Friday, June 29, 2012

Countess Perverse (1973)

If you were a fan of Jess Franco during the early 70’s you were lucky. While Franco was always a prolific filmmaker, often helming several films a year, the 70’s found him taking on a work load that even by his standards seemed a bit extreme, hell in 1973 alone he managed to complete 12 feature films. TWELVE, and there were others that for one reason or another were never finished. No matter what your opinion on Franco is, you can’t help but admire the man’s work ethic, it never ceases to amaze me, and personally speaking it’s one of the main reasons I hold him in such high regard as a filmmaker. I mean think about some the long lapses in time certain directors experience in between films, sometimes 4-6 years (not to mention the waiting impatient fans like myself endure). Not Franco though, finish one, move onto the next. Now, obviously when you work at that kind of a pace the results tend to be hit or miss, and even devout Francophiles will admit the man has had his fair share of misses, but a good number of the films that Franco directed during that time period turned out to be real good. Great in fact, as several of them are now considered to be some of his most essential, must see works. Films such as (but obviously not limited too) The Sinister Eyes of Dr. Orloff, The Other Side of the Mirror, Female Vampire, Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac, Plaisir à trois, and Countess Perverse. Countess Perverse was one of a few films Franco worked on that featured principle cast members Alice Arno, Howard Vernon, Robert Woods and of course Lina Romay. Out of the all the films he worked on with that motley crew, for my money, it’s Countess Perverse that stands out as the best.

Countess Perverse (original French title La comtesse perverse) is essentially Franco’s own unique take on the classic Most Dangerous Game hunting humans theme. Countess Ivanna and Count Rador Zaroff (Arno and Vernon) are two extremely wealthy debauched libertine aristocrats who live on their own private island of sorts, which they’ve turned into their own personal hunting ground. After wining, dining and “entertaining” (read that as being seduced by Ivanna, sometimes Rador joins in, other times he watches astutely from the sidelines) a guest, their true motives are revealed to their unsuspecting victim, and the next morning the victim is given the chance to escape the island while Ivanna hunts them down like a wild animal with her bow. If the attempted escape is unsuccessful, the head of victim becomes another trophy on Ivanna’s wall and the rest is cooked and becomes Ivanna and Rador’s dinner, and is served to the next unknowing player in their game as well, and they’ve just found the perfect victim in the young Sylvia (Romay).

Filled to the brim with sex, sleaze, beautiful uninhibited women, cannibalism, rampant lesbianism and black humor, Countess Perverse is defiantly Franco at his Francoiest. There’s no pretense when it comes to a film like this, it knows what it is and proudly flaunts it, making no apologies for it. More than anything though, it’s just damn entertaining. Countess Perverse is really a blast to watch, and if I have to make one complaint it would just be that I wish it were longer because at a short running time of only 78 minutes it’s over before you know it and if your anything like me you’ll want more. For starters the tight knit cast Franco assembled for this and some of the other previously mentioned films couldn’t have been more perfect. Arno and Vernon make for the perfect disturbed cannibalistic couple, and both are the personification of presence. Vernon has a way about him, that was tailor made for horror films and the deranged faces he makes in this film are almost worth the price of admission alone. He’s a magnetic figure in that black suit and glasses, no doubt. I don’t even need to mention just how dead sexy Arno is, simply a stunning, alluring woman and it’s impossible to take your eyes off her. Dangerous and seductive, she made the titular Countess a more interesting character. Did I mention she hunts her prey totally nude? Having her and Lina on the screen together almost seems like Franco challenging the viewer to see which one you can drool over more. Along with all the human hunting and flesh eating, Franco even finds room for some drama near the end when one of the procurers of the Zaroff’s victims, played by Robert Woods decides he has a heart and tries to put a stop to the Countess’ game. Admittedly this does turn into melodrama, but Franco quickly shifts the mood and ends the film on a darkly comic note. The morbid humor is one of the films definite highlights, the good majority of Vernon’s lines are real gems, one of the most popular being “She's dim, but she's certainly juicy.” referring to Sylvia after having passed out from the shock of discovering the Zaroff’s love of human flesh. One of my personal favorite scenes in the film is the dinner scene where the Zaroff’s share their favorite food with Sylvia. The dialogue between the three is pure gold, and the wide eyed look of bewilderment on Lina’s face the entire time is priceless

Ivanna: Do You like our favorite meat, Sylvia?
Rador: Don’t ask the sweet girl to lie. This meat is rather tough. Not up to our usual standard. But next time… Oh, sorry - you won’t be here.
Sylvia: Why? Am I upsetting you?
Rador: On the contrary.
Ivanna: Just that you will have left by the time we start cooking.
Rador: Oh yes, that’s a fact. Already left indeed. 

I’m going to sound like a broken record here because just as I did when I reviewed Lorna the Exorcist (1974) and Justine (1969) I have to point out Franco’s knack for getting the most out of a location, using every possible resource at his disposal to his advantage. You’d never would have guessed how low the budget was for a lot of Franco’s films just going by the scenery alone, and Countess Perverse is no exception. It goes without saying that the island setting is gorgeous but it’s the way Franco uses his surroundings to give off this incredible atmosphere that fans know all about but first time Franco viewers might have never expected to feel in such a film. Early on there in the film there is a flashback segment where a woman recounts her voyage to the island while Franco focuses the camera on the massive rocks surrounding the water and island. The woman describes the fear the rocks instilled in her by claiming that the rocks warned of death, and therein lies Franco’s genius. There is indeed something oddly menacing about those monstrous, natural formations, and the thought of being surrounded by them in the middle of the water does give off some odd sensations. The incredible eerie organ theme enhances the scene tenfold, and it’s a theme that’s heard numerous times throughout the film to great effect. You can’t talk about this film without bringing up the Zaroff’s house, as it‘s an unforgettable sight. (Francophiles will instantly recognize the house he previously used it in She Killed In Ecstasy (1971)) The best way I can describe the look of the house is an Escher paining come to life, and the bizarre architecture gives off a real unsettling aura, as Lina’s character of Sylvia exclaims “This house scares me.” as the aforementioned organ theme plays. Just as visually stunning are the interior shots taking place within a set  of huge red stair casings (which were filmed in the building right next to the main house), which, just like the exterior of the house have a very surreal, nightmarish quality. The overall oddness of both not only bring forth a disorienting sense unease, but also allow Franco to conjure up that hallucinogenic dream like state he creates all to well.

Once again, Mondo Macabro proves to be at the top of their game when it comes to the world of DVD. Their treatment of Countess Perverse is every bit as impressive as their previous Franco releases of The Diabolical Dr. Z plus the previously mentioned Sinner and Lorna. The transfer is the best this film has ever looked, and probably will ever look, now it’s a full screen picture as originally intended which might irk a few people but honestly will that really hinder your viewing experience? It shouldn’t, as it looks fantastic. Another brilliant restoration from Mondo. Once again included is an interview with author and Franco expert Stephen Thrower which is great as he throws out quite a bit of information about this particular period in Franco’s career as well as some tidbits about the famous house used in the film (named Xanadu) it’s architect, and late Lina Romay. The most fascinating part of this segment to me though, is where he makes the connection with some of Franco’s work with that of the Marquis de Sade. While Countess Perverse isn’t one of Franco’s Sade adaptations, the thematic influence of the Marquis is ever apparent. Thrower will have an in depth book about Franco and his films published sometime later this year. That will be a must buy for sure. Also included is an interview with actor Robert Woods who reminisces fondly about his time in Europe and his work with Franco, nothing but nice things to say about the man. Good stuff. As an added bonus Mondo threw in a nice write up about the films colorful post production history which is fascinating to say the least, plus some cast bio’s. I’m not sure how many people actually read those but they’re nice additions, the one on Arno especially. This was one my most anticipated DVD’s of the year and without question it’s worth every penny. A fitting treatment for one of Franco’s most fun and best looking films. An absolute must have.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Justine (1969)

AKA Deadly Sanctuary 

When it comes to film adaptations of works by the Marquis de Sade, I think it’s safe to say the most obvious one that comes to the mind of most people is probably Pier Paolo Pasolini’s infamous final film Salò, based on Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom. I say the most obvious as that film carries a reputation almost as notorious as Sade himself. Unquestionably one of, if not the most persecuted writer to ever pick up a pen, Sade was a true rebel in every sense of the word, spending a good majority of his adult life in prison because of his writings. Sade did more than just write about lurid subject matter, he philosophized it. Along with all the perversities contained in his work, there was always underlying commentaries and harsh criticisms on government, religion (especially religion), society and the aristocracy, which Sade himself was actually born into, yet he wasn’t afraid to call it out on it’s own bullshit, he saw through all the fakeness and wanted no part of it. In fact it’s been said that one of the first times he got in trouble with the law was because he refused to attend the king’s birthday party. The man, to put it bluntly, had balls, and as is all to often the sad case in history, was punished for it. Anyway, back to my original point, while Pasolini’s Salò might be the most well known Sade adaptation, many a director (European especially) drew inspiration from the Marquis, one such being Jess Franco, who brought one of Sade’s most essential and infamous works, the classic Justine to the screen in 1969, and the material couldn’t have been more suitable.

Upon receiving the news of their father’s death, sisters Justine (Romina Power) and Juliette (Maria Rohm) are forced out of the nunnery where they were living out onto the streets of 17th century France. The two are complete opposites in not only appearance but in mentality. Justine, a naive and venerable virgin, leads a life of virtue and goodness, while her sister Juliette is prone to vice. Juliette clams to know of a place where they can stay, but when Justine discovers that this sanctuary is in fact, a whorehouse, she decides she wants no part of it, and sets out on her own. While working as a maid, she is falsely accused of theft and imprisoned. She manages to escape with another inmate, Madame Dubois, an infamous murderous (Mercedes McCambridge), yet only to find more misfortune, cruelty and numerous attempts at corrupting her innocence at every turn, as she is branded a murderer and taken prisoner by a group of sadistic libertine monks led by the deranged Brother Antonin (Jack Palance), amongst other things. Despite all the hardships she is forced to suffer, she never loses her faith and virtue, while her Juliette on the other hand has made a comfortable and very profitable living indulging in crime and vice.

Marquis de Sade
While this film might not be a literal translation of the book to screen for the obvious reasons, thematically speaking, it‘s fairly faithful. There are, of course differences from the book, certain events are left out and the differences between the ending of the book and film are miles apart, but for the most part the ideas contained in the book are present throughout the film. There might not seem like a lot of substance beneath this poor girl being abused and mistreated for 2 hours but there actually is a point to all of it. The subtitle of the book was The Misfortunes of Virtue, or on certain publications Good Conduct Well Chastised, and what Sade was basically trying to get across was that it’s those who chose the path of vice that lead rewarding lives while the lives of the virtuous are wrought with pain and grief, while also taking shots at some of his favorite targets along the way. Although he didn’t write the screenplay, it’s apparent that Franco got Sade, you can tell that from watching his other Sade based films as well. There’s a telling scene involving somewhat of a role reversal, where Brother Antonin suggests to Justine that she is in essence, a masochist, that her idea of virtue is enduring all this pain, that she is the sinner and that he, the libertine is the saint. There are points in the film where Justine actually does find sanctuary with good people, only for it to be short lived, as she is either forced to run away, or in one instance implicated in the poisoning of her good hearted house mistress. Pure Sade. It’s also an interesting adaptation on account of including Sade himself as a character, played by Klaus Kinski, as sort of a narrator, as there are cut away scenes throughout the film showing Sade in a jail cell, either dreaming or hallucinating the material and writing it all down. Believe it or not, Justine is actually one of Sade’s more tame works in terms of content, and this film isn’t as extreme or explicit as one might think considering the source material, so you if your expecting pure sexploitation you’ll be a bit let down in that department, although remember the author and director, so naturally there is sadism and to be found and some lesbianism thrown in for good measure.

One subject concerning this film that has a tendency to spark a debate is the performance of Romina Power. Franco has made is perfectly clear that he wanted Rosemary Dexter to play the titular lead role (Dexter does have a small role as the mentor of Juliette) but the studio higher up’s insisted on Power. It’s true that Power wasn’t a seasoned actress, and does stumble a bit during the film, but I wouldn’t go so far as to compare her to a window dummy or a piece of furniture as Franco has in interviews. To me, Power was, for the most part, believable in the role as she conveyed all of Justine‘s virtuous qualities, as well as her naivety and vulnerability, someone who was unaware of all the evils of the world and finding out first hand. The scene where she escapes the prison with Dubois sums it up perfectly for me, when she asks Dubois why she chose to escape with her, Dubois response is “Because you look so innocent”. Indeed she does, and she’s also downright adorable. Sympathetic from the first instant she’s on screen, 20 minutes into the film and onward you’ll want to give the poor thing a hug. The girl goes though hell. The one performance most people remember from the film comes from Jack Palace who delivers one of the looniest, most drunken and out there performances in cinematic history as Brother Antonin, it’s almost beyond description. It’s called “outrageous” on the back of the DVD and that word couldn’t be more fitting. Equally eccentric but nowhere near as over the top is Mercedes Cambridge (the voice of Pazuzu in The Exorcist in case you didn’t know). Every time she’s on screen she looks like she’s about the break out into dance, and indeed that does happen in one of the films more random moments when her and her fellow inmates have an impromptu dance party before her escape. While the role of Juliette isn’t huge, Maria Rohm is always dependable, with out without clothing. Then there’s Kinsi as the imprisoned Sade who has no lines, he basically just makes intense faces reacting to his “visions”, although when has Kinski NOT been intense? Also keep an eye out for Euro goddess Rosalba Neri as one of the monks captives and Franco himself making an appearance as a sort of hype man for a street fair attraction.

Justine benefited from having the biggest budget Franco ever had for one of his films (he claims on set it was referred to as a “fake big film”) and indeed it is a pretty epic period piece and it goes without saying it’s an amazing looking film. As is always the case, Franco’s eye for scenery is more than apparent, as every single location and set piece, from the French countryside to some of the more lavish places Justine seems to find herself in look fantastic and is used to perfection, plus the 17th century vibe does come off as authentic with the costumes and things of that nature. Franco plays is straight for the most part, but there are moments where his trademark style comes into play, most notably during the scenes involving Sade in his cell. Remember we’re giving the impression that Sade is having these visions of the material so naturally they’re dreamlike in nature. The first few moments of the film are full of Franco’s classic zoom in on an object and zoom out to something else technique, be it a close up of Sade’s vision of Justine or a row of girls in stock like device (not sure what the technical name of the device is). The segment of Justine being tortured in the monk’s dungeon gives off that same trippy nightmarish, almost surreal effect. Speaking of that dungeon, it’s one of the best looking sets in the film, and Franco’s choice of lighting with an emphasis on red and green worked wonders. The scenes leading up to Justine’s final moments at the monks château also benefit from the same lighting techniques. The films epic feeling is aided immensely by Bruno Nicolai’s lush, outstanding score, which plays a huge part in helping the film achieve the 17 century ascetic. Every scene is enhanced by it, and to think Nicolai almost didn’t get the gig. Franco had to convince the studio that he was the right man for the job, and had Nicolai not done the score, the overall feeling of the film would have been drastically different.
The best version of the book to get. Along
with Justine, you also get other essential Sade
such as Philosophy in the Bedroom, Eugenie de
Franval, and Dialogue Between a Priest and a
Dying Man 

Along with Justine, Franco would again turn to the Marquis for material in 1969 with Eugenie… the Story of Her Journey Into Perversion, one of his masterpieces, an adaptation of Sade’s Philosophy in the Bedroom, which also features Maria Rohm in a more prominent role, if you want to see how good she is at playing a Sadian villain check her out in that. Franco would also go on to helm a retelling of Sade’s novella Eugénie de Franval with Eugenie de Sade, featuring the stunning Soledad Miranda, and he would eventually direct a very similar film called Wicked Memoirs of Eugenie. You can find clear Sade influences in films such as Plaisir a 3 (which is essentially yet another take on Philosophy in the Bedroom) and Countess Perverse (review coming soon) as well. Justine might be one of Franco’s more accessible films, but at the same time it’s not without it’s share of oddness (and sometimes comical moments, tell me Romina Power getting spanked by a stuttering Akim Tamiroff isn’t chuckle inducing. Then there’s that aforementioned random prison dance off). Franco in general is an acquired taste, but while I don’t think you need to be part of some niche group to enjoy Justine, I would say you might have to been a certain mood for a type of film like this, regardless of your thoughts on Sade. I’d also like to add that Sade got one of the best book reviews ever for Justine by none other that Napoleon Bonaparte, who by the way, was responsible for Sade spending his last years incarcerated, and I quote, "Justine is the most abominable book ever engendered by the most depraved imagination". To this day that quote is still printed on copies of Justine.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Bug (2006)

Not to long ago I went out of my comfort zone a bit in terms of genre and reviewed the film Flesh and Bone (1993), wherein I opined on how underrated it is and more people should watch it/know of it. We all have those movies, those unsung ones that somehow fell through the cracks one way or another upon it’s initial release and as fans we feel the need to blabber on endlessly about them to make sure our point is made about how great they are. I know William Friedkin’s 2006 headfuck Bug isn’t nearly as anonymous as the aforementioned Flesh and Bone, but it’s still one of those films that, to me, deserves more recognition than it seems to get (come to think of it, Friedkin‘s 1990 genre offering The Guardian is another one of those films). While it did get a fair amount of respect from critics, and it’s lead actors were rightfully praised , it was also a very polarizing film, and still is. It’s one of those cases where it’s fans absolutely love it and do what I described above to anyone that will listen, but it’s also one of those cases where it’s detractors loathe everything about it, and endlessly trash it. I was drawn to Bug pretty much immediately after I saw a TV spot for it, and I wasn’t let down in the slightest. It was a breath of fresh air to me when I first saw it. It was totally fucked up which I obviously loved, but more than anything I can honestly say I hadn’t ever seen anything remotely like it before.

Agnes (Ashley Judd) is a lonely waitress who leads a pretty empty life. Living in a ratty motel room, she loves her booze and coke and is in constant fear of being harassed by her ex husband Jerry (Harry Connick Jr.) who was recently released from prison. She’s also been receiving strange phone calls which she believes to be Jerry messing with her, and lost her son who disappeared some years ago. When her lone friend R.C. introduced her to Peter (Michael Shannon), and eccentric Army veteran turned drifter, the two find a common bond in their loneliness and quickly develop a relationship. Aside from the occasional unwanted visit from Jerry, things are going pretty good for the two, until Peter finds a bug (and aphid) in Agnes’ bed. Peter begrudgingly reveals to Agnes that he has in fact gone AWOL from the army, claiming to have been experimented on, and convinces Agnes that the motel room is infested. Soon Agnes is seeing bugs too, and begins to share Peter’s thoughts and fears of conspiracy theories, being implanted with bug egg sacks and being followed and tracked by satellite signals. Virtually shutting themselves off from the outside world, the two descend deeper and deeper into paranoia and full blown insanity.

I could have easily just said “Two people loose their shit in a motel room” and left it at that, but I felt the need to be a BIT more specific. Thank Pazuzu for William Friedkin. While he's never been the kind of filmmaker to cater to the wants of the major studio's, you really have applaud him for taking on a project so ballsy and against the mainstream like Bug, as I don’t think this wasn’t made with the intention of being a “hit” but if you’re like me and this does appeal to you, holy shit you’re in for a treat. I personally consider Bug to be one of the best films to come out this past decade. It’s a film that wears many hats, and they all fit. It’s pretty much unclassifiable, as it refuses to sit comfortably in one genre or another. There are horror elements without question, but it’s so much more than just a horror film. It deals with some sci-fi concepts, absolutely, but it’s defiantly not straightforward science fiction. Friedkin has called Bug a love story at heart, and that’s actually pretty accurate, as deranged as it is. Bug may be very visceral in parts, as there are scenes that are sure to make more than a few folks skin crawl, but it really shines in the psychology department, and questions will be lingering in your mind all throughout the film and long after it’s ended. Is Peter delusional? Did the bugs exist? Was he really experimented on? What about his tooth? What did Agnes really see under that microscope? Now, this is probably where you’ll tell me I’m the crazy one, of course they’re both out of their minds, but I disagree. Not everything in Bug is as clear cut as it seams, as Friedkin has a tendency to add things which more than likely will throw whatever interpretation you've made totally out of whack, which I'm sure was his intention, plus the final shot during the closing credits makes the events of the film even more ambiguous. Just another way to fuck with our heads one final time.

Bug was based on a stage play, and the majority of the action never leaves Agnes’ motel room. This obviously isn’t Friedkin’s first rodeo, and he makes master use of the limited settings, playing you much like Hitchcock did in one of his limited setting films (Rope in particular), and the film is so engrossing you won’t even notice that for the last 101 minutes you hardly left this one small area, and there are certain parts of the film where it feels as if your right there observing the entire thing. The motel room and it’s surroundings couldn’t have been anymore perfect. Out in the middle of nowhere in the Oklahoma desert, isolated from everything. The perfect spot to go crazy. The room itself is quite seedy looking, ideal for a character such as Agnes (more on that later), and there’s the um, “renovations” Peter makes to it later on in the film, you could almost say it becomes a character itself, plus I’m a total sucker for things like that, run down, lonely looking motels, rough desert landscapes, shit like that. Don’t know why, just always have been, so I was quickly attracted to the aesthetic the film put off. Anyway, if the films premise wasn’t already intense enough, the claustrophobic settings allow Friedkin to really jack up the paranoia, and as the film progresses and Agnes and Peter’s mental states deteriorate, the uneasy feeling is heightened tenfold. Then of course, there’s the films final set piece. Brilliantly minimal, if you ever thought tin foil and bug zappers wouldn’t make for good set design, think again. The use of the blue lights during those moments are more than effective and really show off how great an eye Friedkin has. There are other cool things Friedkin tosses in there to add even more mood, overhead helicopter shots of the motel to further the “government conspiracy” theme of the film, and the interjected shots of footage of actual bugs was cool looking as well.
You’ve heard of actors giving “brave” and “dedicated” performance, well Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon take those terms to an entirely new level, putting on the definition of a clinic. I’d be hard pressed to think of the last time I saw two performers literally, psychically hurl themselves into a role like these two did in this film. Judd brings life to Agnes and her fragility. She’s a very tragic figure, having gone through all the shit she has, and Judd brings forth that vulnerability. You get the feeling that she believes everything Peter says because she’s already very psychologically damaged, so starved for companionship she’s follow him anywhere, no matter how crazy the situation. Michael Shannon, who also starred in the play, has a very sketchy awkwardness about him. The first instant we meet Peter we defiantly know there’s something a bit off about him. Everything from his mannerisms to his speech, the guys a bit distant to say the least. Distant, yet Shannon has a very magnetic presence and you want to know more about him, despite the unpleasantness that might come along with it. Watching the two of them, from the back and fourths about bugs and conspiracies to the twitching they both start doing (Shannon in particular is very physical, I’ve heard say this film can been seen as a metaphor for meth addiction. Take it as you will) it can become almost uncomfortable at times, they’re that fucking good. The films unforgettable final moments where the two go absolutely batshit is really a sight to behold the way the two play off each other with a sort of manic energy, and the way Judd delivers her lines with such intensity (“I AM THE SUPER MOTHER BUG!”) should have won them both every award imaginable. Harry Connick Jr. deserves a special mention for playing one of the biggest assholes in cinematic history, yet he’s always fun when he’s on screen. His interactions with Shannon are always entertaining.

Admittedly, Bug does jump the gun just a tad when it comes to the aforementioned finale. An extra 10 or so minutes would have been appreciated, just to make Agnes and Peter’s transition to full blown madness a bit more gradual. As it stands, it does comes off as a wee bit rushed. I haven’t seen the play so I have no idea if it plays out the same way as the film or if the timing of events were altered for the screen. That not withstanding, the sheer impact of the finale more than makes up for that. Bug most certainly isn’t for everybody. When it premiered at Cannes there were reports of people who for one reason or another couldn’t take it and got up and walked out. Reminds me of another Friedkin flick where there were numerous reports of people doing the same thing when it played in theatres. I always forget the name of that one. Something to do with working out I think. Even if you don’t like Bug, you have to at least admire it’s originality (and if you’ve ever read any of the shit I scribble on here you know how I feel about original, creative films), outright intensity, and the way Judd and Shannon go at it with reckless abandon. Even people who hated the film had to admit how amazing the two were. If there were more directors like Friedkin and actors like Judd and Shannon who took chances with films like this, I’d probably make it to the theatre more often than I do (which isn’t often). I can’t recommend Bug highly enough.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Witchcraft V: Dance With the Devil (1993)

I just can’t stay away can I? This was bound to happen anyway folks. Years before I even thought of starting up this little blog, this film was staring me in the face, commanding me to preach it’s gospel, and I certainly have on other sites in the past. Before I go any further I’d just like to say that I’m always a bit miffed whenever I read reviews of films from this series. Not in the sense of people saying they sucked because, yeah, their bad, but some of the reactions people have had are oftentimes more hilarious than the actual films. You’d think the film had personally offended the writer in some way. Now I’m not saying these movies don’t deserve the harsh criticism they get but man, stop taking yourselves so damn seriously people. I can  understand such an extreme response if these movies were pseudo-intellectual trash posing as an art films claming to contain some heavy social commentary or something, but it’s fucking Witchcraft! Sex and Satan baby. With a series like this I’d like to think you’d have at least SOME idea as to what your getting yourself into, therefore the results shouldn’t be surprising, plus you really can’t go into one of these films like you would for say an, erm… “normal” movie. Ok, now that that’s out of my system, the films that came before Dance With the Devil in this franchise were dumb fun, but this one took it to another level, and back when I first watched the entire franchise this one instantly became a favorite and over the years it’s become my own personal favorite best “bad” movie or whatever you want to call it.

The devil’s disciple Cain (David Huffman) has returned to Earth to collect souls for Satan. If he collects enough souls, Satan can break through the gates of Hell and rule the Earth. Problem is, he has to collect a lot of souls and in very little time. Along with the seductive power of his lustful new servant Marta (Nicole Sassaman), Cain hypnotizes the powerful warlock attorney and franchise hero Will Spanner (Marklen Kennedy) to do his bidding, as Will has to power to collect ones soul. Under Cain’s control and against his own will, Spanner murders those who owe their debts to Satan. Desperate to rid Will of this curse, his girlfriend Keli (Karolyn Taye-Laruen) enlists the help of her Reverend Meredith (Lenny Rose), although there is a complication as Meredith’s body has been overtaken by an ancient spirit named Softra. Along with this conundrum, Marta has become jealous of Keli and want’s Will all to herself. Cain however, is ecstatic at the mention of Softa, as he is worth “hundreds of souls” and if Cain can obtain Softra’s spirit, his work will be complete and Satan will rule the Earth. Will is forced to summon his white magic powers to try and free himself from Cain’s spell, also saving Meredith, Keli and ultimately the world from Cain’s dastardly deeds.

This must have just been used for posters,
as I've never seen it used on any of the actual
If you’re going to see just one Witchcraft film if your lifetime, make it this one. With this one, you pretty much get the aesthetic of the entire franchise without having to watch all 13 films. The only thing missing is the characters of detectives Lutz and Garner who were introduced in the 6th entry. It’s in this entry that the character of Keli is introduced, who would remain Spanner’s girlfriend (eventually fiancé) until the 12th film in the series. It’s also some of the must fun you can have in 94 minutes which is why I find it impossible to hate on, it’s just too goddamn entertaining. One of the many (and I mean many) complaints people have made about this series over the years is that for a franchise hero, Will Spanner is pretty lame, acting like a total bitch for the majority of the films, waiting until the VERY last minute to finally use his warlock powers. That’s pretty much the case for this entry as well. Hell, for almost the entire movie he’s out murdering people for Cain, or the spell is making him beat on his girlfriend. When he’s not doing either of those things he spends his time whining to Keli. You’d think with him being such a “powerful” warlock as we’re supposed to believe he is, it’d be a lot harder than it was for Cain to get control of him, or at least have him TRY and fight off his spell. I guess the point was to make Cain even more powerful, and I realize they had to stretch the story out for a feature length film, but you get what I’m saying. I also love when he has his final “epic” sword fight with Cain the most impact thing he can come up with to voice his displeasure with what Cain did to him was “You tricked me!” This is our hero for the 12 films, a real lion heart he is. That sword fight  leads to another Witchcraft tradition, the anti-climatic, abrupt ending. Seriously most of these films just end like “that”, no wrap up story or nothing. It’s like the entire crew wanted to get off set as fast as possible.  

It has to be said that Dance With the Devil is where the sex and nudity became the main focus of the series and it would only become more and more prominent as the series went on. But here’s the funny thing, at least some of the sex scenes in this one make sense in terms of the storyline. Well, 2 of them do at least, the ones with Spanner and Marta, seeing as how Spanner is under Marta’s seductive lust spell. The set up to Spanner and Keli’s sex scene is prime for late nights on Cinemax and couldn’t have been more obvious. There’s a water leak in the basement and seeing as how both Will and Keli get all sopping wet trying to fix it what else is there for them to do while their down there? Logistics, you know? Even Reverend Meredith has a steamy (ok that’s a bit of a stretch) liaison with his secretary. Witchcraft V also has the distinction of being the entry that had the biggest budget, (around $1 Million according to IMDb) so there is some production value here. If you read my reviews of the first and eight Witchcraft films you’ll notice that I mentioned that both film do have the occasional moment of atmosphere, so there is some directing to be found in the series. This film actually has some really cool shots, the sequence of Marta walking to seduce Will is legitimately awesome looking, as is the shot of her ascending the staircase to his room, the former thanks in part to the crafty use of fog machines the color blue. The second encounter between her and Will is surprisingly well staged with good lighting and again with the neat use of colors. I’m quite fond of the music that plays during those scenes as well. It’s one of the rare instances where I can actually say the erotic occult vibe the series often goes for is actually achieved, so director Talun Hsu did know what he was doing behind the camera. Having said that, the filmmakers didn’t spend the budget on visual effects that’s fore sure. While there aren’t that many, when they do appear their worth more than a chuckle, most notably the spirit of Softra being transported to Reverend Meredith’s body is represented by a lone yellow squiggly line and the human souls Cain sucks into his cape look like fucking transparent fried eggs. Transparent fried eggs. Yep. That’s all I got.

UK only DVD
Let’s not kid ourselves here, the number one reason to see this movie is for the performance of one David fucking Huffman. His performance of Cain is the reason video reviews were invented but I’ll do my best with basic text. Enthusiastic doesn’t even begin to describe him, and you thought Deborah Reed was over the top in Troll 2 as Creedence Leonore Gielgud? His lines are instantly quotable. My favorites being “It is the SIXTH day of the SIXTH month of the SIXTH yeah since I last appeared! No one can break the cycle!”, and “…if you serve me well, you may be chosen to serve SATHAN!” No that wasn’t a typo, that’s how he pronounces it. I don’t know if he’s British or not, but if he is, he sounds like he’s trying really hard to hide his accent but failing miserably at it. Everything about him from his annunciations to his mannerisms just screams community theatre god. On top of all that, he looks like the late, great Ronnie James Dio. He rules, plain and simple. Marklen Kennedy was the first to take over the roll of Will Spanner from Charles Soloman Jr., and while Soloman may have been incredible awkward in the role, (not exactly aided by his southern accent) he was entertaining and stood out. Kennedy is so anonymous in the role it’s ridiculous. Then again there’s really not a lot to sitting in a circle of candles and being licked by hot blonde women is there? If that’s all it takes to play Will Spanner I’m the man for the job if Witchcraft 14 ever gets green lit. Nicole Sassaman isn’t the worlds best actress but who cares? She’s probably the hottest women to ever have graced this series. The second I saw her I knew I was going to enjoy this movie immensely. There’s some intentional comedy in the beginning of the film that actually funny and she does do fairly well in those moments though. I’ll say this about Karolyn-Taye Lauren, at least she’s sympathetic. Plus I love the fact that the Keli character has no moments of disbelief when it comes to the supernatural stuff, totally accepting that her boyfriend is possessed, no questions asked. No time for that shit here. Lenny Rose is probably the best actor here, mostly playing it straight as Reverend Meredith, although he’s not immune to awkward hilarity. I can only imagine the direction he was given when his character is trying to locate spirits in Will’s house. “We’re rolling, quick, start looking like you’re about to have a seizure!”

Tragically, Witchcraft V has yet to get a DVD release in America. I’m guessing Troma owns the rights to it, as parts 1-9 are listed on their website. They did release parts 4, 6, and 7 a few years back, so they might want to get on this one soon, as this entry is just crying out for a special edition release. I want, no, I need commentary from David Huffman, explaining his methods and motivations during each scene. Apparently the only other thing he did after this film was a voice over for a video game called The Journeyman Project: Pegasus Prime. An interview with Nicole Sassaman would be an interesting thing, seeing what she thinks of her past work as an “actress”, especially since she’s now a wicked successful interior designer, and I know, there is no defendable reason why I know such information. It is what it is. It’s not rocket science folks, and it wasn’t meant to be. When it comes to schlocky B movies, Witchcraft V defiantly fit’s the mold.  If you’re a fan  of such films like Troll 2, The Room or even the Leprechaun films then I really don’t see why you shouldn’t get a kick out of this one. Like I said it’s become a personal favorite of mine for all it’s “eccentricities”, let’s call them. It’s sure to liven up a boring day and if you’re bummed out about something it’ll probably cheer you up on account of Huffman’s bombast, and if you want to know the truth out it, I’d much rather watch one of these than the majority of the garbage that gets crapped out of Hollywood these days. At least I know I’ll be entertained.

Promotional pin, this had to have been made by Academy Entertainment,
the home video distributor for the first 6 films  

On a side note, some clips of Huffman displaying his supreme thespianism made it onto the YouTube as the kids call it a few years back, albeit it in very low quality. They can be seen here, here, and most awesomely here. There’s also this clip, which features actor Greg Grunberg from the show Heroes in an early small role. This means absolutely nothing to me as I’ve never seen that show nor do I plan on it, but it’s something that others who’ve seen this movie have picked up on so I figured I’d throw it out there as well, maybe someone will find it of interest if anyone reads this.