January 1, 2013

Death Rattle Double Feature: Macdeth

I love slashers so much that I, like most hardcore slasher fans, tend to break them down into little sub-genres that are mostly defined by their settings or themes. For example, you have campus slashers, but you could break that down into high school slashers and college slashers. I could go on all day with different examples, but I'm sure most of you out there who're horror fans not only know what I'm talking about but partake in this weird obsession with sub-genres yourselves. That said, this week's Double Feature is dedicated to Theater Slashers. Not movie theaters mind you (although I could easily do that at some point in the future), but actual theaters where operas, plays, and other live performances are held.

Despite hearing negative things about it, NIGHTMARES is another on a long list of movies that was featured in the NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD documentary that I've been dying to see. The brief clips shown in the documentary of a naked woman being slashed by a black-gloved killer and subsequently leaning up against a wall and vomiting were enough to get my attention. Actually, it was the vomiting that sold me. And the nakedness. Not that I'm turned on by vomiting or anything (maybe a little), but it seemed like such a weird scene and I guess I just wanted to see how it fit into the context of a movie. As I eventually found out, a naked and bloody woman tossing her cookies on what appeared to be a street corner is pretty tame in comparison to the rest of this insane Aussie slasher.

NIGHTMARES (not to be confused with the American horror anthology) revolves around a group of actors. Before we get to that, though, we're introduced to our main character Helen, who's established, through flashbacks, as having personal issues that stem from traumatic childhood experiences. The movie then jumps ahead about 15 to 20 years and Helen has grown up to be an attractive young woman and an actress. As far as the flashbacks, they were marked by very specific dates that didn't have any significance in the rest of the movie whatsoever (not that I'm aware of anyway), and they were also accompanied by perhaps the most heavy-handed music I've ever heard in a film. Whether you like NIGHTMARES or not, the opening minutes make it perfectly clear what's in store in terms of the film's strange creative choices.

Once the film jumps to "present day", there's not much to it. An asshole director casts Helen and a bunch of other actors for a play, and they're all preyed on by a mysterious killer as production begins. The other characters are established in the meantime, which gives us a handful of suspects in regards to who the killer is. That being said, NIGHTMARES is similar to a Giallo in that the identity of the killer is kept a secret until the end, so it's definitely a whodunit type of slasher rather than one that tries to create some sort of iconic killer. On top of that, there are many stylistic and creative choices that resemble a traditional Giallo rather than the American slashers that inspired director John Lamond to make this movie (namely John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN). Lamond fucks up, though, because the killer is clearly shown wearing heels, suggesting that the murderer is a woman (or, to be fair, a man in drag), which eliminates about half the possibilities of the killer's identity.

Helen is sort of an interesting "Final Girl", if you can even call her that. Aside from the fact that she seemingly doesn't give a fuck about being cast in the aforementioned play, she also becomes an item with a fellow actor named Terry. Of course there's nothing unusual about two people hooking up and dating, but the manner in which they do so is strange. They behave like they're in grade school. They don't even have sex and only a few days go by before Terry's telling her he loves her. What a chump. But anyway, Helen isn't particularly interesting as a lead character. Cute, but not a character who will stick in your mind once the movie's over. According to John Lamond, he overlooked both Michelle Pfeiffer and Melanie Griffith to cast lead actress Jenny Neumann as Helen. Needless to say, he's not a great decision-maker, and NIGHTMARES is definitely a reflection of that.

Even though the movie itself is a mess, NIGHTMARES has some decent cinematography. It's nicely shot in widescreen and at least has the appearance of a quality film. The theater where the film was shot (which was supposedly haunted in real life) looks amazing. The biggest crime a filmmaker can commit while shooting in a theater is not taking full advantage of it and getting the most production value out of it as possible. If there's one thing that Lamond did right with this movie, it's that he shot as much of the theater as he could, even going so far as to include a set-piece that takes place on one of the catwalks above the stage just like Michele Soavi did a few years later in STAGE FRIGHT (coincidentally, STAGE FRIGHT is an alternate title for this film). And, like Carpenter's HALLOWEEN, we get tons of POV shots from the killer's perspective and heavy breathing during the stalking scenes. Unfortunately, though, the actual kills are few and far between throughout most of the movie.

I haven't outright said it, but NIGHTMARES kinda sucks. I'm a huge fan of both Aussie movies from this era and slashers, so you'd think NIGHTMARES would be right up my alley. As I said, it's shot well, the production value is great, and there's also some decent nudity in the film, but it's awful from a storytelling perspective and there are times when John Lamond doesn't quite seem to know what he wants NIGHTMARES to be. True, nothing else should matter as long as a slasher delivers sex and violence, but a good slasher also needs to be entertaining, which NIGHTMARES is not. In fact, it's somewhat of a chore to get through despite only being 80-minutes long. For the most part, I'd suggest skipping this one unless you're a completist when it comes to Aussie genre movies, but at the same time I'd cautiously recommend giving it a watch if you're into bad slasher movies like PIECES, or movies full of WTF moments. Don't get me wrong, it's certainly no PIECES, but in the right atmosphere (ie. very drunk) it could be a fun watch, if anything, just to marvel at how over-the-top the score is. Seriously.

Truth be told, this Double Feature was pretty much an excuse for me to watch and review Dario Argento's OPERA. Not that I need an excuse, but I probably wouldn't review it under normal circumstances. I first saw OPERA a few years ago but wasn't a fan of it at the time, so I've been looking forward to a re-watch, especially since a lot of people hold it in high regard and call it one of Argento's best films. Some even say that it's the last "great" film he made before the quality of his work took a nosedive.

OPERA, like NIGHTMARES, revolves around an actress - specifically an up-and-coming opera singer named Betty, who takes a dream job as a last-minute replacement for the lead on a production of Macbeth. It's mentioned by Betty herself in the film that productions of Macbeth are associated with bad luck, which is a superstition that the film plays with, beginning with the Betty's predecessor being struck by a vehicle at the beginning of the movie and continuing throughout the film as the initial productions are plagued by accidents. Despite the setbacks, Betty's performance is a success and everything seems to be going well for her until a dark admirer reveals himself.

Throughout OPERA, Betty is repeatedly attacked, tied up, and forced to watch as people close to her are brutally murdered by a masked man. It's clear early on that the masked man has been stalking Betty and appears to be mentally disturbed. There's really not much to OPERA as far as the plot. It's basically the same cycle of horrible violence repeating itself until Betty either does something to prevent it from happening or someone intervenes, although there's still a lot to dissect and talk about if anyone finds this film interesting enough.

One of the things that I think OPERA is sorely lacking is a traditional Giallo score to heighten the atmosphere. Instead, we get some operatic music and some random Heavy Metal songs sprinkled throughout. Argento, for whatever reason, wanted to incorporate Metal into his films, which very well may have been the beginning of the end for him as far as him making bad choices with his movies. He used Iron Maiden and Motörhead songs in PHENOMENA the year before this, and even though the Iron Maiden song "Flash of the Blade" was used to good effect, it felt out of place for obvious reasons, and the use of the songs in OPERA are even worse. They don't ruin the movie, but it's just one of the weird quirks of the film that have proven to be hard for some people to embrace. As for the opera music, it makes sense, but it's not as effective as it should be. However, amidst all of the underwhelming music choices, there's a brief moment of greatness as Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" plays in the background for about seven seconds. I never thought I'd get Rick Roll'd during an Argento movie.

My big problem with OPERA the first time I saw it and the problem that I still have with it is that it's boring and certain stylistic choices that Argento makes in the film don't work for me. But mostly it's just boring. It's not a pretty film per se like some of Argento's horror movies and even some of his Gialli, but it just might be Argento's best film in terms of camera work. Some of the shots in OPERA are absolutely stellar, and it's quite ambitious in general from a technical perspective. The highlight of the film - at least from a technical point of view (no pun intended) - is a death scene that takes place later in the film that involves someone being shot as they're looking through a peephole.

OPERA is clearly about presentation over storytelling, but that's Argento for ya. I'm fine with style over substance, but aside from the aforementioned death scene (probably one of the best deaths ever put to film in my opinion) and some cool camera work here and there, there just isn't much for me that makes sitting through OPERA worthwhile. It has its positives, all of which I already touched on in this review, and there's a lot to chew on (including a strange connection between Betty and the killer that I haven't gotten into), but the movie as a whole is a chore to sit through and it'll be a while before I watch it again. On a side note, it seems that life imitated art during the production of OPERA, as Argento hit a lot of speedbumps during the making of the film and had a hard time with lead actress Christina Marsillach, who was supposedly a bit of a diva behind the scenes.


  1. Aaron you nailed Nightmares. I thought it looked great and was well directed. But the story...I advised Richard not to buy it. He advised me not to buy a Nazispoiltation movie set. I didn't listen and now I have images I cant get out of my head. That's another story. I think you nailed Opera too. It's NOT a pretty film. Have a great 2013 sir. Keep the hits coming.

    1. Thanks for gracing my blog with your presence, Brad. I sure did miss your feedback. I hope everything is well with you, sir. And yeah, NIGHTMARES... yeesh.

  2. I had the pretty rare US VHS of Nightmares (under the title Stagefright), and the panning and scanning on it was as ludicrous as it gets, considering the DVD aspect ratio is like 2.5:1. I really like it to an extent, but it is redundant and the twist is barely a twist. Also, if you have the DVD, I'm quoted on the back of the case! However, they totally picked and choosed certain words to make it seem like I wrote something I didn't, but that's cool. It was pretty weird buying the DVD and seeing myself quoted on the back but totally not remembering writing it.

    I'm a huge Argento fan, and OPera is my 2nd fave after Suspiria. I know I'm in the minority, but I like the use of metal music as a contrast to the score and opera music.

    Happy New Year muthafucka!

    1. Wow, I didn't even notice your quote on the back. Seeing as I'm a proud (not really) owner of the Severin DVD, I'll have to check and show all of my friends - "Hey look, I know this guy!" Thanks for the comment, Duke!

    2. Oh I am always here. Always. I tend to make a fool of myself so I keep my mouth shut. But I'm here.