Psychedelic Short Film Fest
Roule Duke | the Green Inferno | 03/18/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Essentially Experiments in Terror is a collection of short films linked by the common theme of terror. I must say that this is a little misleading as all the films are more experiemtnal than terrifying and one could quite conceivably rename this release "Experiments in Psychedelia".The first film "Outer Space" is the only black and white short in the collection and seems to focus on a woman being attacked in her home. However the storyline isn't as important of the frantic bizzare editing with which the film is presented.The second film "Ursula" is about a little girl and her dommoniering mother. This film had such a heavy atmosphere and genuinely creepy feel it is easily my second favorite in the set.Third film "Journey to the Unknown" is a wild and not always coherant ride. Not quiet as good as the other films but very colorful.The next film "The Virgin Sacrifice" is easily my favourite in the collection. It starts ordinarily enough with a mute girl checking out her appartment. The women already living there casually inform her that they work for satan and invite her to one their meetings so whe could she for herself. The film then quickly changes pace to a collage of occult imagery and some purely lysergic visuals. I couldn't help notice that the theme from "Emanuelle and the Last of the Cannibals" was used in the score of this film.Following this is "Tuning the Sleeping Machine" which has a very nightmare like quality.The final film in the collection, "Dawn of an Evil Millennium" is the only one I disliked. It's very derivative of many mainstream films especially "Scanners" and the style just doesn't come of right at all.There is also an archive section on the disc which contains a boring yet interesting promo for a film with subliminal messages and wierd Dental assosiation add, then a collection of trailers.Overall the films in this collection are some quite amazing little psychedelic relics and well worth owning if this interests you."
A Garden of Eerie Delights
Paul Kesler | 09/13/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Most of the films on this disc are gems of their kind. These are films best viewed in the dead of night, after everyone else has retired and those rats in the walls (if you're lucky enough to have any) have started gnawing the floorboards. It's even better if you have a TV installed in a claustrophobic third-floor attic, with an old disheveled couch to curl up on and a dim light glowing from a corner.
Many people seeing this disc for the first time will complain about resolution. That's because four of these six films were done in 16 millimeter, while another was shot in Super-8. But then, these are all independent productions, and budgets were limited. That said, I believe the films actually profit from their limitations, because the low resolution adds atmosphere to what were already very creepy movies. Anyone who's watched some of the Monogram "poverty row" films of the 40s (or even some of the Universal horror of the 30s) knows how a certain amount of graininess can enhance the experience.
The first entry is a black-and-white film called "Outer Space" by the director Peter Tscherkassky. It concerns an attractive young girl entering a suburban house at night, walking tentatively down corridors while the lights flicker and pulse all around her. But Tscherkassky is not after plot here --- the film seems to implicate itself in the impending doom that threatens the girl, because the very celluloid crackles and writhes as she walks along, behaving like some sort of predator. It's almost as if we're watching a remake of Polanski's "Repulsion," but where the camera itself is more threatening than either the house or the girl's tormented mind. Ultimately, she seems devoured by the cancerous cells of the film --- this "outer space" has swallowed up the girl as well as the house around her. A kind of dual engulfment.
"Ursula," the second film, is a true masterpiece, and one of the best short subjects I've ever seen. While it may not have the copious iconography of a Guy Maddin, it nevertheless explores the theme of gender confusion with brilliant expressionistic effects. It's also the first film adaptation of Charles Beaumont's pioneering story on child abuse, "Miss Gentilbelle." For those unfamiliar with the plot, it's about a domineering neurotic who raises her unfortunate son as a girl, dressing him in frilly dresses and making him play with dolls. The woman also inflicts cruel punishments on the boy when he steps out of line --- making him watch as she slices up a pet bird with a kitchen knife, etc. But what makes the film so compelling are the flourishes of gothic and surreal imagery --- or, sometimes, merely a single effect, as when the mother is engaged in the simple act of opening a cupboard door --- the door is splintered and ragged like something out of H.P. Lovecraft, yet somehow seems to *belong* to this dismal world of neurosis and degradation.
Interestingly, "Miss Gentilbelle" was later adapted for the short-lived Hammer TV series, "Journey to the Unknown," but even though well-done, the later version lacks the power of "Ursula." This film, as the liner notes tell us, won the Gold Medallion award at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival for "Best Scripted Film" and "Best Special Effects for Sustained Horror." Anyone who sees it will understand why.
Speaking of "Journey to the Unknown" - this happens to be both the title and the subject of the third film. I'm not sure why, but this TV series, produced by Hammer Film studios in conjunction with Twentieth Century Fox in the late sixties, seems to have served as the nucleus around which this collection was built. Not only does the film concentrate on the series more or less directly (borrowing sequences from "Journey" with additional footage from other sources), but two of the other films on this disc draw from some of the same stories or themes that appeared in the Hammer series ("Ursula" re-adapted as "Miss Belle," and "The Virgin Sacrifice" anticipated by the episode "The New People" ---- curiously, the last-mentioned entry, like "Ursula" and "Miss Belle," was based on a Charles Beaumont story). The only aspect of "Journey" which fails, in my view, is the use of music from the cult vampire film, "Daughters of Darkness." It's great and eerie music, but seems incongruous here.
The fourth film, "The Virgin Sacrifice" (1969) is about a devil cult in an urban landscape, echoing Val Lewton's 1943 film, "The Seventh Victim." Unfortunately, this film ran into bad luck upon completion, the film company folding and the negative almost completely destroyed in a laboratory fire. "All I've got left," said director J.X. Williams, "is the nine-minute opening." Out of these nine minutes, the first three might be jettisoned altogether --- they show a girl who's mysteriously lost her voice taking a new apartment with two girls already in residence, one of whom tells her they're part of a coven. But this crude and amateurish intro suffers from both poor acting and shabby set design. The following six minutes, by contrast, lure us into a phantasmagoric world of dreamlike imagery, and the electronic score, though slightly repetitious, has a genuine cumulative power. Animated sequences mingle with live action segments to deliver the goods --- I was somewhat reminded of the great dream sequence in "Rosemary's Baby," which employed similar effects.
"Tuning the Sleeping Machine," like "Journey to the Unknown," is something of a montage, only in this case the clips are drawn from a small cluster of classic horror films. Some of these clips are from a film unknown to me (probably a silent movie), but the dominant imagery comes from the 1931 "Svengali" and, secondarily, from the 1957 Hammer film "Curse of Frankenstein". Anyone who's seen "Svengali" will remember the dream sequence where the camera floats slowly across a wild conglomeration of gothic rooftops into Marian Marsh's bedroom. It's one of the most powerful sequences in cinema, and we see various snippets of it here, spliced with the Frankenstein images and clips from the other film mentioned. The resolution here is the poorest of any on the disc ---- it looks almost like sixth or seventh generation. But partly because the film uses low resolution deliberately, I find it amazingly effective. It ranks, I believe, with "Ursula" and "Outer Space" as one of the three best on the disc.
The last film, "Dawn of an Evil Millennium," is in my opinion the poorest of the lot. I have no business reviewing a film so far off my wavelength, but will just say it's the only one of the six that seems to revel in violence for its own sake. As for the story, the liner notes may suffice: "Epic Super-8 short about a demon summoned to Earth who takes command of a souped-up 1970 Oldsmobile and goes on a road-kill rampage. Only one man can stop him..." There's plenty of gore here, for those who like such things, but there seems to be no point to the piece, and it's cheap sensibility works against it.
Despite "Millennium," I rate this a 5-star disc because most of these films are a refreshing surprise in this era of slick productions and gory sensationalism. These miniatures have some of the same qualities as silent horror films like "Nosferatu" and "Caligari," since they're more about suggestion and otherworldly spirituality than what we get from the major studios today. Approached in the wrong spirit, they'll just seem "creaky." But climb back up to that third-floor attic around the Witching Hour, and you're ready for action.