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Bloodsuckers, Hatchet Murderers, and Lollipop-Smacking Devils: Three by Mario Bava

Lisa and the Devil is easily the oddest duck in Bava’s filmography, sumptuously photographed and exceedingly surreal.

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Bloodsuckers, Hatchet Murderers, and Lollipop-Smacking Devils: Three by Mario Bava

Undisputed maestro of the macabre, Mario Bava put Italian horror cinema on the map in the late 1950s with I Vampiri, the first horror film to come out of Italy since the silent era. Gothic horror was in the air, you might say, in those days: Witness the roughly coeval resurgence of the genre at England’s Hammer Films, with their muscular and bloody take on classic Universal monsters (Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula), as well as the cycle of gaudily decadent Edgar Allan Poe adaptations helmed by Roger Corman (House of Usher). Unlike those Technicolor terrors, Bava preferred, at least initially, to work in moody monochrome. Drawing on his training in the fine arts, as well as his background working as cinematographer for renowned neorealist filmmakers like Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica, Bava developed his own inimitable style. Most noticeably, he displayed a marked affinity for economical, and often improvisatory, effects work, especially the exquisitely detailed matte paintings that often help to enrich the pictorial density of his films.

With its gruesome set pieces and all-around visual wizardry, Black Sunday catapulted Bava to the first ranks of international horror auteurs. Loosely based on Nikolai Gogol’s short story Viy, the film is an eminently gothic confabulation of hereditary curses and revenge from beyond the grave; in many ways, it’s also a stylish throwback to the heyday of Universal horror, with high-contrast cinematography and elaborately atmospheric set design. The film brandishes its bona fides at the outset with a pre-credits witch trial that sees lovely Barbara Steele branded as a heretic and then fitted with a spike-lined mask that a muscle-bound executioner hammers home with a giant mallet. Bava conspires to pass the camera through the eye of the mask as it’s brought forth before cutting to the close-up money shot when the hammer comes down. With its bravura conflation of dazzle and disgust, this sequence pretty much epitomizes the Italian approach to the genre. Elsewhere, Bava’s endlessly roving camera slinks through ruined crypts and prowls vast ancestral halls, at one point executing a vertiginous 360-degree pan around a tenebrous burial vault. Black Sunday is equally notable for inaugurating Barbara Steele’s reign as the preeminent 1960s scream queen. In her role as the undead enchantress Asa Vajda, Steele exhibits an uncanny blend of uninhibited sensuality and grotesque morbidity, a witch’s brew made all the more intoxicating by having her also portray Asa’s descendant, and intended victim, Katia.

Anticipating American Psycho’s preening, deceptively charming protagonist by several decades, Hatchet for the Honeymoon puts viewers in the headspace of homicidal fashion house proprietor John Harrington (an intense, nuanced turn from Stephen Forsyth). As it happens, John Harrington has a bit of a problem: In order to unlock a traumatic childhood memory, he has to ritualistically slaughter young women in bridal veils with a meat cleaver. (Incidentally, the opening stalk-and-slash on board a train surely must have influenced George A. Romero’s likeminded Martin.) Harrington takes several of his victims to his “special place,” a cavernous storeroom populated with eerily lifelike mannequins, which gives Bava the opportunity to really get some mileage out of his walleyed anamorphic lenses. Working once again in giallo mode, a subgenre he more or less single-handedly pioneered with The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Bava takes the reins as his own cinematographer this time out, crafting a full-color frightfest that also craftily builds in a few nods to Hitchcock’s Psycho. Shot through with a sizeable vein of black humor, Hatchet for the Honeymoon nonetheless takes a third-act turn into spook-story territory, a development that might easily signal the film’s devolution into Tales from the Crypt-style morality play were it not handled with such mordant wit and visual panache.

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Lisa and the Devil is easily the oddest duck in Bava’s filmography, sumptuously photographed and exceedingly surreal. Wandering the labyrinthine streets of Toledo, Spain, tourist Lisa Reiner (Elke Sommer) initially glimpses her own personal, bald-pated devil (Telly Savalas) depicted in a medieval fresco. Lisa will repeatedly encounter this figure, first as the mysterious stranger in a nearby storefront negotiating for a strangely fateful music box, and later as the servant Leandro, butler at the secluded villa inhabited by a blind countess (Alida Valli) and her misfit son (Alessio Orano). Having eventually assembled his players in an isolated locale, Bava proceeds to pick the guests off in a variety of ways, a scenario bearing more than a passing resemblance to Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, as will Bava’s later proto-slasher Twitch of the Death Nerve. Yet events unfold with their own perverse dream logic, more akin to a decadent novel than a drawing-room mystery, replete with a bewildering assembly of wax figure doppelgangers, disquieting suggestions of necrophilia, and sudden and brutal violence. The film’s finale is one of the most gorgeous and bizarre scenes Bava ever filmed: Lisa awakens in a derelict villa overgrown by tangled profusions of vegetation and teeming with animal life. But is she really awake yet? Watch the ending as often as you like, you may never be certain. Probably the less said the better about producer Alfredo Leone’s mercenary reedit of Lisa and the Devil into The House of Exorcism, an unrepentant cash-in on the popularity of The Exorcist, complete with gratuitous profanity and split-pea spewing.

Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, and Lisa and the Devil are now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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