Un couteau dans le coeur
Horror and porn are, in an odd way, linked. Both are considered disreputable genres. Both have a passionate fan following that memorizes every name associated with the genre. While popular genres like comedies and action certainly have fans, you don't see too many conventions devoted to them, now do you? More than anything else, both appeal to marginalized outsiders, weirdos in search of specific stimuli. Unsurprisingly, there have been many crossovers between the two genres: Monster mask nudie cuties, arty softcore creature features, even hardcore horror fuck-fests. This year, the French “Knife+Heart” touched down on American shores, showing us a feverish crossbreed of giallo and seventies gay porn chic, when Argento met the Rialto Report.
Paris, 1979. Anne is a director in France's gay porn industry. She has recently broken up with her girlfriend, Lois, who is also her editor. She channels that heartbreak into her latest cock-sucking epic, a gay killer thriller called “Homo-cidal.” At the same time, a mysterious man – wearing a concealing black rubber mask and attacking with a blade concealed in a dildo – begins to hunt down, seduce, and kill the cast members of Anne's previous films. Under scrutiny from the law, trying to complete another porno, and still reeling from Lois' dumping, Anne attempts to unravel the truth behind the murders and the identity of the slasher.
why people consume porn.
More than anything else, “Knife+Heart” is an example of virtuoso film-making. Director Yan Gonzalez is making his feature debut here, after directing a number of shorts. Gonzalez clearly has an eye for stylish, Italian-style sequence. There are many long, dialogue-free scenes that are instead driven by the incredible electronic score by band M83. Such as the killer catching the eye of his first victim. Or a long P.O.V. shot through one of the lurid porn sets. As one victim stands in a forest, the camera spins around wildly, the murderer seen slowly approaching in the background. Another sequence, in which the advancing slasher is hidden by a flickering light, is also stunning. The death scenes, highly sexualized to begin with, always climax in an emotional, orgasmic outpouring of passion.
“Knife+Heart” is a lead performance for French pop star Vanessa Paradis, perhaps better known in America for her former relationship with Johnny Depp. Paradis gives a shockingly unvarnished performance, playing Anna as a raw nerve, driven to extremes by a heartbreak she is unable to manage. Her frenzied confessions of undying love to Lois practically brought a tear to my eye. Kate Moran is also excellent as Lois, the object of Anna's unwilling affection. The supporting cast is largely solid too, with the exceedingly campy Nicolas Maury giving a memorable performance as the crossdressing porn star.
Phantom of the Opera (1989)
In 1976, a musical version of Gaston Leroux's “The Phantom of the Opera” – not much more than a penny dreadful whose place in horror history was secured by Lon Chaney and Universal Pictures – premiered on the Lancaster stage. Andrew Lloyd Weber liked the show so much, he asked to collaborate on a big budget version. When negotiations fell apart, he turned around and created his own singing-and-dancing version of the public domain novel. Lloyd's “Phantom,” of course, became one of the biggest successes in stage history. So suddenly in the late eighties, this eighty year old melodrama was a hot property. In-between a low budget animated version from 1988 and a romantic TV mini-series adaptation the next year, came a “Phantom” that eighties horror fans could call their own.
And the reason we're discussing this particular “Phantom” tonight, is its one of the few non-Krueger staring roles Robert Englund grabbed during the heady heights of Freddy-Mania. This adaptation of the often-told tale begins in modern day Manhattan. Would-be opera singer Christine Day auditions for a new play with a piece of music called “Don Juan Triumphant,” written by forgotten composer Eric Drestler. She is struck by a dropped sanded bag. She awakens in 1885 London as Christine Daae, understudy-to-the-diva at the opera house. Daae is an object of obsession for Eric, a deranged composer who sold his soul to the devil (who took his face as payment) for fame and immortality. Wearing a mask made from the stitched-together skin of his victims, Eric will do any ghastly thing to ensure Christine is successful.
a thread in the story's DNA. The film includes nods towards many of the book's characters and events. Versions of minor characters – Little Meg, Joseph Buquet, and Carlotta – appear. Frequently excised elements, like the Masque of the Red Death, the violin serenade in the cemetery, the ratcatcher, and the detective pursuing the phantom (now from Scotland Yard, instead of Persia), are re-inserted. The film includes the love triangle, Raoul recast as a English solider, but it's reduced to such a minor part of the story, you hardly notice it. As radical a reinvention as this “Phantom” is, it was also pretty clearly written by fans of the material.
The film was obviously pitched at the Fangoria crowd, with the poster using the most Krueger-esque image of Englund from the film and heavily promoting the “Nightmare on Elm Street” connection. In order to appease this crowd – which ended up alienating the romantic fans – the film packs in some awfully heavy gore. Erik's victims are split from groin to gullet, decapitated (with one head dropped in some soup), skewered, burned, and all skinned afterwards. The gore is pretty bitching, though it was also badly mishandled by the MPAA. Replacing the Phantom's traditional mask with a false-face, stitched together from remnants of stolen flesh, is certainly a novel idea. Further selling this butchery is stylish direction from Dwight H. Little, previously of “Halloween 4.” Little obviously enjoys the lavish period details and enjoys casting Englund's deformed villain in all sorts of shadowy angles.
the weird Freudian element of the Phantom/Christine relationship, as he's both a father figure and a lover to her.) Scream queen Jill Schloen is badly dubbed as Christine during the opera bits but nail the naivety central to the character. Bill Nighy is delightfully bitchy as the opera manager and it's funny to see a young Molly Shannon as the modern day Meg.
“Phantom of the Opera” was produced by Menahem Golan, for his post-Cannon company 21st Century Film Corporation. Golan sunk so much money into this one that, when it bombed, the entire company nearly went belly-up. He was obviously banking hard on the book's newfound name recognition, even if the horror version ends with a disclaimer saying it's unconnected to any past or present stage version. A sequel was planned right from the beginning with the script, supposedly, mutating into a different theater-set Englund-starring slasher called “Dance Macabre.” Dwight Little's “Phantom” is such a strange hybrid of classy gothic horror and grisly slasher, that I can't help but love it. The time travel element and other mystical touches add a mythic element to the story and Englund gives a fine performance. It's not the best cinematic Phantom – that'll be Mr. Chaney, now and forever – but it's certainly a valid one. [7/10]
Freddy's Nightmares: No More Mr. Nice Guy
By 1988, New Line Cinema saw the grip Freddy Krueger had on the public's imagination. They not unreasonably assumed the dream-stalking slasher could take over other mediums. What about a TV show? The series would largely follow an anthology format, with Freddy slipping into the role of a pun-spewing horror host. Known officially and inelegantly as “Freddy's Nightmares – A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series,” the series aired for two full seasons in first-run syndication at the end of the decade. As if to show the fans what “Freddy's Nightmares” could accomplish, the first episode was directed by known horror auteur Tobe Hooper and would depict Krueger's origins.
Or, at least, a version of Freddy's origins. The episode shows Freddy's trial going off the rails. The cop who is responsible for not reading Krueger his Miranda's rights feels guilty but he feels even worst when a lynch mob forms to track Freddy down. (Largely because Freddy immediately goes back to terrorizing Springwood's citizens the minute he's free.) Freddy actively eggs the vigilantes on, seemingly aware that death will make him more powerful than ever. Instead of targeting the cops' kids, as he does in the film, he goes after the grown-ups. And that's really only the most obvious ways “No More Mr. Nice Guy” contradicts established “Elm Street” lore.
However, there are a few elements to like here. Even on a TV budget, Hooper pulls off some memorable visuals. He keeps Freddy's unburned face in the shadows, focusing on Englund's twisted smile or that famous sweater, a nice touch. We go inside Freddy's head a few times, getting a direct look at his twisted imagination. A stalking scene outside a home, where Krueger slashes a doughnut munching cop, is well done. Some red-and-green lights are utilized well in the one nightmare. And, of course, Robert Englund is at his hammiest during the host segments. Freddy was cracking so many jokes in the films by this point that his move into a pun-filled Crpykeeper-like role seems totally natural.
For numerous reasons, “Freddy's Nightmares” never really caught on. This is one of the rare episodes where Freddy interacts with the story, as he was usually just in a hosting position. The gory effects and sexy actresses often bumped up against network standards. The entire series was shot on cheap-looking video, instead of film, making it look like a soap opera. That the show managed run for two seasons, under these constraints, is impressive on its own. Fans mostly regard the series as a curio now, which might be why it's never been given an official home video release. (Bootlegs are prolific, of course, and a few episodes have been slipped into DVD box sets as bonuses.) Nevertheless, I'm too damn curious about “Freddy's Nightmares” not to watch it all eventually. As for “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” it has its moments but is largely undone by some stiff writing and a melodramatic presentation. [5/10]
Queen of Harps
Here's an episode of “Forever Knight” that really utilizes the flashback structure in an interesting way. As a Christian soldier in Pagan Ireland, a young Nicholas fell in love with a harp-playing young woman, the priestess of the local religious order. In order to insure his participation in the Crusades, Nick's commanding officer killed the girl and framed Nick for the crime. Since then, the man's family has supposedly been cursed to die young. In the modern day, Nick attempts to buy the still existing harp at auction. He ends up embroiled in a scandal to possess the ancient relic, caught in-between the modern descendant of the harp-player, an archaeologist, and the similar descendant of the knight who killed her, minor royalty.
Flashing back to the days before Nick was even a vampire is an interesting idea, that really gives us a sense of how much history this guy has. Directly connecting the past events with the present crime is a smart idea. I like how Nick is around at both the origins of a curse and its final hour. There's some genuinely lovely photography of Canadian countryside, standing in for the Celtic moors, and some solid direction in that opening scene. Watching rough hewed commoner Schanke rub shoulders with a distinguished lord is certainly amusing. As is the final chase, where Nick's vampire powers come in handy with rescuing the woman-of-the-week. (At least Nick doesn't fall in love with her modern descendant.) The layered writing is likely to make this one of my favorite episodes of the entire series. [7/10]