Monday, September 22, 2014

Craving Desire (1993)

AKA Désir meurtrier (Murderous Desire), Sonjas Exzesse (Sonia’s Excesses) and Deseo de amor (Desire for Love)

Sergio Martino has certainly had an interesting career, one which epitomizes the term “running the gamut”. Martino got his start making mondo films before eventually finding his true calling in the giallo genre. Bava may have started it and Argento may have popularized it, but for all intensive purposes, Martino is the king of the giallo with his collaborations with Euro goddess Edwige Fenech The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971), All the Colors of the Dark (1972), Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) along with films like The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971) and Torso (1973) being the standard setters for the genre. Martino’s filmography is all over the map ranging from giallo’s to Euro crime efforts like Gambling City (1975), his entry into the cannibal genre The Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978), creature films such as Island of the Fishmen (1979) and The Big Alligator River (1979) and post-apocalyptic fare with 2019: After the Fall of New York (1983). During the height of the 90’s erotic thriller craze, Martino threw his hat in the ring with Craving Desire. While its probably never going to be as highly regarded as his giallo masterpieces, Craving Desire is nonetheless one of Martino’s most enjoyable films and one of the best of his post-70’s output along with being of best erotic thrillers from the genres heyday.

Luigi (Ron Nummi) is a man who’s going places with a great job and a beautiful fiancé. His life takes an unexpected turn however when his cousin Sonia (Vittotia Belvedere), whom he had recently been acquainted with after having not seen since childhood shows up at his door claiming to have nowhere else to go and Luigi agrees for her to stay with him. There is an obvious attraction between the two and although Luigi initially tries to fight it, the two begin a passionate affair with Luigi eventually calling off his engagement. At first the relationship seems to reinvigorate Luigi and brings some excitement into his life although things start to go south when Sonia’s idea of fun begins to include breaking the law, and with her behavior becoming more and more erratic, dangerously erratic in fact, Luigi discovers the hard way that getting involved with Sonia was a serious mistake.
French DVD

First and foremost there’s no mistaking Craving Desire (Graffiante desiderio) for having been made in any other time period as everything about the film just screams early 90’s erotic thriller. Not that’s a bad thing, however considering the talent involved it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Craving Desire is miles beyond other films of its type. For starters there’s the films taboo subject matter and the fact that the entire cast “gets it”. There’s no pretension to be found here, everyone involved knew exactly the type of film they were making and relishing in it and there are moments of sleazy humor peppered throughout the film to further emphasize this. Speaking of the cast, normally with these kinds of films the cast is chosen based solely on their looks and nothing more although that cannot be said in the case of Craving Desire. Ron Nummi was perfect for the role of Luigi as he has a presence about him that suited all of Luigi’s characteristics to a T, from being the ambitious business man as well as being the innocent, naïve boyish type that could be easily duped. Good as Nummi is, this is Vittoria Belvedere’s show to steal. Not only is Belvedere unbelievably gorgeous, she can actually act and like Nummi is convincing in portraying every aspect of Sonia’s personality particularly during the films third act where her psychotic side takes over, and while nowhere near as visually excessive as Martino’s giallo’s, the finished product is still rather slick in presentation.

Craving Desire was released on DVD in 2009 by Mya Communication, a company who has put out a lot of Martino’s films and one that catches a lot of negative criticism. Most of the criticism seems to be with the picture quality on the DVD’s but they also have a habit of re-titling films and/or releasing films under alternate titles instead of the original ones which can lead to some confusion especially if one films alternate title is another films original. In the case of Martino, they’ve released The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh under one of its alternate titles Blade of the Ripper and their release of The Big Alligator River is simply titled Alligator, not to be confused with the 1980 film of the same name. Mya also put out Martino’s The Smile of the Fox (1992), another erotic thriller as Naked Obsession which happens to be the name of another 1990 erotic thriller. As for their DVD of Craving Desire, no complaints. It looks as good as a film like this is probably ever going to look and although the disc is bare bones at least its English friendly. So while Craving Desire probably isn’t going to be celebrated by many as much as Martino’s 70’s films it is a highlight of Martino’s later career and as far as sleazy erotic thrillers go, they don’t get much better than this.      

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Demoniacs (1974)

AKA Curse of the Living Dead

Jean Rollin’s name may be synonymous with vampires however anyone with a knowledge of Rollin’s entire body of work knows the man was far from a one trick pony. Rollin had a signature directorial style that was not only almost instantly identifiable but he had the ability to bring that style to basically any subgenre within the realm of horror and the fantastic and make it work. Not too many filmmakers would even think of approaching a zombie film the way Rollin approached The Grapes of Death (1978) or The Living Dead Girl (1982). While obviously influenced by early Cronenberg, Night of the Hunted (1980) is an emotional piece of surrealist sci-fi that is quintessentially Rollin in execution, and even a film like The Escapees (1981) which on the surface may seem a bit atypical at first glance has Rollin’s fingerprints all over it. By 1974 Rollin had essentially found and perfected his style with films like Shiver of the Vampires (1970) and Requiem for a Vampire (1971) under his belt so it was interesting (albeit in true maverick fashion) that he decided to try something different after those films which resulted in the minimal masterpiece The Iron Rose (1973), and Rollin’s return to the horror genre following two erotic films, 1974’s The Demoniacs, one of the oddest and most original revenge films from the 70’s was again something different yet unmistakably Rollin.

After looting the contents of a crashed ship which they purposefully lured into rocks, a gang of pirates or “wreckers” brutally rape and leave for dead the two young girls who were the only survivors of the wreck. Wracked by the nervousness of having their crime discovered and with the Captain seeing visions of the girls, the gang set out to find the girls and finish them off for good however they escape again, finding they way to some ruins on the edge of the village where the girls encounter the guardians who inform them of a powerful demonic entity imprisoned in the ruins. The girls release the demon who in turn rewards them with the powers needed for one night to exact their vengeance on the pirates.  

Technically, The Demoniacs (Les démoniaques) could be seen as a rape/revenge film however with this being a Rollin film it is unlike any other rape/revenge film to come before or after it. What could have been a fairly straightforward tale of revenge becomes something else entirely with Rollin throwing in various random ingredients including superstition, cursed villages, guardian clowns and prostitutes with second sights. Not much back story is given regarding the demon jailed in the ruins or just how or why the village is cursed so the film probably won’t make much sense to those not familiar with Rollin from a narrative perspective, however it doesn’t need to as like all Rollin films, subconsciously it all resonates with no explanation needed. Obviously given the subject matter it doesn’t take much to make the two girls (one of Rollin’s most recognizable motifs) who’s names are never revealed easy to sympathize with and root for, and the two actresses portraying the protagonists both have incredible screen presence, especially Lieva Lone in sadly her only known film role. The same can be said of the pirates with John Rico as the lunatic Capitan and Joëlle Coeur who easily steals the show as the Tina, the one female in the group who is perhaps the most sadistic out of the four who really goes for it during the films gut punch of a finale, defiantly one of Rollin’s most stinging climaxes which is only made more so by the morose piano music courtesy of Pierre Raph.

Interesting to point out that actress Mireille Dargent who plays the clown in the ruins also played the graveyard clown in The Iron Rose. Other Rollin regulars are also featured in the film, most notably Louise Dhour as the all knowing prostitute conveniently named Louise and Paul Bisciglia in the role of one of the pirates should be a familiar face to Rollin fans as well. Another interesting fact regarding the film was the 1st AD was Miletic Zivomir, the actor playing the demon and was apparently quite useless in the role of 1st AD, so writer and friend of Rollin’s Jean-Pierre Bouyxou who was originally to be just an extra in the film basically took over 1st AD duties. Its also worth noting that the film was Rollin’s first to have decent budget and the money did come in handy giving the film a much “larger” or “grand” feeling. Still, even with the budget it still didn’t prevent the production of the film from being prosecuted by Murphy’s Law as detailed by Tim Lucas in the liner notes to Redemption’s remastered DVD. Even still, the finished product is one of the most unique entries in Rollin’s already unique body of work and a film that Rollin fans who’ve yet to see the film would benefit from checking out as it’s a prime example of Rollin’s unmistakable style as well as his versatility.