Sleep Tight

Sleep Tight

Sleep Tight

Jaume Balagueró has been one of the most consistent directors of horror films in recent years and has done much to reanimate the genre in Spain with films likeThe Nameless and Fragile. In recent years he has been tied up with the [Rec] franchise, effectively scary films that – apart from the first in the series – seemed to lack the spooky atmosphere and undercurrents of evil that was so notable in his earlier work.

Sleep Tight (2011) is one of his best works; a really nasty little film about a very creepy man, Cesar (Luis Tosar), the porter at an exclusive apartment block in Barcelona. Cesar is a manic depressive who can only find meaning in life by making other people just as glum as he is; so he sets about bringing misery to the assorted tenants he serves in any way he can. His prime target is the relentlessly upbeat Clara (Marta Etura), and he sets about tormenting her in an escalating campaign which includes: poison pen letters, injecting cosmetics with irritants, infesting her appartment with cockroaches, drugging her nightly, sleeping in her bed and… well, you get the picture.

The really troubling thing about this is that the film is almost entirely shot from the perspective of the monstrous Cesar so, for instance, you start wanting him to avoid capture despite the fact that he’s so awful. It’s relentlessly tense and very, very manipulative; but you can’t fault the cleverness with which it’s made, the technical credentials or the quite superb performance of the beetle-browed Tosar. Unpleasantly excellent.

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Citadel

Citadel

Citadel

Another in the ‘tower block terror’ sub-strand of films which has bloomed over the last few years (see also Tower Block, The Raid, Attack on the Block), an off-shoot of the ‘hoodie horror’ movies which seem primarily composed to work writers for The Guardian up into a state of apoplexy. That’s despite the fact that they effectively tap into possibly the most understandable of modern fears: the likelihood of having the crap beaten out of you in the well-tended English countryside is low, but walk through most town centres on a Saturday night and the potential for violence is tangible.

This one features Aneurin Barnard (from Ironclad) as a young man who is left holding a baby and nursing a serious case of agoraphobia when his wife is attacked and killed by a gang of unseen teenagers. Re-housed in the shadow of the very same tower block where the murder happened, his recovery is further hindered by the fact that the damnable kids seem to be targeting him; or, rather, targeting his daughter. The lay siege to his home at night, pursue him though the ill-lit streets and hang out in mass near the infrequently serviced bus stops which are the only way out of the estate. But who or what are they? The unfortunate products of a damaged society, as the local social worker (Wunmi Mosaku) believes? Or some kind of supernatural demons, as is suggested by a nutty priest (James Cosmo)?

This is really a very good little movie: the performances are effective and first time director Ciaran Foy handles the material extremely well, bathing the run down locations in a suitably creepy atmosphere (this isn’t quite the most sinister housing estate I’ve seen on film recently, that honour goes to Community, but it certainly runs it close). The protagonist is more interesting and well constructed than usual, and it has interesting things to say on the after-effects of random violence as well as the links between the environment and gang culture. Most poignantly, it taps into the fear that most parents have that despite their best efforts their children could easily be led astray by the people and the places around them. There’s more going on here, in other words, than appears on the surface, and the criritcs who accused it of, for instance, ‘a reactionary tone’ (The Guardian, inevitably), have rather predictably missed the point.

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Community

Community

Community

Following Citadel, here’s some more hoodie-horror with Community, which manages the not inconsiderable task of being set in quite possibly the most run down, scuzziest and essentially unpleasant looking estate in England. What makes this cr*p-hole all the worse is that it’s slap bang in the middle of nowhere; making it seem even more like a cruel joke played by 1960s town planners. (Note: I believe the location in question is somewhere in Basildon, a place I’m sure is absolutely lovely, or at least more lovely than Harlow).

Anyway, the film follows a pair of film students (perky, irritating Jemma Dallender) and laconic Elliot Jordan (a regular in Eastenders a few years back)) who go to investigate this particular council estate after hearing a variety of strange rumors concerning it. They discover it to be a very strange place indeed: the kids don’t go to school, learning to kill animals instead; the adults are all zonked out on a super strong kind of weed; and the whole place is presided over by a transvestite drug dealer and general lunatic (TV regular Paul McNeilly). And – heh, heh, heh – they don’t take kindly to snooping strangers…

Given its extremely low budget this is actually a decent effort. It’s all rather silly, of course, and it lacks the depth and intelligence of Community, but its portrayal of a dystopian society – a kind of lower class equivalent of something that JG Ballard would dream up – is pretty effective. It has a bit of Ben Wheatley about it – especially the way it mixes up Mike Leigh and Tobe Hooper – and it manages to be gripping throughout (once the initial Blair Witch Project stylings have been discarded). Not brilliant, but certainly acceptable.

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Far North

Far North

Far North

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for snowbound films. Anything from Fargo to The Thing, heck, even Snowbeast… there’s something about the contrast between the vast arctic blankness and the comparative insignificance of the characters that resounds. It’s the same with deserts, of course, which have a similar unity of form.

Far North (2007), directed by Asif Kapadia, is another in the recent slew of Arctic films (see also Whiteout, 20 Days of Night, The Grey etc etc), and it’s one of the strangest. A woman and her daughter (Michele Yeoh and Michelle Krusiec) live in complete isolation, shunned by the locals – who consider her to be a witch – and constantly on the run from a nameless, genocidal army. Then a stranger (Sean Bean) turns up, near death, and they both fall for him. Things do not end well; in fact they end very, very badly.

The is a slow moving, arty drama which then quite unexpectedly features one of the most unpleasant, graphic and disturbing endings I’ve seen in recent years; a transition in mood which makes it something like a cross between An Essential Killing and Red, White and Blue. It’s all highly allegorical, beautifully shot and has a distinct mood to it; but given its very oddness and the slack pacing its not surprising to see why it failed to find an audience. Kapadia directed The Warrior back in 2001 and this is his last film to date.

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The Purge

The Purge

The Purge

The Purge has a neat idea and it’s not badly executed. Kind of a cross between Straw Dogs, Assault on Precinct 13 and The Tenth Victim (not a bad bunch of films to be influenced by), it is set in a near future in which all of the anti-social urges of society are channeled into a single night of extreme violence, rather like a hooligan’s equivalent of an office party. It seems to work: crime is down, the economy thriving and people seem to enjoy having the opportunity to beat sh*t out of each other (or avoid it and watch it play out in real time streaming at home). Rich people, that is, who can afford the intensive gun collections and security systems which keep them safe; poor people – who have to put up with the annual occurrence of being hunted down and murdered – are less than happy.

So much for the concept, the plot focuses on a smug dad (Ethan Hawke), his wife (Lena Headey) and their two kids, who have locked themselves in for the night and assume themselves safe… until a bunch of loathsome, privileged brats – bastard offspring of A Clockwork Orange and Funny Games - turn up and attack them for harboring (accidentally) a homeless man who is their chosen victim for the night.

It’s a clever concept and there’s an interesting social edge to it all (is the purge simply a way of culling the working and under classes), which gives it a depth that’s missing from a lot of generic B-Movies. But the siege element isn’t quite so convincing, despite the good cast, and after an effective build up everything happens rather quickly. The villainous youths – clad in sinister masks and distinctive, old fashioned clothing – are well conceived and the minor details (such as the family’s next door neighbour sharpening his machete in anticipation of a good night’s ‘purging’) are more disconcerting than the central narrative of the film. Not perhaps as good as it could have been, but equally not at all bad.

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Janine Hendy

Janine Hendy in Thor the Mighty

Janine Hendy in Thor the Mighty

Aka Jannin Hendy | Jeanine Hendy | Jenny Hendy

Janine Hendy was one of the more prominent black actresses to work in Italian cinema during the early 1960s. Maybe not a star – certainly not like Kerima, for instance, who was able to generate interest in the mainstream press – but certainly familiar to those with an interest in Italian B-Movies of the time. Perhaps her best known roles were in the two Taur films directed by Antonio Leonviola in 1963, Taur, il re della forza bruta and more particularly Thor and the Amazon Women, in which she played the antagonist to the titular hero Joe Robinson.

As with so many starlets of the time, surprisingly little is known about her. Some sources, however, indicate that she was an American, born in New York, who came to Italy in the early 1960s to pursue her interest in cinema. Acting, however, wasn’t her only passion; she was also fascinated with antiques and, in tandem with appearing in films, she also worked as a set designer, which might well have been what she was doing when she was ‘discovered’ by Giorgio Simonelli, who gave her a small part in his Walter Chiari vehicle I baccanali di Tiberio. Several other films followed in close succession: an actress called ‘Gloria Hendy’ appeared in Fellini’s La dolce vita, and the fact that this ‘Gloria Hendy’ also appeared in films for Giorgio Simonelli (Robin Hood and the Pirates) and Antonio Leonviola (Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules), two directors with whom Janine Hendy would later work regularly, it’s not too much of a stretch to assume that the two actresses are one and the same person.

In some of her early films (Messalina, The Mongols) she played a dancer, indicating that perhaps she also worked in the vibrant Roman nightclub scene. But by 1962 she was starting to get more prominent roles: she has a meaty supporting part in Simonelli’s spy comedy I due nemici before appearing in the Taur movies. Thor and the Amazon Women featured her most prominent role, playing the ‘Black Queen’ an evil tyrant who has a liking for female gladiators and an understandable fear of musclemen.

As soon as her career seemed to be taking off, though, it ended. In 1964 she founded Hendy, a Antiques company specialized in a wide range of artifacts, from sixteenth and seventeenth African Sculpture to Pop Art, which had a couple of shops in Rome and specialized in furnishing villas and sets for films. She did appear in two more films – Quarta parete (68) for Adriano Bolzoni and La pecora nera (68) for Luciano Salce – before returning to her business, which was becoming increasingly successful and still exists today.

1960
Giallo club. Invito al poliziesco (TV Series) - Un giorno prima (1960)
La dolce vita (Woman in Via Veneto) (uncredited)
Robin Hood and the Pirates (Saracen Woman) (as Jeanine Hendy)
Messalina (Dancer)
I baccanali di Tiberio

1961
Che femmina… e che dollari! (as Jannin Hendy)
Mole Men Against the Son of Hercules (Queen’s Handmaid Playing the Harp) (as Jannin Hendy)
The Mongols (Harem dancer) (uncredited)

1962
I tre nemici (Zazà) (as Jenny Hendy)
Passport for a Corpse (Jeanine)

1963
Thor and the Amazon Women (The Black Queen)
Taur, il re della forza bruta (Afer)
The Hours of Love (as Jannin Hendy)

1968
Quarta parete (Pilla) (as Jeanine Hendy)
La pecora nera (as Jannin Hendy)

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I ragazzi della Roma violenta

Ragazza di roma violenta

Ragazza di roma violenta

Director: Renato Savino
Story: Renato Savino
Screenplay: Renato Savino
Cast: Gino Milli, Cristina Businari, Emilio Lo Curcio, Sarah Crespi, Marco Zuanelli, Paola Corazzi, Enrico Tricarico, Vittorio Sgorlon, Francesco Pau, Mario Cutini, Gino Barzacchi, Alicia Bruzzo, Stefania D’Addario, Renzo Rinaldi, Adolfo Schauer, Annunziata Gregori
Photography: Aiace Parolin
Music: Enrico Simonetti
Editing: Roberto Colangeli
Production: G.N. Cinematografica
Visa number and date: 68155 del 25-03-1976

I know that I’ve said the phrase ‘it’s difficult to give a plot summary for this film because… there isn’t one’, or something of the like, many times before.  I must now confess, it’s not entirely true.  On some occasions this is because there is simply so much plot, all of which is unrelated and knitted together in such a fashion that there seems to be nothing cohesive about it whatsoever.  This would be true of most films by Demofilo Fidani, for instance.  At other times, it could well be that the whole thing is so astoundingly boring that I simply can’t be bothered to elaborate upon it – as with anything by Gianni Crea, Alfonso Brescia or Derek Jarman (sorry all Jarmanites out there).  Well, with I ragazzi della Roma violenta I am glad to report that, in this case, there really is no plot.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.  I’ve wracked my brain and I simply can’t come up with anything whatsoever.

What there is are about 85 minutes of unhesitatingly sordid events running into one another, none of which have any consequence, repercussions or prelude.  They all revolve around the activities of one Marco, an ugly geek who looks something like Leo Sayer crossed with a hobgoblin (Leo Satan, perhaps?).  He heads up a gang of fuckwits who seem to believe that they are neo-nazis, although what they mostly do is cruise around raping women, beating up men and making pathetic attempts to carry out robberies (that inevitably fail because they’re such a bunch of troglodytes).  At one point it does look as though some kind of narrative is about to emerge – when a young girl commits suicide after becoming one of their victims – but this is promptly dropped in favour of allowing the degradation to carry on unhindered by such fripperies as character motivation.  The whole thing ends in a suitably bathetic fashion when Marco drives off a cliff for no apparent reason.

I guess that this ostensibly belongs to the same subgenre of crime films – spoilt youths in too-tight sweaters running wild – as Romolo Guerrieri’s Liberi, armati, pericolosi (76), Marino Girolami’s Roma, l’altra faccia della violenza (76, see review) and Sergio Grieco’s Violence for Kicks (77).  However, where it differs is that whereas these are primarily concerned with the activities of the police in attempting to capture the hideous adolescents, I ragazza doesn’t feature anything remotely resembling the law whatsoever.  There is never any hint that anyone is even after the anarchistic protagonists, and if they are there’s definitely no indication that they’re ever going to capture them.  The teenagers here are literally running wild, and what a sorry-complexioned and morally retarded bunch of reprobates they are.

Ragazza di roma violenta

Ragazza di roma violenta

It also has to be said that this is possibly the most extreme of its type that I have seen – and that’s saying something in the macho world of the Italian crime film.  It is, basically, a catalogue of brutality – especially against women – and it really does leave you feeling in desperate need of a shower.  This is heightened by the fact that there is absolutely no-one on the side of ‘good’, however warped that righteousness might be.  You’re left just hoping for a Maurizio Merli to stand out of the shadows and blow the little buggers away.

I’m truly at a loss to work out what director Renato Savino was hoping to achieve with this.  In some ways it could be argued that this is entirely honest in it’s obsession with ugliness, both ethical and aesthetic – a Salo of the genre.  Unfortunately, it’s more likely that it was an attempt to push the sleaze values as far as they could possibly go – and he certainly succeeds in that.  Unfortunately, it’s just not very good.  The porn film production values and complete absence of pacing leave you bored more than uneasy.  The uniformly dismal cast doesn’t help. Mario Cutini, who specialised in bottom of the drawer sleazefests such as Roberto Mauri’s The Porno Killers (80), is probably the best known performer involved.  Many will also remember chubby Marco Zuanelli as ‘Wobbles’ in Once Upon a Time in the West.

Fortunately, the best thing about I ragazza is that it’s complete obscurity means that you’ll probably never have to sit through it.  Thanks god for small mercies.

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