Thursday, November 29, 2012

REVIEW: Black Demons

Black Demons
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Year 1991

Black Demons is a low budget zombie film that actually benefits from its low key origins and amateurish acting, resulting in a voodoo-centric tale that relies heavily on its atmosphere and creature effects to carry it along in the most stupendous of ways. Filmed on location in Brazil and directed by cult Italian filmmaker Umberto Lenzi, the movie is a mishmash of genre archetypes, infused with that nasty European horror flair which swept cinemas from the mid 70’s through the late 80’s in a trail of gore and guts. Shocking, surreal and sometimes embarrassing, Black Demons is a unique entry in the zombie genre, one in which missed the boat on the undead craze that was first started when Fulci’s Zombie came onto the scene, but still manages to replicate that movie’s potent atmosphere and creepy aura to great effect.

The film follows three college students, Kevin, Dick, and Jessica, as they travel through Brazil on vacation. Dick wanders off from the rest of the group and gets mixed up in a voodoo ceremony, in which he captures with his audio recorder while partaking in the bizarre ritual. After the ceremony, the group meets up and continues their travels into the country only to end up stranded after having car trouble. Lost in the middle of nowhere with no clue on what to do, the group is unexpectedly visited by a young local couple who offer to have them stay at their plantation. Once at the plantation, Dick decides to explore an old graveyard on the grounds, where he, in ritualistic fashion, begins playing his audio recording from the ceremony. Mysteriously, Dick’s recording brings six dead slaves to life, men who were executed almost 150 years ago during a slave rebellion. Armed with scythes, pitchforks, and knives, the six zombie slaves seek revenge for their deaths and deem the inhabitants of the plantation as the culprits to their plight.

When it comes to the acting of the film, Black Demons is sorely lacking and pathetically dry, but that doesn’t mean that there still isn’t a huge amount of entertainment to garner from this enthusiastic zombie effort. Joe Balogh takes on the role of the curious traveler named Dick, the one who accidentally or purposely raises the dead and sets this whole bloody affair into motion. As an amateur actor, Balogh does a good enough job, and even though you’ll find yourself laughing throughout his performance, there still is a great deal of fun to be had with his over the top descent into madness. Sonia Curtis plays the role of Jessica, Dick’s sister, and she ends up being the heroine of the piece. Always in danger and falling into every cliché in the book, Curtis does a commendable job with the material she’s given and I appreciate the effort that she gives on screen. Rounding out the group of travelers is Keith Van Hoven who plays the role of Kevin, Jessica’s boyfriend. In more than one occasion, Keith’s purpose in the film is to move the story along as he takes a more physical and proactive approach in the story. Out of all of the actors of the film, I’d say that his performance is the most solid.

Of course we can’t have a zombie movie without at least a few more people to be zombie chow and the cast is filled out by the presence of Philip Murray as Jose, Juliana Teixeira as Sonia, and Maria Alves as Maria the housekeeper and voodoo practitioner. Each of these lesser characters are a hoot, especially the awkward performance by the fro wonder himself, Murray, and the scared shitless portrayal of Maria Alves. Maria’s character is a one note pony as she stays in a constant state of shock throughout the entire proceedings, only veering off course a handful of times to dabble in some voodoo for the good of the group. Her character’s connections with witchcraft is one of the film’s most interesting sort of twists, because she often at times gets herself into hot water with the rest of the cast as they think that she is behind the raising of the dead, even though she is trying to protect them. All in all, there is no one performance that really stands out from the bunch as outstanding, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a great deal of fun to be had with the over the top acting that we are given in this film.

Now where the film really thrives is in its remarkable atmosphere and unsettling creature make-up. With the film being centralized within a secluded plantation and its surrounding properties, there is a tremendous opportunity for the movie to dwell on not just the visual aspects of the location, but on the storied events of the grounds past. With the back story of the slave rebellion some 150 years ago, the movie gives the location an unsavory creepiness that saturates the proceedings from the get go and only cultivates as the undead corpses begin to rise and terrorize our lead characters. Another thing about the plantation location that is so damn effective is that the place is like a tomb. Even though there are six people living inside its walls, the estate always seems void of life, especially during the night time scenes. Add on top of that the aged look of the place and you’ve got yourself an ideal setting for a fabulously grim zombie film.

The zombie effects are also extremely disturbing as the filmmakers make an extra effort in realizing these undead mounds of flesh as believable walking corpses. They are bloody, disgusting, and oozing with a chilly presence that perfectly mimics death as it slowly stalks its prey. One of my favorite visual looks for a zombie is used in this film, and that would be the glazed over white eyes of the antagonists. Void of life and distressing to look at, these zombies are top notch and of the utmost of quality. As I mentioned above in my introduction, the movie may be of meager origins but the inclusion of both the plantation as the central location and the outstanding visual effects of the zombies, really makes this entry in the zombie genre stand out amongst its counterparts. Forget the atrocious acting and strange set-up and just relish in the otherworldly nature of the film as it tells its little tale of the macabre.

Black Demons is a sadly under-appreciated zombie flick, as it hit the scene just a tad bit too late to make an impact on the once thriving genre efforts of George Romero, Lucio Fulci, Bruno Mattei, and even Lamberto Bava’s zombie-centric series of films. Filmed in that same dire sense and drenched in a nasty disposition that Italian horror was so known for in its hay day, the production is a real treat for those that are looking to extend their zombie love into new and less glamorous territory. Umberto Lenzi does an excellent job with this little zombie yarn, and you can see that his love for the zombie genre hasn’t faltered since his last undead effort some 11 years ago in the excellent Nightmare City.

If you set aside the passable acting and just go along for the ride, Black Demons proves that it has the atmospheric punch that is needed to bring about an unsettling tale filled with gory moments, spooky locales, and expertly crafted and imaginative vengeful dead. In my opinion, that is all that is really needed in order to capture the spirit of this niche genre. It’s not a very complicated film category, but nailing that tone and capturing that look can sometimes take out even the most well-intentioned of film directors. Luckily for us, Umberto Lenzi has constructed a gem with this one. If you’re looking for a zombie film outside of the regular Romero/Fulci ilk, then give this one a go. You might just find something that tickles your fancy, your zombie fancy that is. Black Demons is an…..

The group wasn't too impressed with Jose's fabulous fro.

Someone put the coins on Maria's eyes cause she sure don't believe what she is seeing.

Only you can prevent graveyard fires.

High-five man! I'm free!

Quit making love to that voodoo doll and get back to work!

Sir you look stupendous!

Listen, the fabulous fro has got to go Jose.

I've got my eye on you.

Even this sneaky zombie is distracted by the fabulous fro.

I told you I'm turning seven this year! You forgot a candle you ass!

Maria just got one hell of a zombie beat-down.

Not only was Jose's fabulous fro distracting, but he sipped water like an asshole.

Quit hanging around and get back to work!

Look at my camel toe when I'm talking to you!

I warned you about the fabulous fro, but you wouldn't listen!

Ok Keith, just scan the area with the flashlight, but don't look directly at the camera.
Jesus Keith! What the shit did I just say!


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

BOND 3: Goldfinger

Director: Guy Hamilton
Year 1964

Goldfinger is the third entry in the long standing Bond series, proving that three times is definitely the charm as Sean Connery comes back to reprise his iconic role with impeccable results. Helmed by Guy Hamilton in his first attempt at presenting the thrilling adventures of agent 007, the movie has a slick style that emphasizes the coolness of the series while at the same time filling out the world of Bond with a more excessive and exuberant fun-filled fashion. With its over the top villains, quirky gadgets, sleek visuals, and sexy women, Goldfinger continues in the same entertaining tradition in which its previous entries have so far established for themselves. The film builds upon what we already know about the Bond world by adding even more to the lucrative franchise in terms of lavish style, breathtaking stunts, and a charming hero that steals the show every time. Who could ask for anything more?

The film centers around a gold obsessed man named Auric Goldfinger, as he plots to raid Fort Knox and decimate the world’s economy. After having a run in with the infamous Goldfinger in Maimi, resulting in one of James Bond’s female flings being painted in gold and killed, James Bond makes it a priority to bring the madman down at any cost. Following the old saying, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”, Bond offers Goldfinger a lucrative proposition in hopes to get close enough to his organization and unfold his nefarious plot. Unfortunately for Bond, Goldfinger has a ruthless man servant named Oddjob, who would like nothing more than to severe James’ head from his neck, with the flick of his razorblade-brimmed derby. To make matters more complicated Goldfinger also has in his employment a ravishing pilot named Pussy Galore, whose stunning looks and headstrong attitude could very well bring about James Bond’s downfall.

Once again Sean Connery takes on the role of James Bond, marking his third appearance in the role and cementing his legacy as the quintessential 007. The originator of the cool demeanor and stylish swagger, Connery really lets loose this time out as he gives an extremely more playful mindset to the character. His smart remarks and witty banter are a mile a minute in this entry, and it seems that his appetite for the ladies has only increased since his first two outings. I really enjoyed the aura of fun that Goldfinger brings to the table and Sean just soaks it all in as the charismatic hero who always beats the odds. Needless to say, Sean Connery is my favorite of the Bonds and in this entry the fun of the James Bond character really comes into light.

As far as reoccurring characters in the series, Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell reprise their roles respectively as ‘M’ and Moneypenny, and each of them give a dazzling performance. Maxwell especially hits the mark as Bond’s flirtatious co-worker. The sexual tension between these two is potent and the running gag between them has endured throughout the entire series even leading up to the newest entry Skyfall, in the most satisfactory of ways. When it comes to the rest of the women in James’ life, Shirley Eaton plays the lovely Jill Masterson, a reluctant employee of Goldfinger, while Tania Mallet takes on the role of her sister Tilly Masterson, a revenge seeking sibling you means to take the life of Goldfinger for the death of her sister. Last but definitely not least is Honor Blackman as the tantalizingly named Pussy Galore. Blackman is absolutely stunning in this film, and her character’s headstrong nature and curvaceous ways are to die for. Pussy Galore is definitely a Bond girl that stands at the top of the list of fantastically provocative characters.

That takes us to Goldfinger himself, who with the help of his man servant Oddjob, make for a formidable team. Gert Frobe embodies the role of Auric Goldfinger, as his cocky attitude and lust for wealth really take center stage. The man is a glutton for gold and you can see it in everything he owns and wears. There’s always a nice subtle touch of gold in all that he owns, from his private jet to his finely sewn clothing. Though he isn’t an intimidating presence physically, he leaves that dirty business to his henchmen and polar opposite, Oddjob. The pairing of Goldfinger with Oddjob, played by Harold Sakata, is a highly interesting one and this odd couple never ceases to entertain when sharing the screen. Both actors do an amazing job with their respective characters and you can tell that they are being swept up in the fun as much as we are.

Speaking of being swept away, this mission, as usual, takes Bond on a global journey around the world. From the posh and stylish hotels along the coast in Miami, to the rolling and twisting roads of Geneva, to a poppy farm in Mexico, to some quaint scenes in Baltimore, Maryland and Fort Knox, Kentucky, the film gives off a nice kaleidoscope of 60’s globetrotting goodness. Though not as exotic and international as some of Bond’s other missions, there’s a strange simplicity and tempered approach to the locations that really emphasis what it’s like to be a secret agent in this fictional espionage world, yet lavishly toned down. Even if Goldfinger’s globetrotting isn’t as impressive as 007’s more iconic outings, the over the top and expressive characters more than make up for the familiar territory covered in this film. Combine that with the impressive gadgets that ‘Q’, played by the incomparable Desmond Llewelyn, reveals to Bond and you’ve got yourself one outstanding entry that only serves to build on the legend that we all know and love. Goldfinger is a respectable admission in the series as it begins to really take hold on the things that make a Bond film great and really that’s all I ask with these films.

Goldfinger is a constant reminder on why we love the character of James Bond so much. He’s suave, confident, and always in control, even in the most dire of circumstances. The man is a living legend, born from fiction, and realized by an accomplished actor who is able to exude all of these qualities at the drop of a hat and simply put, it’s all just so much damn fun. From the remarkable gadgets, the picturesque locations, the astoundingly interesting villains, and the jaw dropping beauties that grace the film, you’d have to be dead inside to not at least get a thrill out of something that the movie provides.

As one of Connery’s best efforts, Goldfinger is a perfect example of the formula. We’ve got Gert Frobe as the ridiculously named Goldfinger, we’ve got Honor Blackman as the even more ridiculously named Pussy Galore, and we’ve got Harold Sakata as the strangely aptly named Oddjob. What is there not to like? With its tongue and cheek attitude and Connery’s perfectly delivered lines, Goldfinger is a Bond entry that really ups the fun factor while still focusing on the thrills and chills of the espionage world, and that’s a balancing act worth rooting for. Director Guy Hamilton takes his first stab at the series and really knocks it out of the park as he realizes the perfect combination of cheese and class, the very same formula that has gifted the longevity of the series and has made it so much damn fun to watch. Goldfinger is the gold standard to which the series would branch off from and you really can’t deny that this movie is…..

Do it James you suave bastard you.


Nothing like a backrub from a hot chick to get you smiling.

Well hello there.

You're looking in the wrong place Bond old boy.

Get your lazy gold ass up and answer the phone!

I'm Bond, James Bond, but you already knew that.

So you're a Caddy? What an Oddjob.

Holy shit! Grandma's pissed!

A little help here Goldfinger. My balls are on fire!

My name's Pussy Galore. My word!

I can see my Gold house from here.

What up G?

How about a roll in the hay? Shit ya!

The Odd Couple.

Someone needs to learn about sharing.

What do you think of my Gold little friend?

Any last requests? PUSSY GALORE!!!!