With Lady Pam De Graff
OF THE RAVEN (Alt title: Jennifer's Shadow) (2004) independent; US, Argentina
WRITTEN BY: P.J. Pettiette, Pablo Parés, Daniel De La Vega
DIRECTED BY: Pablo Parés and Daniel De La Vega
FEATURING: Faye Dunaway, Gina Phillips, Nicolas Pauls, Duilio Marzio, Hilda Bernard, Elvira Donetto,
TAGS: mystery, thriller
RATING: 5 PINTS OF BLOOD
PLOT: In this black reworking of the Prometheus myth, Faye Dunaway plays an aging matriarch who sacrifices family members to a supernatural raven who appears in the victims' dreams night after night to devour their internal organs.
COMMENTS: Well, this is a strange one, a low budget but more or less competently produced Giallo Gothic horror yarn set and filmed in Argentina. Oddball and a bit murky, CHRONICLE OF THE RAVEN stars a well-preserved Faye Dunaway, the '70's screen icon of BONNIE AND CLYDE, CHINATOWN, and THE EYES OF LAURA MARS. CHRONICLE has all the requisites for a standard Gothic terror tale: a pretty protagonist in jeopardy, an obligatorily decrepit ancestral manor, and a mother mixed up with the occult. Turning it toward the unusual however, are a mute aunt who's become a living corpse, deceased family members who are in fact, undead, murder, immolation, and a blood-thirsty bird of prey.
In CHRONICLE, upon the death of her sister, 20-something Jennifer (Gina Phillips) returns to her decaying family estate to probate her deceased sister's will. Right off the bat things get weird. Jennifer discovers that her sister Johanna died under mysterious circumstances, as did Jennifer's parents not long before.
Jennifer's bedridden Aunt Emma (Hilda Bernard) is languishing in the grip of some mysterious illness and wants desperately to tell her something important, but can't. Jennifer's domineering grandmother Mary Ellen (Dunaway) locks Jennifer in her room at night. And something unwholesome is living in the attic. It turns out to be a raven, who Mary Ellen worships, literally. Everything goes to pot when Jennifer begins having nightmares, ones in which the raven attacks her and devours her internal organs.
Oddly, these night terrors become grounded in reality; Jennifer comes to in a hospital missing a kidney, and that's only the beginning. As the raven's nightly feedings begin to whittle her down, Jennifer frantically searches for answers before she becomes completely incapacitated. In so doing, she entangles herself in a web of occult secrets which lead her to an ultimate horror.
Although it's photographed in color, CHRONICLE OF THE RAVEN is a study of greys, blacks, gloom and shadow. From the characters' dark attire, black automobiles, dimly-lit interiors where windows seem always to be facing away from the feeble winter sun, to the corner recesses of crypts and mausoleums, and action filmed at night, CHRONICLE OF THE RAVEN is shot at the dark end of the tonal scale. The movie should have been filmed in black and white, with frames thoughtfully composed to maximize good design elements and plenty of texture. CHRONICLE's premise, characters, and setting are certainly novel and grim enough to have justified making it a macabre art film. Frustratingly, the filmmakers passed on the opportunity, even though they had enough of an inkling to reportedly bleach the film negative to make the colors appear washed-out.
It may be just as well however, given that CHRONICLE's script, while adequate, could have benefited from the oversight of a professional consultant. While Chronicle doesn't have the amateurish feel of a low budget effort -well, no more than most Giallo films at least, it's missing the dangerous edginess that behooves a scary movie. The pacing is unconventional, but not purposefully so. The overall flow is disjunctive, producing an effect not unlike accidentally skipping a few pages while reading a novel before bed, then realizing the mistake and sleepily backtracking.
Like many Giallo/Euro-thriller movies, CHRONICLE lacks the polish which provides major studio releases with a slick feel. This is a shame, because the story is a good one, and with the right tweaks to the presentation, CHRONICLE could be an artful and memorable work. Yet even though it's not a candidate to be featured in film school classes, CHRONICLE has an intriguing and unusual appeal that makes it a worthwhile pick for Gothic horror fans looking for something different. For its uniqueness of story and truly nasty ending, much less the fact that Faye Dunaway delivers a characteristically good performance (as did "Edgar" the Raven) I'm going to give CHRONICLE OF THE RAVEN five full pints of blood.
KILLS (2011) Independent
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY: Jay Lee
FEATURING: Jade Dornfeld, Tamara Feldman, James Duval, Eddie Rouse, Larry Cedar
GENRE: THRILLER, NON-SUPERNATURAL HORROR
TAGS: rape, dismemberment
RATING: 6 PINTS OF BLOOD
PLOT: In this pointless, yet engaging psycho-thriller, a young woman unintentionally destroys her best friend while on drugs, then spirals into anti-social behavior, dragging her acquaintances into the dark morass of her twisted psyche.
COMMENTS: With a cursory acknowledgment of the Lewis Carrol tale, Alyce Kills is as much an entry-level clerical answer to the Fortune 500 American Psycho (2000), as it is a morbid odyssey of self discov- uh, make that self-destruction. Like a high-speed bullet train to Hell, Alyce is novel, slick, and exciting, but it doesn't take us where we want to go.
Young, pert Alyce (Jade Dornfeld) toils away in a depressing corporate cubicle for a shrewish boss at a thankless job. After work she trudges home to her cramped apartment to freshen up before some much needed steam-venting at dingy nightclubs. It's not much of a life, but Alyce has her friend Danielle (Rena Owen), an alpha female who provides Alyce with a framework of guidance upon which follower Alyce proves to be reliant.
When Alyce and Danielle take the Generation X drug "ecstasy," Danielle sexually leads on Alyce. It comes out that Alyce has a crush on Danielle who then rejects her.
Is it an accident then when Alyce "accidentally" pushes her off the roof a short while later? It's not clear whether Alyce is vindictive and a little crazy, or merely reckless, and irresponsible. Danielle stands on the ledge, tempting fate, Alyce mock-pushes her. Alyce is playing a game and behaves as if she doesn't intend the result -Danielle's dive to the pavement. But Alyce definitely intends to make contact, and under the circumstances it's no surprise when Danielle plunges to her doom.
Despite that it led to tragedy, Alyce decides she likes ecstasy and trades sex for the drug from a repulsive dealer. Under the influence of the psychedelic, Alyce locks herself in her apartment for marathon-length trips during which she perpetually masturbates to violent videos. Conniving to obfuscate her her complicity in Danielle's misfortune leads Alyce to take increasing risks until she pulls out all the stops. Traipsing across an urban landscape of bizarre characters, settings and situations, Alyce taunts the family of her victim, and eventually conspires bloody murder against those who annoy and inconvenience her.
Having now lost Danielle's boundary-defining structure, Alyce's fragile veneer of sanity falls away like an uncoupled caboose from a speeding express. Her locomotive throttle is wide open and there's no engineer in the cab. Alyce resolves to take charge of her own life, but her brand of self-assertive, feminist "empowerment" is to embark upon a self-indulgent journey of risky behavior. Yet it's more like a spree, and it degenerates into a maelstrom of self destruction, dragging those closest to her along for a hell-ride on her crazy train.
The theme of women scheming against men has been around at least since ancient
Greece. From Aristophanes' Lysistrata, to the Biblical Eve convincing Adam to
bite the proverbial apple, we've seen versions of the femme fatale in various
literary incarnations through the ages. A few include Shakespeare's Lady
Macbeth, and Cleopatra, Daniel Defoe's opportunistic Moll Flanders, Oliver
Goldsmith's lighthearted, scheming, Katie Hardcastle in his 1773 play, She
Stoops To Conquer, the conniving Matilda in Matthew Gregory's 1796 supernatural
Gothic novel The Monk: A Romance, and the malevolent man-hater, Miss Havisham in
Charles Dickens' Great Expectations.
Whereas these feminine plotters employed cunning and sexual manipulation to achieve their aims, their modern counterparts resort to brute force. The concept of the fairer sex outwitting men has evolved into the myth of womens' domination over men, and convoluted orchestrations have given way to the karate kicks and machine guns used by characters such as secret agent Emma Peel (Diana Rigg; Uma Thurman in the 1998 film version) in BBC's The Avengers, to Max Guevera (Jessica Alba) in TV's Dark Angel, and La Femme Nikita (Anne Parillaud; Bridget Fonda in the US remake). The latest trend has dark-psyched vixens engaging in just plain psychopathic killing sprees.
Alyce's quirky, but undeveloped character may be inspired by the leads in May (2002), and Neighbor (2009 -previously reviewed here), two similar stories about loner hellcats who indulge their necrophilic and cannibalistic urges through acts of violence. Yet May (Angela Bettis), the film's namesake, commits her violence via a misguided search for an similarly misfit mate. In Neighbor, "The Girl," (America Olivo) thrill-kills for the sheer sadistic pleasure of it, making a living by robbing her victims and using their homes like motels.
Alyce however, lacks any sensible or even cognizant motivation at all. Her deeds defy logic, her methods are unsound, and Alyce's lack of planning is sure to bring her only more trouble. We're not sure if even she understands her actions. This makes her singularly one dimensional.
It's a profound disappointment, too. What's engrossing about Alyce's sexy character is not what she does, but the wry way she does it with her distinctively iconoclastic demeanor. It's not the revulsion inherent to her wanton acts of sex and violence that catches our attention, but the manner in which her smug, witty bearing holds out the promise of a satisfying payoff. We keep waiting to tumble into an epiphany of insight into her disturbed psyche, or at least some commentary about human nature or revenge. It never happens, and we're left feeling like the lone passenger on a runaway train with no destination in sight, and no emergency pull-cord to stop the projector.
You can wtch this film on Amazon Instant Video HERE!
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