Sunday, 19 September 2010

The Giant Leeches (1959)

This black and white 1959 Roger Corman produced quickie concerns the diminishing members of a community in the Florida Everglades courtesy of a couple of over-sized, human-hungry giant leeches!

No one believes drunk hick Lem when he reports witnessing something inhuman in the swamp. It’s not until two moonshine swilling good ole boys go missing while looking for the bodies of store owner Dave Walker’s wildcat wife Liz and her lover Cal (previously thought to have been murdered by Dave after he discovered their affair, Dave’s guilt seemingly established by his subsequent suicide) that there’s more to the bayou than meets the eye! A cursory search by wildlife warden Steve Benton reveals nothing and his girlfriend’s father Dr Greyson has the far better idea of sticking some dynamite into the swamp to see what happens! Steve’s not happy about blowing up the swamp as it’s his duty to protect the aquamarine life within although he hasn’t yet been hit by the realisation that there’s actually no life in the swamp (that nugget of information is supplied to Steve by another minor cast member). Despite Steve’s protestations Dr Greyson goes ahead and launches some explosives into the swamp and the bodies of the missing, bar Liz, float to the surface. Autopsies show that the corpses have been drained of blood and that the victims have been dead for far less than the time they’ve been missing. Thinking that Liz may still be trapped in an underwater cave Steve brings in an associate and armed with some diving equipment gear, a bendy harpoon and a snug fitting pair of trunks he heads into the swamp…

Like Them and many other late 1950’s genre films the cause of the problems are man-made – in this instance atomic energy from nearby Cape Canaveral, although that explanation is just thrown in mid-conversation towards the end of the film. Unfortunately the print used for the DVD that I watched was dreadful to say the least. In fact it was worse than dreadful, it was a fucking abomination. The majority of night time scenes were a mish-mash of undistinguishable blocky grey pixellation that made me yearn for the days of watching 5th generation NTSC to PAL video conversions! I was tempted to turn it off within minutes of the start but was glad I persevered. Whilst the poor picture quality may have helped disguise what is surely a couple of dodgy looking dime store leech costumes, I’d have liked the opportunity of actually seeing something when the camera panned across to the water and the music took a sinister turn! Fortunately the special effects weren’t spoiled but that’s because there isn’t any (unless you include underwater photography as a `special effect`!) Daytime and indoor scenes were slightly improved but the general poor quality means that the review is illustrated by the box artwork rather than screencaps! Still, for a quid I can’t grumble too much! Dialogue was mostly distinguishable although occasionally muffled. I particularly enjoyed the Sheriff’s comment that Steve was “looking for bad trouble” – if anyone can give me any examples of “good trouble” them I’m more than willing to hear them!

The Giant Leeches (also known as Attack of the Giant Leeches and Demons of the Swamp) is an enjoyable and energetic little romp that is just about timed right at a brief 71 minutes. Whilst the cast will be lucky to break above a dozen there’s enough hammy acting and hysterical dialogue to keep the B movie fan in everyone happy.

Rob Bewick

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Salo (The 120 Days of Sodom) (1975)

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final movie made before his brutal murder in November 1975 was a complete contrast in every way to his three previous movies – The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales and The Arabian Nights. Those three films, often referred to as Pasolini’s trilogy of life, were a celebration of innocent sexuality. With Salo (based on the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom) Pasolini took that innocence, buggered it to death, burned the body and pissed on the corpse…

The plot of Salo is a simple one – four dignitaries (Duke, Bishop, Chief Magistrate and President) abduct a bunch of adolescents, hole up in a sprawling chateau in the province of Salo towards the end of the Second World War and spend several days being aroused by tales told by a trio of local whores before indulging their debased sexual urges and ultimately embarking up a final wave of sexual mutilation and execution.

Whilst many movies lose their power to shock over time, Salo has lost none of it’s intensity in the 35 years since it was first unleashed. Broken down into four episodes (ante-inferno, circle of mania, circle of excrement and circle of blood) the dignitaries exercise their power and dominance over their meekly accepting detainees by regularly molesting them, forcing them to satisfy their impulses and desires, treating them like fettered animals and holding a banquet with a main course of human faeces. By the conclusion each dignitary takes the role of distant voyeur whilst the remaining trio torture and kill a number of their captives in the courtyard.

Often mistakenly referred to as pornographic, Salo contains virtually constant full frontal male and female nudity (the teenagers are rarely clothed) but whilst uncomfortable to watch it certainly doesn’t stray into hardcore or XXX territory and is certainly more art film than porn. Salo is one of those movies that sharply divides opinion and it’s not hard to see why with copious episodes of sodomy, urophagia and coprophilia. A gruelling film that has no moments of respite or humour, regularly soudtracked by the atonal drone of overhead bombers!

Anyone wishing to visit (or re-visit) this tour-de-force of a movie need look no further than the phenomenal double disc blu ray presentation released in the UK by the BFI transferred in high definition from the original 35 mm negative.

Rob Bewick