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Call of Cthulhu, The (2005)

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Starring Ramon Allen, Jr., Leslie Baldwin, Daryl Ball

Directed by Andrew Leman


Dialogue is a very over rated aspect of human existence. Even worse is cinema’s addiction to its overuse. It’s interesting that films such as Nosferatu, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and Phantom of the Opera have lasted as long as they have. Even with the advance of technology, the ever-growing savviness of the movie going public, and the constant barrage of re-invention of the older established cinematic stories, these originals hold up. They are constantly marked as key in the evolutionary development of today’s films and are often cited as the inspiration for numerous visual styles and artistic statements made in films today.

Yet they are silent. Excepting an added score, they feature not one sound. Never a word is spoken, leaving the performers to act out the story in a heightened manner that has to be conveyed through exaggerated movement and deliberate facial expressions. Too often these days, this simpler approach is forgotten. Instead writers and directors fill the soundtrack with expletives and dialogue that not only is needless but detracts from the film itself. How many times have you wanted to enjoy a film but one actor or actress that keeps opening his or her mouth, ruining the fun for everyone? Silent films need not worry about this. Possibly this is why they have weathered time as well as they have. They are timeless expressions of fear, universal in translation.

The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has just released their interpretation of Call of Cthulhu. “Interpretation” denotes their differing take on a meaty and difficult subject matter, for The H.P.L.H.S. has decided to do the entire story in the style of a silent film. Not settling for a lazy approach to this style, they made a film that looks, acts, and feels like it has been recently dusted off and pulled from the catacombs. The Call of Cthulhu is a return to a forgotten era of movie magic that allows the viewer to travel not only to lost worlds, but to a lost time as well.

The story is told in flashbacks from the point of view of a nephew who has been charged with seeing to the specific details of his ailing Uncle’s estate. The nephew becomes obsessed with the odd and compelling documents that are collected within this lot. He reads on, seeing and visiting through the written word of those who lived it a series of strange events. All of them seem connected, and all of them lead to an impossible place, in the middle of nowhere, inhabited by death and madness itself.

In today’s world, there is no subject matter so ripe for the barren vines of Hollywood imagination as the writings of H.P.Lovecraft. Yet, as studios keep ignoring the work, independent horror fans just will not let the poet from Providence lie. Maybe this is for the best. Big name directors and the studios behind them seem less interested in the story and more interested in money. The correlation that has been erroneously made between effects and monetary gain is the biggest and saddest falsehoods that have come out of all of this. In the post-Star Wars world, we get a lot of realistic imagery, but it is heartless and cold. There is no love in the scenes, excepting that which was given to it by the digital manipulators who made the scene out of 11001010101110001011100100111.

Call of Cthulhu does not have to worry about all of this. The sets are clearly constructs of simple devise. The effects are old and dated in appearance, but the film was made to look like this. In doing so, Call transports us away to its own universe, and we forgive this look. The effects, sets, makeup, music; all recall the same care and precision as the aforementioned speechless, ageless wonders of yesteryear. You have to study this film, and know what to look for to be able to see that it is new. Even fake aging has been effectively applied to the film itself. Little wears, lines and hairs flicker across the screen, fully fleshing out the illusion of chronological wear. The actors have gobs of white and black makeup on their faces; the sets are built out of wood and cardboard-like substances. Sure we can tell the ship is a model, but when the whole movie presupposes this, the model works!

And so does Call of Cthulhu. Tying all of this together is a “rich symphonic score”. The music of the feature is a nostalgic mix of familiar sounds and some creepy Lovecraftian goodness. Troy Sterling Nies, Ben Holbrook, Nicholas Pavkovic and Chad Fifer have pulled from the depths of antiquity a newfound, yet lost, sound. Impossible to imagine, but here for all to enjoy.

Best of all, the film doesn’t bog down in any sort of contrivance or deviation from the source material. At a lean, mean 47 minutes, the film does what it sets out to do: tell the story of the great sleeping Cthulhu and the foolish mortals who come into contact with him. Sean Branney’s script is as to the point as it needs to be. I can’t stand when stuff that was not in H.P.’s original works becomes the focal point of the film, and the real story is lost in the story mud. Branney, thankfully, avoids this common misstep, and the film is better for it in the end.

Ambitious in its own right, The Call of Cthulhu is indeed a step forward for the world of H. P. Lovecraft cinema. It is one of a handful of new films made by fans of the late great authors work, who not only see the prospect in the mines, but are able to understand the rock they are hidden within. The Call of Cthulhu is a very celebrated work, held holy by a lot of people who live, breathe, eat, and sleep Lovecraft.

Let me be the first to let them know their dreams are safe in this soundless realm.


4 out of 5

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GIRLS NIGHT 2 Review – A Terrifying Halloween Treat

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Starring Marina De Sousa, Vincent Conty

Directed by David Teixeira


If you love Halloween as much as I do, you probably also love horror films that take place on Halloween. French Writer/Director David Teixeira uses Halloween as the backdrop for his eerie short horror film Girls Night, which we reviewed here. The film tells the story of three friends who decide to play Bloody Mary and end up butchered by a creepy masked killer. Filmmaker Teixeira skillfully uses atmosphere and impressive cinematography to heighten the scares.

Teixeira is back with Girls Night 2 which will be released in October just in time for Halloween. The only survivor of the massacre, Jess (Marina De Sousa), is suffering from nightmares and insomnia because she was blamed for the murder of her friends. It’s a year later and Halloween and she is staying with Pierre (Vincent Conty). To calm Jess’s nerves they decide to watch a short film their friend David (David Teixeira) made, but Jess can’t stay awake. In her dreams the masked killer is back and wielding a pair of scissors. The film ends in utter confusion and a bloody mess. Is it real or is it a dream and who is the killer? You’ll have to watch the short to find out.

The performances are strong and believable and actress Marina De Sousa is remarkable as Jess. Like the original, Girls Night 2 delivers an exciting amount of intensity and panic in only around thirteen minutes. I highly suggest experiencing both of these short films while wearing headphones to really amp up the terror. Girls Night 2 is currently a semi-finalist at Los Angeles Cinefest and winner for Best Foreign Film at the $2 Dollar Film Festival. The award winning short film Girls Night is available on YouTube and you can watch the Girls Night 2 teaser trailer below.

  • Girls Night 2
4.0

Summary

Girls Night 2 delivers an impressive amount of intense scares worthy of a feature length film in just under thirteen minutes.

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PANTHER RIDGE Review – When Your New Job Takes You To Interesting Locations

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Starring Chenara Imrith, Kerry Hempel, Seth Goodfellow

Written by Ryan Swantek

Directed by Ryan Swantek


Director Ryan Swantek’s graphic-take on a young woman unhappy with her looks in White Willow was in my useless opinion, one of the strongest short films to hit the horror genre in quite some time. It was brutal, unflinchingly ruthless to eyeball, and best of all for a first-time directorial effort, there was no apology for what was put before us – let’s venture over to Panther Ridge.

So what comes around in the second-time in the big guy’s chair? Well, when I’d heard that it was a sadistic look into the BDSM scene, I’ll admit I was a bit intrigued (no, I’m not into that stuff, ya kooks) – I’d just honestly hoped for a bit more than what was tossed to me. This particular short film is titled Panther Ridge, and it tells the story of a young lady who is getting a fresh start in a new career – that of a dominatrix, of sorts. As this presentation begins, she’s smack dab in the middle of a dungeon with a very unlucky prisoner and the woman who will be guiding her in her “training.” I’ll tell ya, first days on the job can be stressful, but with the correct forms of relief, you can make it through the day all the while exorcising some pent up demons as well.

Commence brutality upon this poor tied-up fool and the lass roped up across from him, for they know not what lies in store for them next, but rest assured they’ll be making a blood donation whether they want to or not. Unfortunately my self-imposed hype proved to be insurmountable as Swantek’s second time up to the plate resulted (for me, anyway) in a big swing and a miss. What worked in his maiden voyage with Willow was the notion that you were going to witness the repercussions of a tortured soul as she looked in the mirror, whereas this time we’re watching some poor sap get the snot beaten out of him, and I could honestly see the same thing in a number of other productions for a longer stretch of time (if you dig that sort of thing). I’ll await Mr. Swantek’s third production when it’s time, and hopefully it’ll pack more of a sustained punch than this quickie.

  • Panther Ridge
2.5

Summary

Swantek’s sophomore directorial endeavor unfortunately isn’t much more than shock and torture-porn crammed into an abbreviated timeframe – been down this road more than a few times.

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EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS Blu-ray Review – Savagery & Sexuality From The Master Of Sleaze

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Starring Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Monica Zanchi, Donald O’Brien

Directed by Joe D’Amato (Arisitide Massaccesi)

Distributed by Severin Films


After taking famed sex icon Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) to Bangkok (1976), America (1976), and Around the World (1977) legendary sleaze director Joe D’Amato decided to mash up two of Italy’s most notorious genres by sending his beautiful muse down to the Amazon rainforest, cinematic home to countless hordes of cannibal tribes. The Italian cannibal craze of the late’70s was just beginning to take hold, offering D’Amato a ripe opportunity to satisfy both the bloodlust and, well, regular lust of exploitation devotees worldwide. For the most part the film plays out expectedly, with a reasonably large group of people meeting in the Amazon and trekking off on a quest. By the end, that group has dwindled down to only a few members, all of whom probably have a lot of regret about traipsing through the jungle. Aficionados will get a bit of a “been there, eaten that” vibe from the film, which hits every trademark of the genre sans animal cruelty, but Emanuelle herself spices up this cannibal comfort food with an alluring performance capped off by one helluva genius ending. The film also holds the dubious distinction of showing a penis being eaten less than 15 minutes after the opening credits. You set a high bar, Joe.

When an unlucky nurse has half of her tit eaten off by a newly-arrived mental patient, a girl found in the Amazon jungles, journalist Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) infiltrates the sanitarium to score a hot scoop. Armed with a camera concealed within a baby doll head, Emanuelle surreptitiously snaps a few shots before making the new girl talk via… digital means – and I’m not talking technology. Emanuelle takes her information to Professor Mark Lester (Gabriele Tinti), a museum curator whom she hopes will fund her expedition. He agrees. Then, she goes and screws some random guy in broad daylight down by the river. Later, she comes back and has more sex, this time with Mark. The next day they leave for the Amazon.

Upon arrival, the two are met by Isabel (Monica Zanchi) and Sister Angela (Annamaria Clementi), both of whom have altruistic plans of their own in the rainforest. Their trek soon brings them across Donald (Donald O’Brien), a hunter who is on safari with his wife and a guide. Now that the film has brought together a large group of people, some of whom are more reprehensible than others, it’s time to pick them off and watch in delight as cannibals of the Amazon gut them, skewer them, and devour their flesh while the soothing sounds of Nico Fidenco play in the background.

So many of these Italian cannibal pictures feel interchangeable because the formula is incredibly simple – send a group of naïve outsiders into the Amazon and let an indigenous tribe kill and eat them, usually in the most horrific manner possible. What sets this film apart from so many others is in the title: Emanuelle. Gemser is not only easy on the eyes but she has this magnetic presence on screen, not because she is a great actress but her looks, abilities, and personality combine to create one of exploitation cinema’s most capable and sultry sirens. It is entirely due to her ingenuity here that anyone survives at all. She isn’t a rag doll, tossed around and used for sex and companionship; Emanuelle is a woman in charge of her own sexuality and she calls the shots. This film was made during a time when women were often used as set dressing or spent most of a film being subservient, so it’s a nice change of pace to have one in the lead who takes control and it feels natural, not forced.

Don’t go thinking this is some kind of strong female-led picture that celebrates womanhood or anything. D’Amato never likes to peer too high from his gutter view, and “Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals” is a sleaze sensation; a cornucopia of cannibalism and carnal acts that culminates in the titular heroine literally becoming a god… temporarily. D’Amato takes two of humanity’s greatest loves – eating and screwing – and builds a story around them. Besides all of the aforementioned fornication, nipples are eaten as an amuse-bouche, penis tartare is part of the starter course, a vagina makes unexpected friends with the business end of a machete, a woman is gutted like a deer, and one guy learns a thin rope can still be strong enough to tear the human body in half. Nobody gets out of this thing unscathed… except, maybe, for Emanuelle who seems unfazed by every atrocity the world throws her way.

Ugly films need beautiful music and the lush, soothing sounds of Nico Fidenco make for the ultimate dichotomy of relaxation and revulsion. Fidenco’s score is less the serene soundscape Riz Ortolani composed for Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and more of a funky, porno-lite trip down ‘70s Lane. Oftentimes the composers on these rough Italian pictures delivered scores that felt like they belong to something more refined and accessible, not a movie destined for banning in multiple countries and cut to ribbons in others. Fidenco provided the score for many entries in the Black Emanuelle series and while those films might be past their prime the music is completely timeless.

Severin has provided a new 2K scan from unknown elements, delivering a 1.85:1 1080p image that falls right in line with most of their catalog. The picture has been cleaned up enough to allow for high-def improvements in clarity and coloration to (mostly) shine through, while still retaining a gritty look to remind viewers this is still a grindhouse picture. Film grain is heavy and active, swarming the picture but never becoming noisy. Contrast is variable, as is sharpness, with some scenes looking closer to HD than others. Colors are accurate but a bit anemic, too, with only a few instances of truly popping against the ever-present jungle greens. Detail is swallowed up in darkness, so don’t expect to see much of it when night falls, which thankfully isn’t often. I’ll say one thing Italy sure does make for a fine Amazon stand-in.

Audio is available in both English and Italian DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono, both of which offer a similar audible experience. The standout here is unsurprisingly hearing Fidenco’s score in lossless glory. The ADR work is typically poor and obvious, but everything is understandable and there are no noticeable issues with hissing or audio damage. Subtitles are available in English.

The World of Nico Fidenco – The legendary composer sits down for a new interview, covering his career and the Emanuelle series. In Italian with English subtitles.

A Nun Among the Cannibals – Actress Annamaria Clementi provides a new interview about her role in the film and what it was like working with D’Amato. In Italian with English subtitles.

Dr. O’Brien M.D. – This is an archival interview with Donald O’Brien, who played the wild and wily hunter, Donald, in the film.

From Switzerland to Mato Grosso – Actress Monica Zanchi gives a new interview that covers her career.

I Am Your Black Queen is an audio-only archival interview with Gemser.

A theatrical trailer (in SD) is also included.

Special Features:

  • BRAND NEW 2K REMASTER OF THE FILM prepared for this release
  • English and Italian audio tracks, with optional English subtitles
  • The World of Nico Fidenco – an interview with the composer (27 min)
  • A Run Among the Cannibals – an interview with actress Annamaria Clementi (23 min)
  • Dr. O’Brien MD – an interview with actor Donald O’Brien (19 min)
  • From Switzerland to Mato Grosso – an interview with actress Monica Zanchi (19 min)
  • I Am Your Black Queen – an audio commentary by actress Laura Gemser (11 min)
  • Original trailer
  • Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals
  • Special Features
3.0

Summary

There is no point to making complaints about plotting when watching a film with this title. D’Amato promises viewers nothing more than a sleazy time intended to induce equal parts creep and kink into a span of time. Severin’s release offers a cleaned-up picture and a solid selection of extras that catch up with a few of the principal cast and crew.

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