear the unlikely story of Central Park’s creation and how it became the prototype for other parks in the U.S.

The idea for this film began years ago when Director Martin L. Birnbaum began photographing its seasons over the years thus creating a visual poem.  As he met other park lovers, the film grew into a 90-minute documentary with beautiful cinematography and original music. “Central Park: The People’s Place” looks art the collective and individual experiences of Central Park as it rejoices in the diversity and splendor of an American experiment in social democracy.

Douglas Blonsky, President & CEO, Central Park Conservancy, describes the evolving story of the park and the experiences it offers, “It is a series of these travels through the park, all these wonderful little destinations, that’s what we want to highlight.”

Interviews with: Morrison H. Heckscher, Lawrence A. Fleischman Chairman of the American Wing, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Francis Morrone, Historian/Writer; Edward Hallowell, MD Child & Adult Psychiatrist; and other experts, provide a range of perspectives on the social and historical sides of the park’s story.

 

“SCHOOL OF BABEL”— Fitting In

“School of Babel”

Fitting In

Amos Lassen

Julie Bertuccelli’s documentary “School of Babel” takes us to Paris, the city that has taken over as the center of migration from many countries around the world. The children of émigrés to France are placed in a special “reception class” where few speak the same language. They must learn French in order to be allowed to move on to regular school.

Bertuccelli has gathered children from 24 countries to talk about how it is to be a stranger among strangers. The film follows the kids for a year and we see them grow and change. At first, they communicate in rough, pidgin French but, as the year progresses, they become more fluent and articulate in the language as they prepare to move on in the French school system.

When we first meet the kids, they are a disparate collection of youngsters thrown together. Some adjust to their new circumstances better than others and we get to know all of them over the course of the school year. Friendships are made as the kids learn how to communicate in their adopted language.

The immigration issue is one of the most contentious debates in countries all around the world and many of the questions about immigration are evident here. Teacher Brigitte Cervoni welcomes students from around the world into the school La Grange aux Belles in northern France. Her task is tough. She is to provide a transition for immigrant children who spend a year learning French and a core curriculum which will enable them to enter regular classes. The children range in age from 11 to 15 and they come from China, Serbia, Venezuela, Ireland, Guinea, Ukraine, Libya, and other countries.

The students have been encouraged by their parents to do well in school so they will raise the standard of living for their families. Interviews with the parents show us what their kids experienced in life. The most controversial topics discussed in the classroom have to do with religion and the fears about the future. Miss Cervoni demonstrates an ideal equilibrium between being tough on her pupils and being warm and welcoming when it comes to guidance.

The film’s lengthy opening perfectly opens the door for the overall tone as each child shows the class how to write and say hello in their own language. This is a multi-cultural classroom and the only way of communicating with each other at this stage is their minimal French. Despite the enthusiasm and the desire to share traditions and teachings from their homelands, each and every one of these kids has much deeper problems and as the film progresses, we see just how damaged these kids and indeed their families really are. I was reminded of when I moved to Israel and was placed in a class to learn Hebrew. There were some twenty of us from all over the world and only three of us shared English as a common language. I might not have had the baggage like these kinds but I did have to learn the language if I was to survive in the country.

Discovering the reasons why these children are here in the first place is often heart breaking and deeply affecting. They face a struggle between age, culture and class as they try to make a better future for themselves.

“THE UNAMERICAN STRUGGLE”— Our Struggle

“The UnAmerican Struggle”

Our Struggles

Amos Lassen

 “The UnAmerican Struggle” is a feature length documentary film that looks at the struggles that immigrants, Jews, Latinos, Muslims, Blacks, women Rights, and transgender and gay and bisexual people face in today’s America following the election of Donald Trump as president.

 The Trump presidency has brought about a resurgence of bigotry in America. Some 62 million Americans elected a presidential candidate whose views are rooted in racism, misogyny, sexism, and xenophobia. Many across this world are unhappy that Donald Trump is now the President of the United States. His words and actions as a candidate, and now his policies as President, have given new life to intolerance and bigotry that now sweeps across this country.

Seventeen experts representing the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Diversity Council, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and local groups, such as Black Lives Matter, have lent their voices to the film to educate viewers about the reality of bigotry in America and the necessary fight ahead to bring this country back to its principles of tolerance and diversity. (I really prefer the word “acceptance” to “tolerance”— to me, to be tolerant is to put a short-term bandage on something).

When bigotry is unchecked, it ushers in greater abuses to civil rights and we have seen this in the attacks on the free press which is the cornerstone of American democracy. The film, directed by Ric Osuna, speaks to the dangers of remaining silent in the face of state-inspired hate and threats to civil rights.

Many of us are stunned to see that our land of inclusion has been transformed into the land of exclusion. We wonder how this could have happened yet we watched it happen right before our own opened eyes. We ask Trump encouraged the Alt-Right or did the Alt-Right encourage Trump? We want to know what is the Alt-Right anyway since it seems to me to be an umbrella term for all sorts of hate groups.

“The UnAmerican Struggle” is a feature-length documentary that examines the resurgence of racism, misogyny, sexism, and xenophobia in America brought about by Donald Trump’s words and actions as a candidate, and now his policies as president.

The film pays close attention to the struggle for equality from the perspective of Immigrants, Latinos, Muslims, Blacks, Women, and Transgender People and others. We see that many want to help us better understand the fight to preserve America’s values of inclusion and civil liberties. Here we gain a counter voice to the spread of bigotry and intolerance in Trump’s America and even though these issues are not new, they still require a more in-depth analysis, reflection, and discussion action if the country is ever to once again feel truly united.

It is important that educational facilities, parents and child advocates began now to educate citizens on ways to bridge the areas of diversity such as culture, skin color, religious and political beliefs that these gaps have caused. There must be safe environments for mutual understanding, civil discourse, and respectful dialogue to take place.

At times, we will need to master the art of “agreeing to disagree” in order to come together and embrace obvious differences. This can be achieved by listening to the views of others, self-education and the harnessing of personal beliefs in order to reflect on someone else’s. We must value diversity and respect human worth.

By learning to appreciate that people are different while recognizing the existing similarities Americans can overcome divisions. It is okay to value individual beliefs and heritages while respecting someone else’s. Without allowing others the freedom of a differing opinion, we will never realize peace

At the basic level of humanity’s existence, everyone is of the same human species. We all experience good and bad times while working for a fulfilled, successful, and happy life. As it stands, the country’s diversity is under attack. The diversity of differences is what makes us unique but the commonalities we share bring us together. This is what is under attack here and the remedies for this are love and acceptance. We need to work on these now!!

“EVIL IN THE TIME OF HEROES”— A Messy Sequel

“EVIL IN THE TIME OF HEROES”

A Messy Sequel

Amos Lassen

“Evil in the Time of Heroes” is about some ancient Greek warriors who came across zombie-making evil, and their ‘story’ is cut together with the modern zombie survivors and incarnations of the heroes. Anything beyond this description can only be as incoherent as the movie. There’s a lot of silly dialogue and scenes that try to be funny but are only confusing, random fight scenes between zombies, soldiers, anarchists and ancient warriors with unrealistic blood, random supernatural abilities like faster-than-bullet speed and Jedi-knight fighting abilities that seem to come and go. There are random flashes forward, backwards and sideways, a supernatural climax against the evil forces of light that is too incoherent to even describe, an appearance by Billy Zane as a Jedi, and people that come and go, disappear or resurrect at random. On the other hand, I had a lot of fun watching this mess.

The film takes us back to how the ancient Greeks dealt with zombies (who evidently have been around throughout history). But we do not watch zombie films for historical accuracy, we watch them to see gore. How, um, educational. But one doesn’t judge a zombie movie by its historical accuracy or complex plot points; one judges on the basis of the quality of the zombies and the gore.

Basically, this is a story set in modern times, when some evil has been released that very quickly reduces most human beings to zombies. A small group of humans have banded together in a house in order to be safe. Added to the menace of the zombies, there’s a bunch of rogue humans taking advantage of the craziness, and shooting people for fun. Then every once in a while, the narrative cuts away to ancient Greece, where a few brave warriors have banded together to fight off the same zombie evil (who are just dressed differently).

Through all of this, in both ancient and modern times, there is a mysterious prophet, Billy Zane. He shows up at the strangest times, alternately killing off zombies and looking for the “chosen one.”   Director Yorgos Noussias gives us some utterly fantastic zombies, over-the-top gory fight scenes, campy dialogue, and stylish camera work and editing. There is enough gore to satisfy the bloodthirsty among us and many of the characters often looked like they had bathed in blood. We see severed limbs, impaled bodies, bullets taking out the entire back of a skull throughout film and from the opening scene to the final credits, we watch a race against time (the “authorities” are sending planes to bomb the city to rid the world of the “infection”) and to stay alive.

The epic scale of the film is totally impressive – the number of zombie extras numbered in the several hundred range, thus providing mass zombie fight scenes. There are several outstanding aerial shots of the post-apocalyptic Athens streets, and one of the stadium, post-carnage, where all you see is a fantastic stain of red. The movie is wonderfully shot and well-paced and above all, it is thoroughly disgusting with the level of blood and laugh-out-loud dialogue. It is darkly funny and completely satisfying. Now wait a second—I said earlier that the film is a total mess and so how can I say such good things? I can do so because I am thinking now about the fun value of watching it. It is one of those movies that are so bad that they are good.

The screenplay is awful and absolutely nonsensical. It is pure stupidity that is difficult to swallow and it jumps back and forth for no reason. I could never be sure if the director was merely kidding around with the material or thought that would be good horror entertainment. By this I mean why does the same actor play his own mother and dress in drag? What was the point of seeing Greek gladiators in the prologue? Yes, this is complete and utter nonsense but it is also great fun.

“BAT PUSSY”— Banned By Amazon!

“BAT PUSSY”

Banned By Amazon!

Amos Lassen

Alamo Drafthouse’s American Genre Film Archive, the largest non-profit genre film archive in the world, and Something Weird have just announce an October 17, 2017 release date for the “BAT PUSSY” Blu-ray. However, Amazon has refused to carry it yet they do carry some other offensive titles such as “Cum Pig Shawn”, “Shawn’s Sweet Butthole” and “Newfie Suckboy”.

“Bat Pussy” is an incredibly awful film. Buddy and Sam are an average American couple, rolling around in their bed complaining about bills and how slutty each other are. Buddy has a little problem. He suffers from erectile dysfunction. Not so much a hardcore film as they are just chewing on each others genitalia for 50 minutes screaming at each other, threatening to file for divorce the next day and how big Sam’s pussy is. I’ve never seen a porn film where the star stays limp the entire film. I understand that this is a spoof on porn. In fact, it is

considered to be the first X-rated parody and it is as lurid and tasteless as its title implies. The citizens of Gothum City are under attack by smut filmmakers and only one hero can help— Bat Pussy (Dora Dildo) who hangs out in her secret headquarters (aka an outhouse). When her “twat begins to twitch,” she is warned of imminent crime and she hops on her Holy Hippity-Hop to foil the grotesque sex schemes of un-happily married couple Buddy and Sam.

“Bat Pussy has frequently been cited on the internet as “anti-porn,” and widely hailed as the worst porno film ever made. By the end it is over, you must remind yourself that you thought you were seeing porn and not bad cinema. Read this sweet little note:

“Bat Pussy” is without a doubt the most unappealing XXX film in the history of adult cinema and has been referred to by some as “anti porn”. It is because of it’s uniqueness that we feel BAT PUSSY deserves to be given a full, “Special Edition” DVD treatment from the good folks at Something Weird Video.

Dora’s easily the hottest thing in the whole sordid work, but even as such she’s about on par with a skank you might find in a hideous dive bar. When Bat Pussy finally arrives to confront the inbred lovers, she rips off her Bat-gear and dives into the fray. There’s no trace of actual sex, they roll around, while SAM takes care of herself with a convenient, unworn strap-on. Bat Pussy then exits, and that’s it.

I urge all of you reading this to watch this hilarious abomination for yourself. You will be groaning in horror and then ordering your own copy. It is generally thought to be the worst adult movie ever  and negates life. The characters cannot act nor can they have sex and the quality of the film is truly awful. Buddy does have a few good lines like when he tells Sam that her vagina looks like “a washtub”. Once Bat Pussy arrives on the scene and jumps into an aimless and unconsummated threesome, Buddy manages to accidentally roll her off the bed before falling ass-first right onto the poor girl’s head.

Bat Pussy herself (Dora Dildo) is only in the film for about ten minutes, half of which is spent showing her trip across a scorched Texas wasteland on a Space Hopper.

Features include:

 – New 2K scan from the only surviving 16mm theatrical print

– Commentary track with Something Weird’s Lisa Petrucci and Tim Lewis, and the AGFA team

– Crime-smut trailers and shorts from the Something Weird vault

– Liner notes by Mike McCarthy, the savior of BAT PUSSY, and Something Weird’s Lisa Petrucci

– Bonus movie: ROBOT LOVE SLAVES (1971), a new 2K scan from an original theatrical print

– Reversible cover art with illustration by Johnny Ryan (PRISON PIT)

STRAND RELEASING 2017 LINE UP FOR FALL 2017

 

STRAND RELEASING 2017 LINE UP FOR FALL 2017

FÉLICITÉ (Drama/Music) Directed by Alain Gomis. Félicité follows a proud, free-willed woman working as a singer in a bar in Kinshasa. Her life is thrown into turmoil when her 14-year- old son falls victim to an accident. To save him, she sets out on a breakneck race through the streets of electric Kinshasa – a world of music and dreams where she’ll cross paths with Tabu… Official Selection: Berlin International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, New York Film Festival. Opens in New York on October 27, 2017 at the Quad Cinema. Opens in Los Angeles on November 10, 2017 at TBD. 

DREAMBOAT (Documentary) Directed by Tristan Ferland Milewski. Once a year the DREAM BOAT sets sail for a cruise only for gay men. Far from their families and political restrictions, we follow five men from five countries on the quest for their dreams. The cruise promises seven days of sunshine, love, and freedom – but on board are also their personal stories, their doubts and uncertainties… Official Selection: Berlin International Film Festival. Opens in New York on November 3, 2017 at the Quad Cinema. 

HAVE A NICE DAY (Animation/Comedy/Crime) Directed by Liu Jian. A hard rain is about to fall on a small town in Southern China. In a desperate attempt to find money to save his fiancée’s failed plastic surgery, Xiao Zhang, a mere driver, steals a bag containing 1 million from his boss. News of the robbery spreads fast within the town and, over the course of one night, everyone starts looking for Xiao Zhang and his money… Liu Jian delivers a whirlwind neo-noir, cementing his place as a pioneering force in independent Chinese animation. Official Selection: Berlin International Film Festival. Opens in New York and Los Angeles 2018 TBA. National Publicity contact: Jenna Martin / Marcus Hu, Strand Releasing (310) 836-7500, jenna@strandreleasing.com.

SOUVENIR (Drama/Music/Romance) Directed by Bavo Defurne. Liliane (Isabelle Huppert) lives a modest and monotonous life. By day, she works in a pâté factory, and by night, she sits on the couch and watches TV. One day, a new worker named Jean (Kévin Azaïs) arrives. The two form a platonic relationship, but Jean grows increasingly convinced that he recognizes Liliane from a European singing contest he saw as a child. Eventually, Jean convinces Liliane to confront her past. Souvenir is a beautiful portrayal of a friendship between two people from different generations, who come together to make a life changing comeback. Official Selection: Toronto International Film Festival. Opens in New York and Los Angeles 2018 TBA. 

THE CAKEMAKER (Drama) Directed by Ofir Raul Graizer. Thomas, a young German baker, is having an affair with Oren, an Israeli married man who has frequent business visits in Berlin. When Oren dies in a car crash in Israel, Thomas travels to Jerusalem seeking for answers regarding his death. Under a fabricated identity, Thomas infiltrates into the life of Anat, his lover’s newly widowed wife, who owns a small Café in downtown Jerusalem. Thomas starts to work for her and create German cakes and cookies that bring life into her Café. Thomas finds himself involved in Anat’s life in a way far beyond his anticipation, and to protect the truth he will stretch his lie to a point of no return. Official Selection: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

“BLOOD FEAST”— The First “Splatter” Movie

“Blood Feast”

The First “Splatter” Movie

Amos Lassen

Herschell Gordon Lewis was known for making macabre and bizarre films and he wildest of these is “Blood Feast”. Dorothy Fremont (Lyn Bolton) is looking to throw a party unlike any other, and she gets just that when she hires the very sinister Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold) to cater it. Ramses promises to provide the guests with an authentic Egyptian feast and begins getting the necessary ingredients and these include the body parts of nubile young women. The film features stomach-churning gore gags and nastiness. Ramses is a serial killer who not only kills his exclusively female victims but also horribly mutilates them and he has the city in his grip of terror while baffling the police since he does not leave a single clue at the scene of the crime. The audience, of course who he is and that he worships the Egyptian (actually Babylonian) Goddess Ishtar. We also know that he needs all the body parts to make the ultimate sacrifice in a blood feast.

Freemont’s party is a surprise for her daughter Suzette (Connie Mason), who’s into ancient Egyptian culture. Fuad Ramses disguises the food as an Egyptian Feast, and doesn’t, of course, mention the part with the body parts and the ultimate sacrifice.

Suzette’s boyfriend Pete (William Kerwin), just happens to be the cop investigating the murders and desperately tries to piece together the clues he has found, and eventually learns about Ishtar and the blood feasts linked to her. He also learns that Fuad Ramses is secretly a scholar of ancient Egyptian history, and goes to his place to arrest him and even finds a corpse in his kitchen. However, he has forgotten that Fuad Ramses is already at the Freemont’s place, preparing the central ingredients for his feast, one of which will be Suzette.

Herschell Gordon Lewis made this little shocker that is a gross-out piece with its outstandingly explicit gore effects that the camera invariably lingers on. The film, I understand, was the first to be sold solely on the amounts of onscreen gore and it set the stage for most of the exploitation-horror over the next forty years.

The performance ranges from passable to pitiful, the direction is pedestrian, and the effects are totally primitive. The film barely has enough action to fill its run time, and tension and suspense are almost non-existent. Nonetheless, it is impossible to stop watching it and fits that category of “its so bad that its good.” It combines historic importance, and ridiculousness. Everything feels exaggerated in one way or another and the unconvincing special effects stop the audience from being too disgusted by the whole thing. The final chase scene is particularly laughable, as Ramses limps slowly across a desert but still manages to out-pace the officers running after him.

With all the criticisms of the film itself, the DVD is great fun. “Blood Feast” is essential viewing for those interested in the history of exploitation, gore or horror film-making. It quite literally changed the way films were made and marketed, and its influence is still felt. While time hasn’t been kind to the effects and performances, there are still some unintentional laughs to be had, and the DVD package makes the whole thing go down smoothly.

Bonus Materials include:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard DVD presentations
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Scum of the Earth – Herschell Gordon Lewis’ 1963 feature
  • Blood Perspectives – Filmmakers Nicholas McCarthy and Rodney Ascher on Blood Feast
  • Herschell’s History – Archival interview in which director Herschell Gordon Lewis discusses his entry into the film industry
  • How Herschell Found his Niche – A new interview with Lewis discussing his early work
  • Archival interview with Lewis and David F. Friedman
  • Carving Magic – Vintage short film from 1959 featuring Blood Feast Actor Bill Kerwin
  • Outtakes
  • Alternate ‘clean’ scenes from Scum of the Earth
  • Promo gallery featuring trailers and more
  • Feature length commentary featuring Lewis and David F. Friedman moderated by Mike Grady

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Twins of Evil

“MOKA”— A Psychological Thriller

“MOKA”

A Psychological Thriller

Amos Lassen

Frédéric Mermoud’s “Moka” is about shifting identities and evolving empathies. The film follows Diane Kramer (Emmanuelle Devos), who is filled with grief and rage over the unsolved hit-and-run that killed her son, Luc (Paulin Jaccoud). She escapes an institute and begins a quest of retribution. After consulting with a detective (Jean-Philippe Écoffey), Diane suspects that Marlène (Nathalie Baye) was driving the coffee-colored sports car that hit Luc, while the latter’s boyfriend, Michel (David Clavel), was riding in the passenger’s seat. Diane has circumstantial evidence but doesn’t know what truly happened, so she gradually inserts herself into the couple’s lives and stirs up trouble.

Diane lies to her ex-husband, Simon (Samuel Labarthe) and meets and seduces a younger man, Vincent (Olivier Chantreau) who provides her with a gun. The film revolves around the question of whether Diane will kill Marlène and/or Michel when she becomes certain of their guilt. There are parallels between the women who both have money and men but do not understand them. Diane and Marlène share a sense of weariness that settles into many people who judge love and contentment on a bell curve. The two women are kindred spirits discovering they’re sympathetic with one another. Diane’s subterfuge comes to represent the hidden agenda that we tend to see in strangers as we harden into our specific routines and prejudices.

Diane soon finds herself in too deep with her potential enemies, becoming part of their lives. Dealing with the unexpected connection, Diane is challenged by her ex-husband, Simon (Samuel Labarthe), who encourages a mourning process for the shattered woman. We don’t see Luc’s accident just the aftermath of his death, which puts Diane into a trance, unable to think of anything else but her deceased son. It has cost her a marriage and any sense of happiness as the tragedy becomes an obsession. At the start of the film, Diane works though leads, trying to find the home of the killer through the use of limited but descriptive information, and she follows the clue of the car, looking for signs of damage. She’s a detective of sorts, but with an undefined mission at first as she tries to do what the police did not do. She eventually makes contact with Marlene and with Michel and sees that they are connected through the sale of the car during which Diane plays the part of an interested buyer. Without practice in the field of deception, Diane slips into unexpected intimacy with the pair.

 

The film takes time to observe Diane’s soul searching as she prepares to do the unthinkable, with Simon trying to keep her settled. The mission demands a level of seduction as well, keeping Michel confused, Vincent interested, and Marlene unsettled and lives become complicated by this. Director Mermoud keeps “Moka” tightly paced, giving the movie a little taste of mystery as the grieving mother decides if she has the nerve to go eye for an eye with these strangers. There are delicate surprises as the plot shifts and evolves, building toward an unexpected yet satisfying conclusion.

 Bonus Features include the short film “Le Créneau” (French with English subtitles, 13 mins.) – In this short, written and directed by Frédéric Mermoud, Camille (Emmanuelle Devos) and Hervé (Hippolyte Girardot) arrive late for a dinner, and when they can’t find parking all hell slowly breaks loose and an interview with director Frédéric Mermoud.