Perhaps funded and distributed on the promise of Christina Ricci in her skivvies and less, After.Life is weirdly compelling for such a marginal movie. Its premise is a little coy, toying with the expectations of audiences that have had their fill, lately, of stories with characters caught in some strange limbo between living and dying where they work out the psychological issues that hectored them in the real world.
Mounted and directed by the legendary showman Cecil B. DeMille and photographed by the marvelously adroit cinematographer Karl Struss (Sunrise, Island of Lost Souls), The Sign of the Cross is a dispiriting epic that purports to tell the tale of Roman persecution of Christians under the reign of Nero, who is believed under some theories to have ordered his men to set fire to the city and then blamed local Christians for the damaging blaze. But despite insistently dull depictions of the monotonous lives of the true believers, who are so dumb they can’t even station proper lookouts outside their secret prayer meetings, what DeMille’s really into is the hedonistic habits of the Roman upper classes. The result is a film whose generous helpings of sex and violence are overwhelmed by its general air of condescension and phony piety.
Let’s see. Half an hour out of the screening and I’m already forgetting what transpired. Severed ear, check. Decapitation, check. An arrow through the head, check. (Did it come out through the eyeball? I can’t quite remember.) Axe, thrown, to the upper back, subsequently shoved through chest from behind, check. Machete to the head, check. (Think this may have been a direct crib from the Savini stunt in the original Dawn of the Dead.) Meat-hook hanging, check. (Swiped from the original Texas Chain Saw.) Death by campfire? Check. Double-impalement coitus interruptus? File under missed opportunities, along with the inexplicable lack of a 3D version. Hockey mask, check. “Sister Christian,” check. Naked tits, check check check check check check.
This cut-rate release from the English studio Tigon, best known as a producer of second-tier horror (the terrific Witchfinder General and Blood on Satan’s Claw) and sexploitation (Au Pair Girls, which is actually a bit of fun, and the SF-themed Zeta One), has the makings of an enjoyable countryside romp through ritualism and witchcraft, but it suffers from a split personality. Half of the film plays as a surprisingly straightforward nudie picture, with sisters Christine and Betty (Ann and Vicki Michelle, respectively) appearing reliably in various states of partial and utter dishabille. And the other half plays as a somewhat ambitious psychological horror movie about young Christine, the title character, who first submits to and finally dominates a coven of witches holed up in the woods outside London.
This lowest-common-denominator remake of a minor slasher classic succeeds on purely technical terms — it’s the first R-rated movie to be made in digital 3D! — but, despite the depth effects, it’s a serious snooze. Horror aficionados and completists should definitely see this in a 3D theater, because the quality of current 3D DVDs and Blu-ray Discs leaves a lot to be desired (we’re talking red-and-blue glasses, folks), and nobody should sit through a flat version of this.
I wanted to look at the new Blu-ray Disc release of Story of O (out this week from the Canadian company Somerville House) for two reasons. First, I’m interested in what happens to obscure and cult films as they make their way to the new high-definition formats, and this French sexploitation drama from the mid-1970s certainly qualifies. Second, I know that while Story of O has some kind of literary pedigree (a sort of de Sade pastiche written under the pen name Pauline Réage, the novel broke significant ground for erotic fiction as well as bondage fetishists), the film version in particular has long been a pervy grail of softcore cinema — knowledgable viewers of a certain sexual inclination find this mix of epic skin flick, softcore potboiler, and S&M psychodrama to be in a class of its own.
A look at the opening credits sequence of Prospero’s Books, including some of the paintings that inspired director Peter Greenaway’s visuals.
How desperate does Hollywood have to be to vandalize its own movies?. According to the usually reliable projectionist crowd over at Film-Tech.com, Deluxe sent out film prints of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that had the audio tracks deliberately fucked up as part of some monumentally misguided plan to catch pirates down the line by tracing the audio glitches in their pirated recordings. (The audio tracks of bootlegged movies are often of much higher quality than the video, since pirates have figured out how to tap directly into theatrical sound systems.) The mob at boingboing reports what seems like a high occurrence of anecdotes about screenings of the film where the soundtrack fell back to analog — or dropped out entirely. If this is true, it’s a massive “fuck you” to moviegoers, much worse than those annoying orange dots that serve the same supposed anti-piracy function. My local theaters have a hard enough time maintaining the integrity of picture and sound without the distributors making their lives even more difficult. Just unbelievable. (Via Movie City News.)