Monday, August 30, 2021

Census Bloodbath: Blood Pink

Year: 1980
Director: Naosuke Kurosawa
Cast: Erina Miyai, Keijirô Shiga, Yôko Azusa
Run Time: 1 hour 8 minutes

Through the course of this project, we have encountered the ever-elastic slasher film tradition melding with all different kinds of subgenres, from Italian cannibal film to Lifetime movie women's picture to National Lampoon laugh-em-up to Bollywood musical. And while the average slasher film is always in danger of fully crossing the line into softcore, 1980's applies the formula Zoom In: Sex Apartments somewhere that was probably inevitable: the Japanese pinku eiga or "pink films."

I am far from an expert in pink films, and the definition is wider or narrower depending on who you ask, but in essence this subgenre was a set of largely independent softcore and exploitation films that were popular in Japan from the mid-1960's through the 80's. In fact, Zoom In is technically part of a larger franchise (though every movie in the series was completely unrelated, and all the other ones were called Zoom Up), even if it's the only one to take this particular giallo-inspired tack.

It's not surprising that the giallo eventually got roped in, considering the constant unmotivated sex scenes in that genre. All you have to do to make a pinku into a giallo is add some black gloves.

Of course, being a pinku, the plot of Zoom In: Sex Apartments is wildly fucked up. While her biker husband is away at a race, housewife Saeko (Erina Miyai) is raped by a mysterious assailant while on a bike ride. Also, a serial rapist and murderer is stalking the grounds outside her apartment complex, assaulting women and setting them on fire.

This all rattles her, understandably, but doesn't prevent her from striking up an affair with Takaya Nakabayashi (Keijirô Shiga) the ex-boyfriend she abandoned five years ago, who has just returned from America. And also having some chillout sex with her best friend, shopkeeper Sachi (Yôko Azusa) and Sachi's husband Keigo (Ren Seidô). "Sex" meaning lots of boobs flapping around and extensive licking of every body part that isn't an internal organ, including almost no full frontal nudity.

What do you think this is, a PORNO?

I've really had to assess my relationship with rape in cinema since starting this project (something poor naïve freshman-in-college Brennan had no idea he'd brought upon himself when he started this project). I could - and might - write a whole thesis about it at some point, but I'll boil it down to what is necessary for this review. My subjective response to rape in film, even the healthy and normal rape fantasies presented in some porn and exploitation films, is negative. I can accept its existence, but I'm not going to like it. That said, Zoom In: Sex Apartments is relatively responsible with what it depicts and what it doesn't in rape scenes, shading more toward the relative visual subtlety of something like Eyes of a Stranger or Revenge

The same can not be said for the sexual violence involved in the kills themselves, which is effectively harrowing, but extremely questionable (although less questionable than the centerpiece kill in Patrick Still Lives, which unfortunately isn't saying much). The bottom line is, even though this isn't a film I would recommend to begin with, any viewer must approach with extreme discretion and a very firm grip on their own philosophies around and reactions to such material.

Thankfully, the film backloads its most consensual material, where it settles into a groove of what I like to call "erotic camp," in which the film seems to take place in an off-kilter, through-the-looking-glass world where sex is always around the next corner and literally any stimulus can make somebody horny (including, in one especially memorable moment, the spontaneous combustion of a pregnant lady).

Never show this woman 28 Days Later.

Also, weirdly, of the softcore slashers I've covered recently, Zoom In actually has the most focus on its slasher subplot than any of them. It's not particularly good (the killer drops his case of evidence and it explodes all over the floor no fewer than six times), but at least it's committed to what it's doing! And this film came early enough that it owes more to the films of Dario Argento than those of Sean S. Cunningham, leading to some truly beautiful camera compositions in the narrative moments.

The design of the no man's land of arid dirt and garbage around the apartment complex creates a spectacularly alienating setting, and there are at least five shots that I'd call "beautiful" without hesitation. My favorite is a shot of Saeko's eye reflected in her open compact, which has fallen in the dirt, but here's another memorable one:

This aesthetic instinct comes to the fore most prominently in the final ten minutes, when Saeko descends into a pyschosexual phantasmagoria of madness where her erotic desires leave trails of flame behind her, culminating in a hallucinogenic sex scene with a pair of Takayas in a burning-down room. It doesn't make a lick of sense, but hey, neither does Suspiria.

The aesthetic is unfortunately the only interesting thing in the movie, however. I was toying with giving this a score that was one point higher, but then I remembered that a sex murder movie where the sex is either alarming or boring and the murder is either alarming or offscreen probably isn't worth rewarding.

Killer: Takaya Nakabayashi (Keijirô Shiga)
Final Girl: Saeko (Erina Miyai)
Best Kill: None of these kills are pleasant to watch, but during the murder of the Piano Sensei, there is a cool aesthetic moment of hands punching through the paper panels of a shoji sliding door.
Sign of the Times: One of the girls swans about in a pair of skintight pink leggings and a shiny silver jacket.
Scariest Moment: Saeko's attacker runs a piano hammer down her face, threatening to pierce her with it.
Weirdest Moment: A young woman who witnesses one of the murders at the local dump starts to eat food out of the garbage like it's popcorn while she's watching.

Champion Dialogue: "Take a good look! I'm a killer rapist now!"
Body Count: 6; and I'm including Takaya, even though the ending - which is most likely a fantasy - isn't exactly clear about him.
  1. Schoolgirl is burned alive via the crotch.
  2. Jungle Gym Girl is murdered offscreen.
  3. Piano Sensei is shoved into a trash incinerator.
  4. Garbage Girl and
  5. Takaya fall to their deaths from the roof.
  6. Pregnant Lady spontaneously combusts in what may be a dream but isn't really presented as such.
TL;DR: Zoom In: Sex Apartments is a particularly tasteless sex murder movie, but it has an unusual commitment to interesting imagery in its narrative moments.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1124

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Census Bloodbath: Run Of The Mill

Year: 1980
Director: Shyam & Tulsi Ramsay
Cast: Navin Nischol, Vidya Sinha, Kaajal Kiran
Run Time: 2 hours 12 minutes

Well, hello there 1980. Now that we're done covering all the films of 1983, I figured the time was ripe to swing back around and catch somme films that I missed in my first pass of slasher research way back in 2013. I have now completed my second and third (hopefully final) pass at that research, so I've discovered a whopping 18 films from '80, '81, and '82 that I missed in my initial investigation, and thus we need to swoop back and cover. A lot of those films are foreign titles that slipped past some America-centric lists I was starting with, and the very first one we're here to cover, Saboot (AKA The Evidence),  is indeed an entry from the grand old land of Bollywood!

This does of course mean that there are some musical numbers in this one, and I truly think pretty much every slasher could be improved with the addition of musical numbers.

Being a pre-Friday the 13th slasher film, and one from the Bollywood sphere that is more interested in drama and romance anyway, Saboot is a very unique hybrid with a particularly labyrinthine plot. I'm gonna try to get us through just the basics as quickly as possible.

Asha (Vidya Sinha), is married to Vikas (no actor listed in English credits), who dies in plane crash. Then her father Dharamdas (no actor listed) is murdered by Dhanraj (Prem Chopra), the man who wants to buy Vikas' mill, but was turned down after taken out a massive loan. His accomplices are the sexy singer Rita (Padma Khanna), former mill manager Ashok Gupta (Narendra Nath), and former secretary Manmohan Saxena (Roopesh Kumar). 

Naturally they begin to die one by one after witnessing what appears to be the undead corpse of Dharamdas, which is being investigated by Inspector Anand (Navin Nischol) - Vikas' childhood best friend, who is currently deep in the process of falling in love with Asha's sister Kajaal (Kaajal Kiran). Comedy cops Constable Dukhiram (Rajendranath Malhotra) and Constable Sukhiram (Paintal) are also on the scene to help in no way whatsoever. Ajit Roy (Om Shivpuri), who is either the sisters' uncle, or one of the many elder men respectfully called uncle, is the main suspect, and he doesn't do much in the way of clearing up that suspicion. 

Not that Anand is noticing much of anything that isn't Kajaal.

Now I will be the first to admit that I know next to nothing about Bollywood cinema before 2000. I don't have a lot of context for what the industry may have looked like outside of this particular film at the time, but from what I understand, Saboot is structured pretty traditionally and is a teensy bit more low budget, but by what degree I couldn't begin to guess. But what I do know is slasher films, and Saboot is certainly doing something interesting even if it isn't particularly focused on being one.

The kills themselves aren't particularly well-executed (it's a lot of the "blood splatters on the wall" type cutaways), but the thing is that they all take place in some pretty great setpieces. We start from the murder on the train car, peak at a victim in a falling elevator (sure, it's no Damien: Omen II, but you gotta love a falling elevator kill), but don't drop too far when that one is followed by a death in a frozen storage facility full of Stonehenge-like blocks of ice that turn everything into a prismatic funhouse. 

There are even some moments that are - dare I say it - kind of spooky! It's not a scary movie (maybe 1 in 100 slasher films actually are), but there is effective macabre imagery left and right, largely as the image of Dharamdas's corpse - which is basically just a zombie mask over bloody clothes - is tastefully abstracted by shadow and lightning or viewed through a kaleidoscopic block of ice. There are also some effective nightmare sequences involving a shower head spraying blood, and a severed head under a tea tray.

This is not a picture of anything I'm describing, but it turns out that still frames from a 40-year-old Bollywood horror movie aren't just littered around Google.

So that's the horror part. But we're dealing with Bollywood here, so there's a lot more to talk about. 

Saboot is also an action film. This is another area that has its major flaws (notice how every attacker has their move blocked, then stands perfectly still waiting for the counterattack), but is saved by superlative Bollywood flair. These scenes come out of absolutely nowhere, but anytime your horror-slasher can be livened up by the hero beating up four purse-stealing vagabonds out of nowhere is a good scene.

Saboot is also a comedy. This is the thing it is worst at being, at least across the oceans of cultural standards, personal tastes, and shifting values across time that bring it to me. Comic relief cops are standard in cinema across eras and all over the world, and while Constables Dukhiram and Sukhiram aren't any worse than, say, the ones in The Last House on the Left or Halloween 5, they're certainly not characters I want to spend any time with. Take the joke where Dukhiram offers to cook for Anand. He opens a tray and a live chicken comes flying out. Get it? Isn't he so bad at cooking? It's just not to my taste.

Saboot is also a musical. I've already stated I love the insertion of musical numbers pretty much anywhere, though the ones this film has to offer are pretty anemic. This is the first Bollywood musical I've seen where I haven't wanted to add at least one of the songs to my iTunes library. The one big choreographed production number involves the constables and thus sucks, and the rest is mostly scattered love ballads where the lovers in question smile wanly at one another from across negative space (although one such number is staged in a spooky misty forest while they're searching for the hidden grave of her father, so that's... well it's something).

Saboot is a lot of things, but it doesn't really have the budget to achieve one of them perfectly, let alone all of them. For instance, this is a movie where time wantonly slips from day to night like our characters are a bunch of Billy Pilgrims unstuck in time. At least some of the mistakes fit in with the heightened Bollywood storytelling style: ie. a scene of a lawyer stepping into frame three different times in three consecutive cuts is certainly on purpose and it is terrific, and thus the scenes with random blue or red tint that is probably an accident feel of a piece with it. It's certainly interesting to watch, but with the typical 2 hour plus run time of Bollywood, it's just not fun enough to sit with it quite that long.

Killer: Ajit Roy (Om Shivpuri), though most of the body count deaths are accidental
Final Girl: Kaajal (Kaajal Kiran), I guess - it doesn't really apply here
Best Kill: I can't help it, I love me an elevator kill.
Sign of the Times: While mixing a drink at home, Manmohan sings "Venus," but not the one by Bananarama because it didn't exist yet.
Scariest Moment: The shriveled corpse of Dharamdas appears outside the elevator grate as Manmohan is going downstairs.
Weirdest Moment: Constable Dukhiram goes investigating in the rain while wearing a pair of goggles with little windshield wipers on them.
Champion Dialogue: "Rosy, my darling, my chicken pieces..."
Body Count: 5
    1. Dharamdas is stabbed in the gut and then slashed with a cane sword.
    2. Manmohan is killed in a falling elevator.
    3. Rita is killed offscreen.
    4. Ashok Gupta is attacked by birds and falls onto his own pickaxe.
    5. Dhanraj is shot in the head.
TL;DR: Saboot is attempting to be a lot of things, but doesn't really have the budget to achieve any of them.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1349

Monday, August 23, 2021

Census Bloodbath: 1983 Post Mortem

So here we are at the end of another year of Census Bloodbath. It's been quite a journey to get here, and I would especially like to thank you all for bearing with me during the period of pandemic/job stress where I was unable to write for *checks watch* seven months.

The thing about agreeing to watch all the slasher movies from the 1980's is that there is no definitive resource handily listing them all. So before we dive in, I leave you all with the caveat that some dusty VHS from 1983 might be discovered in a cave somewhere and I'll have to go back and watch it at some point. In fact, my previous post mortems are all about to be amended as I spend the next several weeks going back around the horn to catch up with some slashers that escaped my detection in my first round of research. But I've tightened up my research and selection process considerably and can say with 95% certainty that we've covered every slasher that fits my criteria from the year of our Lord 1983.

So without any further ado, let's spill the guts of '83 and discuss the best and worst the slasher genre had to offer four years in!

1983: Post Mortem

Wow, the slasher genre was especially terrible in 1983, wasn't it? I'm sure I'll be regretting these words once I dive into the direct-to-video hell of the late 80's, but something just feels off about most of these entries. The MPAA crackdown on the genre was in full swing, and the decline that began in 1982 (after the glut of films from the first two years of the decade) sharply dropped to rock bottom. Plus, not one of the big 80's slasher franchises poked its head out during 1983. In fact, the only films here that have any sort of legacy outside of this year is the decades-later Psycho II, Boogeyman II (which literally nobody asked for, and it was mostly footage from The Boogeyman anyway), The House on Sorority Row which got a remake in 2009, and Sleepaway Camp, which would birth itself an anemic quadrilogy, all told.

While I stand by my top 5, the group as a whole is not an altogether inspiring bunch. There are a couple of interesting trends I've noticed cropping up as the decade marches on, however. 

Interesting doesn't always mean "good." The rise of anti-queer sentiment that would dominate the Reagan era can be neatly tracked through films where queer people are either killers or killed, like Sleepaway Camp, Hanging Heart, A Blade in the Dark, Psycho II (if only because of its continued legacy of transphobia), and Momentos de Prazer e Agonia. At least American Nightmare had a queer character (go Dolly!) who they treated with a modicum of respect. Weirdly, Double Exposure, one of the most misogynistic movies in a misogynistic genre has the only gay character that is pretty much unimpeachable. Oh, and also we were pretty keen to be racist against Native Americans this year as well, if Scalps and Sweet 16 have anything to say about it.

In exchange for the vigorous homophobia, we at least also got a glut of films willing to depict bare male flesh hither and thither, so at least there's that. And one absolute positive (though the movies mostly range from unremarkable to unwatchable) is that the world was starting to come together around the slasher, and we got our first entries in the genre from a lot of new territories including Belgium (The Antwerp Killer), Austria (Angst), Sweden (Blödaren), France (Ogroff), England (The Last Night), and Brazil (Momentos de Prazer e Agonia). It's a small world, after all.

The Five Best Slashers of 1983

#5 Deadly Lessons

I feel like there's always at least one TV movie waiting in the wings of every Census Bloodbath year to be absolutely delightful. Sure, the kills pretty much have to be either bloodless or offscreen, but that's kind of what we were getting in the theatrical entries around this time anyway. And Deadly Lessons brings a jam-packed cast (Ally Sheedy! Nancy Cartwright! Bill Paxton! Larry Wilcox! Donna Reed!) to a delightful soapy story of the murderous goings-on at a girls' school where everyone is a red herring and did I mention Donna Reed is there?!

#4 10 to Midnight

10 to Midnight is a bizarre hybrid of the action-thriller and the slasher, much like the previous year's Silent Rage, only instead of Chuck Norris we get a sleepwalking Charles Bronson. I know I'm not exactly selling it, but that combination of subgenres makes this a hotbed of the weirdest impulses of mid-80's filmmaking, and the film is full of odd fillips and weird blind alleys that couldn't have existed outside 1983. Oh, and did I mention the killer is a hot dude who runs around naked? Yeah, I love this movie.

#3 Psycho II

Richard Franklin's Hitchcockian masterpiece Road Games from 1981 got him the gig to helm the long-awaited [sic] sequel to Psycho, and he's such a mastermind he actually made it good, which is something literally nobody could have expected from a sequel to a horror classic that only exists to capitalize on the popularity of the cheap rip-off films it inspired.

#2 Sleepaway Camp

Sleepaway Camp has a complicated history with its queer audiences, but it's nevertheless a schlocktacular camp-fest with creative kills, a dynamic storyline, the backbone to actually murder children, and also James Earl Jones' dad is there! 

#1 The House on Sorority Row

Not only is The House on Sorority Row the best slasher of 1983, it's one of the best slashers of the entire damn decade. The gore isn't quite there, save in one or two key moments, but it's a deliciously high-strung tightrope act of tension, as a group of sorority girls must hide the grisly remains of their house mother during a party. It's a splendid splash of Hitchcockian terror that actually does it better than the explicitly Hitchcock-themed movie at #3, features my new favorite 80's band 4 Out of 5 Doctors in an extended live music performance, and dumps you into a psychotropic nightmare sequence in the third act. What's not to like?

The Five Worst Slashers of 1983

#5 The Antwerp Killer

The Antwerp Killer is under an hour long, and yet it felt like it took a year off my life. It's a haphazard collection of shots that only intermittently cohere into actual scenes.

#4 Blödaren

Blödaren might be more coherent than The Antwerp Killer, but that coherence is in service of one of the most boring, rote slasher films ever conceived. The later, rinse, repeat approach to the body count has never been more tedious than when these Swedish rockers wander into house after house with identical "creepy" production design, then peel off one by one to be murdered without sharing a character trait among them.

#3 Mountaintop Motel Massacre

I do love a "madwoman tears through people in an isolated setting" film, but the kills are so deeply noncommittal and poorly executed that it drains all the energy out of this supremely boring collection of half-assed tropes.

#2 Killing of the Flesh

This movie is far more interested in depicting its characters having sex than having anyone murder anyone else. This giant cast is ripe for some And Then There Were None mayhem, and yet almost none of them die. They do have lots and lots of boring sex though.

#1 A Night to Dismember

To be fair, A Night to Dismember is assembled from the footage that remained after a disgruntled film technician destroyed most of the reels. To be unfair, they shouldn't have asked anybody to watch it. 

1983 Body Count: 242 (9 decapitations and 6 slit throats)

That's an average of 7.56 per movie, which is about on par with every year we've done so far (except 1981, which broke the needle at 8.25).

Highest Body Count: 18 (Boogeyman II), although 8 are flashbacks to the original film, so if we're counting contiguous kills, then the number is 17 (Skullduggery).

Lowest Body Count: 3 (Angst, The Antwerp Killer)

Angst justifies its low body count by being absolutely bone-chilling. The Antwerp Killer... does not.

Five Best Kills

#5 The Triple Sex Kebab (Skullduggery)

There's literally nothing good about Skullduggery, so of course this fun kill has to be compromised by the fact that it begins as a threat of sexual assault, but the one-upping of Friday the 13th Part 2 and Bay of Blood's sex kebab must be respected.

#4 The Floating Coffin (Frightmare)

I'm gonna be honest. This one pretty much only made it because there is a major dearth of good gory deaths this year. But a girl being slammed repeatedly by a giant floating coffin being used as a battering ram is at least something you're not gonna get anywhere else.

#3 The Vanity Kill (A Blade in the Dark)

This kill has a lot of skin-crawling beats and moments of terror, but it begins with the woman's hand being pinioned to a counter with a kitchen knife, and watching her struggle and strain against the blade while her hand threatens to split in half is... disturbing.

#2 Ruining Miles' Smile (Psycho II)

One point for including a famous actress in her past-her-prime era so she was willing to do pretty much anything. Another point for the fucking incredible image you see above you.

#1 The Fountain Drop (Mausoleum)

Mausoleum was a mostly fun early entry in the supernatural slasher realm, and this kill where a man is telekinetically dropped off a balcony and onto a mall fountain is the most fun it has with its outré gory style.

Best Decapitation: The House on Sorority Row

A severed head is only as good as the receptacle it's dispensed into, and a toilet is such a wonderfully perverse place for it.

Three Best Final Girls

#3 Louise (American Nightmare)

American Nightmare is a film that astonishingly treats sex workers (and queer characters) like human beings, and Louise manages to be a stock "stripper with a heart of gold" character who proves that the two qualities aren't mutually exclusive. She doesn't need to stop being a stripper in order to prove her worth as a human, and I just think that's neat.

#2 Marci Burke (Sweet 16)

Dana Kimmell, who had her first turn as a Final Girl in the previous year's Friday the 13th Part 3-D, puts on the hat again as the Nancy Drew-esque teen sleuth who's out to crack the case. I've chosen to find the slathering of rouge they use to make her look like a pre-teen delightful.

#1 Stefanie Aggiston (Deadly Lessons)

OK, maybe 1983 didn't have much in the way of Final Girls, but it did have its share of Nancy Drews! Unfortunately the film drops the whodunit angle for the third act, but Stephanie and her team of gal pals drive a lot of the fun of the first two acts with their Scooby Doo Gang antics.

Three Worst Final Girls

#3 Jun (Sketch)

This one is really just about wasted potential. Sketch might have been actually great if they had made Jun the protagonist and focused on her separating her post-traumatic hallucinations from the reality of being stalked by a killer. But instead the film focuses on her husband, a bunch of rowdy annoying teens, and shoves her offscreen for the entire third act, not even depicting the attack that hospitalizes her, which should have been the crux of the film.

#2 Marília (Momentos de Prazer e Agonia)

Marília is much too busy helping her ladyfriends shower to notice that there's a killer around. That's what you get for being the Final Girl in a softcore slasher.

#1 Christie Parson (Mortuary)

Prazer e Agonia might actually be a softcore slasher, but Mortuary gives it a run for its money, because all it asks it Final Girl to do is wander around in a gauzy nightgown. She isn't even an active player in the third act. In fact, she is presumed dead until about 15 seconds before the end of the film. What an absolute botch job.

Four Best Killers

#4 The Killer (Sledgehammer)

Sledghammer is a ridiculous bad movie, but that mask though! And the killer's impossibly tall stature gives him a leg up (literally) in being imposing in spite of everything around him.

#3 Conrad Radzoff (Frightmare)

Another place where Frightmare wouldn't have been included if its peers were any better, but hey! Can't go wrong with an undead Vincent Price knockoff hamming it up in a giant manor house.

#2 Norman Bates (Psycho II)

Even though [SPOILERS] he's not the killer for the bulk of the murders in the movie, you can't turn away one of the big guns!

#1 Warren Stacy (10 to Midnight)

He's naked while he kills. How many times do I have to tell you this before you understand?!

Four Worst Killers

#4 The Samurai (Blood Beat)

This incredible traditional samurai outfit would have easily landed its killer on the "best" list if he wasn't constantly surrounded by wobbly wobbly 80's light effects that made it impossible to gaze upon his glory.

#3 Elliot Scott (Hanging Heart)

This killer is Too Gay To Function, as in, he's a homosexual so he must be psychotic, obviously. Whee.

#2 Adam (Skullduggery)

You know that fun thing where you based your entire incoherent anti-D&D propaganda slasher around a charisma black hole? Yeah, don't do that again.

#1 The Bleeder (Blödaren)

The Bleeder has no real backstory (at least not a good one), no real mystery, and really just looks like a rejected Chris Elliott character running around bumping off Swedish rockers.

Handsomest Lad: Barry Wyatt, Hanging Heart

Hanging Heart might ultimately be homophobic in its messaging, but much in the way of old biblical epics that could show all manner of debauchery as long as the people doing it were punished in the end, we get so much delicious homoeroticism to contend with before the ultimate sucker punch.

Handsomest Lass: Lynda Day George, Mortuary

(Right) You just gotta love a woman who is only seen at bedtime and sporting a full soap opera face of makeup.

Best Location: The London Bridge, Olivia

Olivia was shot both at the actual London Bridge and the London Bridge replica in Lake Havasu City, and the magic of location really does lend a sheen of elegance that the movie certainly doesn't deserve.

Best Title: A Night to Dismember

C'mon. It's cute!

Three Best Costumes

#3 The Jingle Bell Legwarmers (Blödaren)

Hot tip: When you're running from a killer, maybe take off the legwarmers with the jingle bells sewn in, so he can't hear your every step.

#2 Baseball "Uniforms" (Sleepaway Camp)

No comment.

#1 The Hag Mask (Curtains)

It's an iconic image for a reason. A splendid outfit that goes with everything, but especially a wickedly curved blade.

Best Poster: The House on Sorority Row

Sure, it looks like a romance novel cover and doesn't sell the content of the movie at all, but I love the misty lusciousness of it, and it should never be ignored when a horror poster is dominated by a color that isn't black.

Best Song: "Melissa" Sweet 16

OK, "best" is a strong word. But that part one minute in where Frank Sparks starts crooning "MelissAAAAAAAAAA!" like his throat is going to slide out of his mouth and strangle itself, it's impossible not to sing along.

Best Score: Olivia

The score for Olivia isn't available anywhere, and there aren't even any clips to share that feature it. But alas, it is quite good if you're willing to commit to sitting through all 85 mediocre minutes of it. Jerry Goldsmith's son Joel was the composer here, and he delivers a Carpenterian score that defies logic and the laws of physics, because instead of ripping off Halloween (1978) like all the other slashers out there, he seems to be ripping off Halloween (2018). It's full of aching, droning lamentations and lush orchestral moments that really make you want to call the film "atmospheric" even if nothing else in it is delivering on that level.

Elite Champion Dialogue: "Without people, there wouldn't be... anybody." (Boogeyman II)
Word Count:

Friday, August 20, 2021

Census Bloodbath: Talk About A Brazilian!

Warning: Images in this post are NSFW. I have decided against censoring female-presenting nipples, and though no other body parts some might consider inappropriate are shown, the ones that we see are in, shall we say, compromising positions.

Year: 1983
Director: Adnor Pitanga
Cast: Rossana Ghessa, Anthony Steffen, Rinaldo Gines
Run Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

We've already covered a Brazilian slasher in Census Bloodbath with Shock: Evil Entertainment, but that came out in 1984, so Momentos de Prazer e Agonia (which translates to "Moments of Pleasure and Agony," though there is no official English title for the film), in addition to being our final slasher of 1983, joins the ranks of the many first entries from new countries that we've seen this year. By 1983, the slasher genre had permeated every territory enough that more filmmakers understandably wanted to get in on the fun (read: money), but director Adnor Pitanga's particular vision was to use the trappings of the genre to spice up what is otherwise a fairly rote softcore lesbian movie. 

Fairly rote means there's also a lot of sex with men.

A quick caveat. While I did manage to snag a subtitled copy of this movie, the English subtitles were extremely literal translations that didn't adjust the grammar whatsoever, so some of the exact details of the story were lost on me, considering I don't speak Portuguese (see Champion Dialogue for my favorite bit of wacky translation).

Momentos de Prazer e Agonia follows schoolteacher Marília (Rossana Ghessa) as she... I dunno, just kind of exists. She is a city gal from São Paulo who has moved to the remote town of Rio Bonito and started dating local construction boss Rodolfo (Anthony Steffen, a spaghetti Western mainstay who played Django in several of those early films). She has the opportunity to partake in a lot of same-sex experiences thanks to Rose (Ismênia Kreis), a student with a crush on her, and the sudden arrival of Renata (Fátima Leite), a former flame from the city.

However, after about 45 minutes of sex scenes, a mysterious killer begins bumping off the women one by one, with a lot more sex in between, don't even worry about it. This killer is so mysterious it's obviously Rodolfo before he even picks up a knife. 

You said it, dude.

Obviously, this film's primary objective is to show as much sex as possible. So it's a little weird how skittish it seems to be about the actual act. It can't seem to decide whether to discreetly fade to black on an erotic situation that's developing, or just lean in with jackhammer ferocity. These opposing instincts meet in one glorious scene where Marília is helping Rose shower (she's quite bad at it, apparently). The camera pans away demurely... over to a mirror, where you can still see everything.

Maybe the actual problem is that it's a lesbian film for straight men, and the sex acts in those types of films never have a direct relationship to anything two human beings actually do with one another (unless all lesbians kiss one another's knees underneath a waterfall and they just aren't telling me). Other than those silly moments peppered in, the sex is obviously pretty boring for someone not interested in getting their jollies out of them. The film is much better when it's being saucily exploitative, like the scene where a woman runs away from the killer so hard that her boobs come flying out of her shirt, then she just happens to fall into some mud, like this is a scene from a Scary Movie entry.

Also this might be the funniest image in any film from 1983.

Most of the sex and the banter leading into it are shot capably, if a little too harshly lit, which frankly doesn't help it be interesting. The film is at its most charming when it's being inept. Take the music, which can't even decide what instruments it wants to be played on, let alone how it should tonally match a scene. Most of the sex is underscored with entirely inappropriate upbeat jazz or Suspiria-esque whispers and moans, but the score really starts cooking with gas when it brings out the motif that sounds like a recorder harmonizing with a kazoo. Or in the film's two most important narrative moments, which are underscored with a bongo/monkey noises duet and a delicate train whistle/referee whistle arpeggio respectively.

The kills kind of ride that line between fun-bad and generically functional. The first kill is entirely offscreen, but the eventual body reveal shows that she has not been covered in stab wounds so much as graded with a red pen like an essay. And I must give the movie this. There is a lot of business with a log splitting machine early on, and I didn't dare to dream it would actually pay off, but friends - it does. The gore gag looks like a flesh-colored pillow being punctured bloodlessly, but still, it's delightful.

Oh, also, I suppose I should mention that there's a grotesque moment where a chicken is slaughtered, and let's just say that PETA probably wasn't monitoring movie sets in Brazil in the early 80's. It's... a lot.

But despite having a higher body count than the similarly sex-fueled Killing of the Flesh, Momentos de Prazer e Agonia is just not interested in being a slasher movie at all. And yet it's better than quite a few of the other entries from 1983. God, what a grueling year it has been.

Killer: Rodolfo (Anthony Steffen)
Final Girl: Marília (Rossanna Ghessa)
Best Kill: C'mon. The log splitter thing. You set it up. You pay it off. Even if you don't have the budget to make it real gross, it's by a long shot the best thing in the movie.
Sign of the Times: Renata rolls up in a car so angular, it would take a week to wash every square inch.
Scariest Moment: With ten minutes left in the movie, a woman starts undressing and I thought dear god, not another sex scene. 
Weirdest Moment: When Renata is smearing shampoo all over Marília's boobs in the shower (as you do), there's just a giant house plant sitting right there behind them. In the shower!
Champion Dialogue: "I've been thinking a lot lately about the direction that I have given this poor life of events of mine."
Body Count: 4
    1. Rose is killed offscreen, presumably stabbed.
    2. Renata is hacked with a machete.
    3. Lucinha is slashed with a straight razor.
    4. Rodolfo gets a log splitter right in the abdomen.
TL;DR: Momentos de Prazer e Agonia is a softcore slasher made with basic competence so go for it if you like lesbian sex, I guess.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1125