Omen IV: The Awakening

A ridiculously pure soon-to-be-politician and his ex-lawyer wife adopt an eeeeevil baby.  Though as evil babies go, this one isn’t that bad, and even if she does cause a death or seven, she’s still better than her new mom.  Here’s a woman who would distrust her own kid even if it was God himself with angelic trumpets blaring.  After a series of ho-hum deaths, Sucko-Mom hires a private detective who discovers that they are all stuck in a bad repeat of the original The Omen, with touches of Rosemary’s Baby and Carrie.

So, The Omen III ends (yes, I’m about to give away that film’s climax), with the Antichrist defeated by the second coming of Christ.  That’s right, Jesus is back.  So naturally, the story continues with a new demonic child and…wait a minute.  I may be an atheist, but I’m pretty sure that the second coming of Christ means game over.  That’s it.  End of all things.  And no more Devil on Earth.  Well, not this time.  Apparently, Jesus came and went, and no one noticed.  Doesn’t surprise me.  James Dobson and Jerry Falwell wouldn’t recognize the Prince of Peace if he came down and bit them on the ass.

Even though Omen IV ignores the return of the big J, it is obviously a very religious film, right?  It has the Antichrist, and mentions the Book of Revelations, and there are some nuns…  I suppose there is a Devil somewhere, turning crosses over and giving people heart attacks.  I suppose.  And if there is a Devil, there must be a God.  Except, there isn’t.  God has zero to do with this film.  Nothing.  And the Devil isn’t much more available.  The Catholic church is of no help at all, crosses do nothing, and faith is pointless.   And to confuse matters, new age mysticism works, to the extent that it can detect evil.  Then it becomes worthless.  This is a movie that accepts the existence of evil children and black magic, but that’s about as spiritual as it gets.

But don’t think that a preaching-free environment is going to make this fun-filled entertainment.  This is a flick where the first hack director quit to be replaced by an even worse hack, a character’s name is misspelled in the credits, and it went direct to FOX TV.  Sounding bad yet?  How about the biggest part going to Faye Grant, whose greatest performance was in V, a mini-series that has sullied the sci-fi genre for years.  Not bad enough?  Well, there’s dialog like, “Why did you do that?  What evil made you do that?”  And since it just repeats the plot of The Omen, there are no surprises.

It does have a creepy little girl.  Sure, there have been better creepy little girls (try watching The Ring), but I’m a sucker for creepy little girls, and this one will do nicely.  However, I’m guessing I wasn’t supposed to be rooting for her.  And perhaps that’s where things really went wrong.  The original film worked because it was all shown through the eyes of a sympathetic character, and with him, we saw the horror grow.  But here the perspective jumps all around.  There’s no one for the viewer to latch on to.  The most time is spent with the mother, but not enough to allow us to find positive traits that could mitigate her many negative ones.  I just wanted some upside down cross to get wedged in her mouth and shut her up for awhile.  We’re also shown things from the view of the Creepy Little Girl, but too sporadically to make her our hero.  Too bad.  That was the way to go.  Just let the audience wallow in the killing.  But it didn’t happen.  Instead, I spent the whole film on the outside looking in.

The Omen didn’t need a sequel, much less three of them.  That first film will be remembered as an enjoyable bit of overwrought Christian mythology. Omen IV won’t be remembered at all.


The Omega Code

Author, speaker, lunatic, and part time atheist, Gillen Lane, leaves his one dimensional wife to join Stone Alexander, who might as well have “Antichrist” tattooed on his forehead.  Stone, and his psychotic sidekick, Father Dominic, have stolen The Omega Code, which lets them read the secret prophesies hidden in the Torah as a computer 3-D graphic.  Naturally, Stone builds temples and brokers peace in the Middle East; it’s what the son of Satan would do.  Nothing’s more evil than temples and peace.  Oh, if only, if only!, Gillen would give himself to Jesus, then he could stop all these evil plans, although I thought The Bible said The Devil won till the Second Coming.  Eh.  What does The Bible have to do with a Christian missionary flick anyway?

You have to love a film produced by a Christian network for the purpose of preaching the Gospels of the Lord, that is filled with heresy.  That’s just…cool.  Now, I don’t claim to be a Biblical scholar, but I’m pretty sure that Christians aren’t suppose to take the The Good Book as a puzzle, in which all those stories of who begat who, and who got smited when, are nothing more than window dressing to hide the secret message of when Lady Diana was going to snuff it.  Now I like that concept, but then I don’t worry about the eternal truth of God’s word.  I’m also pretty sure that the ending of the movie is heretical as well, but who hasn’t wanted to make the end of days into a happy time?

The story is the same nutso gibberish that extreme rightwing Christians have been babbling for years, filled to overflowing with paranoia.  Armageddon is coming, and coming fast.  (Does it scare anyone else that a large group of people think the world is about to end, and vote and support policies based on that?)  The Antichrist is a European liberal who will use the U.N. or the European Union to take control of the world.  (You can tell he’s evil because of all the liberal causes he supports and the way that he helps the world.  Obviously anyone who wants peace and supports diplomatic solutions to the world’s problems is evil.)  Jews, Catholics, and everyone of any religion besides some brand of narrowly defined Christianity, are either evil or stupid and will be duped by the Antichrist.  As for atheists, they will be chanting along with The Devil.  (Apparently, there are a lot of us too.  Do fundamentalists really believe that the world is dominated by atheists?  It’s always bizarre to see a majority cling to the notion that they are an oppressed minority.)

This rendition of the fight between the few true believers and the Antichrist starts with surprising signs of competency.  For a few moments, the thriller plot has the merest suggestion of being thrilling.  There’s more money on the screen than in similar confused fantasies like 1990’s Apocalypse and 2000’s Left Behind. (8 million, not bad for the Christian specialty market).  The cast is recognizable, and many even have SAG cards.  Michael York and Michael Ironside are bigger names and have more talent than those who normally take these kinds of parts, and Casper Van Dien, well, he’s a bigger name.

But things go horribly, dare I say, apocalyptically wrong quickly, when we get the full brunt of Van Dien’s ACTING!, and recovers only slightly when York appears.  Not that he, or even Van Dien, are given any help from the script.  Poor York does his best to insert humor into his delivery, but he has nothing to work with.  Ironside is there just for the paycheck, which still makes him the second best thing about the film.  The dialog is unintentionally funny, and the story gives out early and is replaced with poorly shot chases that have the drama of an Alka-Seltzer commercial, and lots of chatting.  Since the funds were used for a few run-of-the-mill explosions and a couple of crowd scenes, most of the film looks cheap and surprisingly deserted.  Apparently, the Antichrist will rule the world with one gun-toting sidekick, a PR man, one computer expert, and a sleazy girl.  That’s it.

It doesn’t help that the main character is irrelevant.  Yes, he finds Jesus (who shows up when called to sweep away bad memories and smoke), and yes, he spends time hanging around pertinent people, but he’s neither the protagonist nor the antagonist; he’s just that guy who talks too much.

Bottom-line: this mess is only for the faithful, and they should be embarrassed.  It doesn’t even have a message for them, besides, perhaps, Christian filmmakers have no imagination.  Those whose religious fervor is on a lower boil will be insulted.  As for atheists, there isn’t enough here to make fun of at a drunken party.


The Ninth Gate

Mercenary book expert Dean Corso is hired by  rich, powerful, and psychopathic Boris Balkan to find the two other surviving copies of a Satanic book said to be able to summon the Devil, and compare them to see which one is genuine.  Unfortunately, others are looking for the books, and will kill to get them.  Corso is unequipped to deal with murderers, but he is aided by a strange, green-eyed girl, who may be on Balkan’s payroll.

I’m not going to argue for the high quality of The Ninth Gate.  I’ll state it.  This is an extremely well made work.  Roman Polanski knows his craft, and he has never plied it better.  Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, and Lena Olin are all accomplished actors that bring substantial weight to their roles.  And Emmanuelle Seigner (Mrs. Roman Polanski) is beautiful and enigmatic, which is what her part requires.  The music, art direction, sets and locations, and cinematography are all superb.  To repeat, this is skilled filmmaking in action.

But skilled filmmaking of what?  You’ll rarely find a more ambiguous film.  Most critics have no idea what to make of it, assuming it is a standard horror film with a nonsensical ending.  Many complain that it isn’t scary enough, which shows an amazing lack of understanding, even for a film that’s hard to figure out.  It’s not scary because it isn’t supposed to be.  This isn’t a horror movie.  To say any more requires giving away the ending.  After checking out both reviews and viewers’ comments, it seems clarity is needed more than another review, so that’s what I’m going to do.  The review is finished; it is analysis time.  If you haven’t seen the film, stick with what I said in the first paragraph.

For the rest of you, The Ninth Gate is not a tense, Satanic thriller nor a fright fest.  It is a light, occasionally humorous, noir mystery with a message.  It is the tale of a book buyer, not James Bond (I’ve read complaints that it doesn’t have a car chase; why should it?), that often parodies horror tropes.  It’s not surprising that lazy critics  compare it to Polanski’s Satan-themed Rosemary’s Baby, but the two have little in common.  The earlier film took its Devil seriously, which is something Polanski couldn’t do.  Not a believer (in the Devil, nor in God), he left an out in that film that perhaps all the supernatural elements where in Rosemary’s head.  But in The Ninth Gate, it’s all real, so his “out” is that The Devil isn’t what you thought he was.

What throws everyone is the ending.  What happens?  Corso, who has been unintentionally passing through the gates that are described by the woodcuts, finds the missing picture and enters the ninth gate in a flash of glory.  If he is entering Hell, where’s all the fire and pain?  Why does it look inviting?  I’ve repeatedly heard people claim that since it looks nice, he must be entering Heaven, and that the whole story has really been his path to redemption.  Not a chance.

The simple stuff first: The girl is a devil.  She’s not an angel.  I thought her glowing eyes and demonic visage during sex made that clear, but for any doubters, Polanski, who has avoided explaining the film, confirmed her infernal nature.  Also, Corso does not become a better person, although we sympathize with him more late in the film.  He cheats people at the beginning and beats a man to death at the end.  Not exactly signs of enlightenment.  But he also hasn’t been walking some dark trail of damnation.  His violence is not without provocation.

He isn’t a notably better or worse human being when he enters the ninth gate, but his desires have changed.  He isn’t looking for cash, but knowledge.  And there, finally, the film starts to fall into place.  Many people are caught up with the terms “The Devil” and “Hell”, assuming the first must be evil and the second must be unpleasant.  But that presupposes a Christian point of view that Polanski lacks.  The ending mocks such positions.  The Devil of The Ninth Gate is amoral, not immoral.  (And there is no God.  This isn’t Christianity; the existence of the Devil is no proof of the existence of God because he isn’t “that” devil.)  He is the goal of life, in the abstract.  The members of the Satanic cult couldn’t enter the ninth gate because they were either looking with faith, which gets you nothing, or just going through the motions to be hip, which gets you less.  Balkan failed because he wanted power for himself.  He let emotion win out over thought, and fried for it.  But Corso never lets belief dictate his behavior.  He never has a religious epiphany.  He’s always calm and logical.  And that’s why he wins.  The prize isn’t ultimate power or eternal torment.  It’s just the next puzzle.

Does of The Ninth Gate have a positive view of The Devil?  As much as it has any view at all, yes.  But there’s no horned monster waiting to be released upon the Earth.  This is a fairy tale, and Satan is a symbol.  There are no frights in the movie because this devil is nothing to fear.


The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine

To keep her from marrying the generically handsome Esteban, Lucita is forced to join a convent where hot nuns play hide the rosary and the Abbess fills her holiness with uncredited males who end up buried in the garden.  When one of the lesbian nuns ends up pierced, and not in a good way, Lucita is taken by the inquisition, which finds that nuns answer questions best when topless.  Can Esteban save Lucita?  Will the mad Abbess have her wicked way with the young hero?  Will a bunch of nuns become hysterical and rip off their habits?  Guess.

Shot like a spaghetti western and making forays into romance and swashbuckling adventure, The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine suffers from a lack of wild, gleeful sinning.  For sinful nuns, these girls are far to tasteful.  With so little to titillate, and a diluted message, it is up to the story and characters to carry the show, and for a time, it looks as if they might.  But the pace is too slow, the editing too rough, and the characters too simple for a successful drama.

Considered part of the nunsploitation genre of the 1970s, this is exploitation light.  Probably the most plot-heavy film in the movement, there is a lot going on, and with a more skilled director and a lot more cash, I could imagine this being adapted as a PG sword epic.  Esteban is a mainstream hero and except for one mild sexual encounter, thinks he’s in The Return of the Son of the Second Cousin of Monte Cristo.  After an extensive period of hanging out in a huge “secret” room, he tries to rescue the girl, with sword swinging.  It isn’t horrible, but swashbucklers are hard to make.  This comes out as a C-level adventure film when it should have been an A-level exploitation pic.

The only time it comes into its own is in the brief torture sequence and at the climax, when a group of wall-up nuns go insane and tear off their clothing.  It isn’t erotic, but it does keep your eyes on the screen.

The anti-religious message is stated strongly, and then withdrawn.  For most of the film, anyone connected to religion is shown to be, at best, a useless hypocrite, and at worst, a psychopathic murderer.  The two powerful figures, The abbess and the priest, both kill and torture gleefully, but the abbess doesn’t even have the excuse that she believes she’s doing the right thing.  She just murders people as it suits her fancy.  At least the priest believes he is acting for some higher power (actually, I’m not sure why that is an improvement).  But after showing the Church to be devoid a value and making it clear that God is nowhere to be found, religion is suddenly let off the hook.  All of the suffering is blamed on just two people, both of whom are shown to be insane, and the inquisitor gives a speech on kindness.  It’s as if they made the film, and then realized they’d have to get it past Catholic censors.

You are likely to enjoy the The Sinful Nuns of Saint Valentine if you are in the mood for some background nudity and swordplay.  However, it doesn’t deserve it’s relatively good reputation within the nunsploitation genre, and is not the key film that its few supporters have made it out to be.


Sex and Fury

Directed by: Norifumi Suzuki
In turn-of-the-century (not this century—the last century) Japan, gambler, pickpocket, and swordswoman, Ochô Inoshika, seeks the three individuals who murdered her father twenty years earlier.  She happens to run into a dying gambler who asks her to save his sister from a brothel which, coincidentally, is run by one of the killers.  Also coincidentally, an anarchist that Ochô saved is plotting revenge against a politician, who is another one of the killers.  And did I mention coincidences?  How about that the anarchist’s ex-lover is a British spy who is working with the politicians who are the killers.  Wait, there’s more.  Ochô’s mother is having sex with one of the killers and…  Oh, never mind.  It’s best not to think about it.

Ah, Japan in 1905 was a fascinating and magical land, where latex condoms were all the rage and plastic poker chips were abundant.  It would take the West years to discover plastic, but in the far East, it was just a normal part of life.  But don’t look down upon Western culture, for it was years ahead in terms of women’s panties, as demonstrated by lady spy, Christina in Sex and Fury.  She might have been confused about her own accent (being an English spy, but having an inexplicable Swedish accent), but she was an expert at attaining small, black briefs.  Of course she shouldn’t be blamed for her odd vocal patterns since her very British boss had an American accent and spoke in a strange halting fashion which cried out “The director has no idea what I’m doing so I don’t have to worry that I sound like I’m phonetically sounding out each word.”

Sex and Fury doesn’t make much sense if viewed as a narrative.  However, everything falls into place when you assume that telling a coherent story in a consistent manner was of no importance, but getting viewers to turn off their televisions and head out to a theater, was.  It is filled with anything that couldn’t be seen on broadcast TV.  There’s nudity, consensual sex, rape, lesbianism, bondage, whipping, violence, scatological humor, and lots and lots of blood, sometimes spraying into the air.  It is all haphazardly put together, as if master director Norifumi Suzuki just didn’t care (my guess is that he didn’t; sometimes you just do it for the paycheck).  The story doesn’t hold together and requires an absurd number of coincidences to function to the extent that it does.  Irrelevant subplots pop up and disappear, as do characters.  Both the heroes and the villains take insanely stupid actions with no explanation.  It is all capped by the most inappropriate music I’ve heard in a film: acid rock backing a massive swordfight, harp music to go with a sexual assault, and elevator music over a protracted death scene.

But that doesn’t mean Sex and Fury isn’t fun.  One of three movies that can claim to be direct sources (as opposed to the many indirect sources) for Quinton Tarantino’s Kill Bill (the others being Lady Snowblood and Thriller, A Cruel Picture, also starring Christina Lindberg), it is joyful in its carnage.  On occasion, Suzuki would almost accidentally create the kind of artistry that would suffuse his latter picture, School of the Holy Beast.  One of the films set pieces is an exciting and bizarre swordfight between a completely nude Ochô and a gang of yakuza.  Meticulously staged and beautifully shot, it is worth the price of admission on its own.

The film’s other moment of brilliance is why we’re examining it here.  From an atheist perspective, there’s not much to talk about for most of Sex and Fury‘s running time, but that changes late in the picture when, for no reason, the villain is defended by a group of stiletto-wielding Catholic nuns.  It makes the most sense to consider these women as bodyguards disguised as nuns, but that interpretation is made improbable by the next scene, where, still dressed as nuns, they stand reverently in an underground chapel before a giant painting of the crucifixion.  The blasphemy is kicked up a notch as we’re shown Ochô, topless and chained, whipped by Christina (who is wearing a sexy cow-girl outfit…  I can’t even guess why).  Then, in a shot that could go on any art museum’s wall, we see Ochô, still topless, suspended by a rope and hanging directly in front of Jesus.  This is S&M Christ at his best.

Unfortunately, Suzuki doesn’t solidify his antireligious message here (as he would the following year) so all we get are a few minutes connecting the Church to violence.  It is marvelous imagery that indicates that this movie could have been much more.


Silent Hill

In an attempt to find a cure for her daughter’s sleeping disorders, Rose takes her to the ghost town of Silent Hill (No, really.  That’s what she does and why.  I’m not kidding.)  Once there, the daughter disappears, and Rose is surrounded by some of the most seriously disturbing undead and demonic creatures ever to hit the screen.  Luckily, Rose is joined by an obsessive policewoman with a pistol.  Unluckily, she doesn’t have many bullets.  And speaking of a lack of luck, the only “people” in the town that can carry on a semi-coherent conversation are fundamentalists that hide out in a church and shout about “the evil one” and “witches.”  Rose has to find her daughter, avoid the monsters, and get out of town before the fundies do something that makes the flesh-ripping guy with a pyramid head appear pleasant by comparison.

In the world of Silent Hill, God is absent.  So is the Devil.  But Hell…Hell is doing just fine.  Demons that unleash hordes of giant cockroaches, walking cinder-children, crawling corpses with razor wire across their eyes, and hideous armless forms that spew lava—they’re all here.  Oh yes my children, Hell is open and you’re all welcome.

Silent Hill is a fast-paced ride that takes its job of scaring and shocking its audience very seriously.  It doesn’t make much sense for most of its running time, and once it does, you’ll wish it never tried to explain things; but who cares?  This is seriously creepy stuff.  And it alternates methods of disturbing its audience, so you don’t have a chance to become desensitized.  It starts with surrealistic insanity.  Buildings mutate, monsters appear and disappear, and the air is filled with snow-like ash (it’s quite lovely…in a gothic poetry sense).  Then there are moments of pain and cruelty.  A man is crucified on a wire fence, and turns out to be alive (kind of).  Another is tied in a bathroom stall with the earlier-mentioned razor wire.  Then things get gory.  And once we’ve digested all that, a new kind of horror is put into play: the fundies.  While the minions of Hell would drive any sane man crazy, the fundamentalists, who live in a church and show no concern for a girl’s skin being ripped off because she broke the rules, are far worse.  These are enemies you can despise.

Interesting in a film where the religious are the villains (too rare in movies, yet everything they say in this picture I’ve heard from people I’ve met…except for the screams of “she’s a witch”) that faith has power.  The fundamentalists are safe, barricaded in their church and praying.  They aren’t safe because they have the power of God on their side, but simply because faith, in and of itself, is a powerful thing.  But it isn’t a good thing.  Faith in Silent Hill, much like in our world, is the ultimate evil.  Alice Krige (the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact), who combines beauty (watch the otherwise unwatchable Ghost Story) with full blown psychosis, is perfect as the self-appointed priestess of the fanatics.  You’ll loath her within thirty seconds of first seeing her.  This is a film that will have you siding with Hell (I can’t say “over Heaven” since there is no mention of such a place).

I would have liked more background on the church-goers.  A lot more.  They seem out of time.  Why did this group have power in the 1970s?  It’s an important question if you want to take the movie seriously.  Do you need to take it seriously to enjoy it?  No.  The cinematography, effects, frights, gore, and action guarantee a good time.  But some clarification wouldn’t have hurt.

It also would have been nice to eliminate Sean Bean, who does his best with an unnecessary role.  As Rose’s husband, he walks around with an incongruously oblique policeman and hammers you over the head with story points that were pretty obvious already.

For horror fans, this will be a very satisfying film.  I can’t say what gamers will think as I’ve never picked up the Silent Hill video game.  Perhaps everything will make sense to them, but you don’t have to have a joystick to be entertained.


Sodom and Gomorrah

Lot, the gray-haired action hero, is leader of the dullest people on the face of the Earth.  Their goal is to work hard, and enjoy themselves as little as possible while condemning everyone they meet.  Not exactly good party guests, particularly when the party is taking place in Sodom (I could have sworn the title mentioned Gomorrah, but that city is missing from the picture).  Lot and his male model sidekick, Ishmael, lead their drab people to squat near Sodom and build a damn (yes, they build a damn, but still live in tents secured by rope).  But there is evil afoot in Sodom, and it’s not just the sodomy.  The brother of the queen has made a deal with some nomads, planning to use them to get the throne.  Since the Hebrews are between the nomads and the city, it’s only a matter of time before Lot will have to use his action-shepherd’s-crook to put the beat-down on some Arabs.  And he’s just the horribly miscast guy to do it.  Of course, by turning to face these new opponents, he’s left his rear exposed to the Sodomites.  Now what could they do with that?

Gather round children.  It’s time for a Bible tale.  This is a story from the Old Testament (that’s pre-Jesus little ones, so there’s no semi-nude men playing S&M games…  Wait a minute, this is Sodom and Gomorrah, so there are plenty of semi-nude men playing S&M games).  Anyway, we’re here to hear about a man named Lot, the type of man that Christian parents want their children to emulate.  He’s a hero after all.  What did Lot do?  Well, according to the Bible, he tossed his two virgin daughters to the mob outside his door figuring that they’d rape the girls.  And why did Lot do this?  Because Lot is a dick.  Later, much later, his daughters turn the tables on him, getting him drunk and raping him.  You see, they think they may be the last people on Earth, so daddy is pretty much it if you are looking for a stiff rod.  Gosh, I love the Bible.  It has such swell stories for kids.  There’s one more important item to Lot’s story.  God tells Lot to get out of Sodom (this is before sending his daughters to be defiled but before incestpalooza) so he skedaddles with the wife and kids.  However, his wife takes a gander back, and for this crime (that is, looking backwards), the Big G turns her into a pillar of salt.  Now why would he do that?  Because God is a dick.  Hey, Lot had to learn it from someone.

So, Sodom and Gomorrah is the story of rape, incest, and salt.  Well, no, except for the salt.  Apparently, real Bible stories are too much for the delicate sensibilities of Christians, so this is a made-up Bible story.  It’s an action-adventure yarn, with Stewart Granger thinking he’s still in King Solomon’s Mines (that would be a movie where Granger was good, unlike this one).  The non-Biblically inspired action includes some Hebrews freeing the slaves, and a huge battle in the sand, that would be the high point of the film if it wasn’t for a horrible special effect.  There’s also a non-Biblical romance between Lot and an ex-Sodomite (she’s found a new position), and some off-screen sexual trysts with both of Lot’s daughters and the Sodomite prince (who is probably still using the old position).  For all the pounding of Jehovah in the viewers’ faces, the Judio-Christian connection could be removed in five minutes: make the Jews into Greeks that worship Zeus, and change a few names.  Don’t watch to get that religious feeling; Christianity is only important for its fantasy elements.

But that doesn’t mean Sodom and Gomorrah doesn’t have a religious theme.  It plainly states its very Biblical message: being a good, kind, and loving person means nothing; only obedience counts.  Ildith, a non-Christian, is the only character who isn’t a dick (this film is all about dicks, one way or another), and she marries Lot, so you know Jehovah is going to pull his salt routine on her.  Gosh, makes you feel all warm and cuddly about this God guy.

Ah, but there is much of value in this Italian production made on a budget of…well, clearly not enough.  Besides the joyful and sexy performances of Stanley Baker (Zulu) and Rossana Podestà, the film presents some interesting questions for us to ponder:

  • Why do the all Hebrews wear long robes except for Ishmael, who wears a little cutesy-outfit that shows off his legs?  Should Ishmael be in the city, if you get my drift?
  • Would a little Just-for-Men make Lot look less like someone painted the side of his head?
  • Why are all the slaves white through 80% of the movie, and then suddenly black?
  • Is “Do I remind you of your father?” the best thing to ask a girl before kissing her?
  • Why is it more moral to live on a farm than in a city?
  • Is it smart filmmaking to make the “good” guys really dull while the bad guys are the people you want to hang with?
  • Why does God do so much interfering at the last minute, but nothing when he would have been useful?
  • Are lesbians always crushed beneath giant phallic symbols?
  • Why is a shepherd’s crook a better weapon than a sword?
  • How are things in Gomorrah?
  • Just how stupid is this Lot guy?
  • Wouldn’t almost any greeting be preferable to “Welcome Sodomites”?

And of course, the biggest question:

  • How huge of a dick is God?

The Ten Commandments

Moses, an all-American boy, grows up to be prince of Egypt and fight for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  That is, until he finds out he’s a Hebrew, which makes him give up everything, including easy ways of freeing his new found people, and throw himself in the mud.  Talk about self hatred.  After a peaceful walk in the desert, he starts talking to hot bushes (and not the fun types), that tell him to stand in dramatic poses and say things very loudly.  After winning a posing competition with the King of Siam,  he takes off with every Jew he can find, all of whom yell, “Stone him,” whenever things look dicey.  (Come on folks.  Get some backbone!)  But with his faith in God, Moses defeats the communists and is given the Constitution of the United States…I mean defeats the Egyptians and is given the Ten Commandments.  Same thing.

Frequent readers of this site will have noted a correlation between low ratings and low ratings.  No shock there.  With such quality religious flicks out there as King of Kings and Left Behind 2: Tribulation Force, it often seems a waste to give these films two grades.  So, I thought it was time I add one that oozes righteousness and still gets a thumbs up from me.  Thus: The Ten Commandments, the ultimate in cinematic spectacle.  Filmed with the color and contrast turned to eleven, gigantic sets, sweeping North African vistas, stirring music, and a cast of thousands, including substantial portions of the Egyptian military, they never made them like this, and never will again.  This is film as pageantry.

It’s hard to forget the parting of the Red Sea, or the fire-carving of the Commandments, but equally thrilling are the scenes of the great treasure city, with its gigantic obelisks, huge marble slabs, and numerous statues.  CGI hasn’t managed anything half as impressive.  God as a mildly glowing fern is a let-down, but the rivers turning to blood and the deathly fog that kills the first borns more than makes up for it.

There were plenty of other religious epics produced in the ’50s.  None so grand, but The Ten Commandments is more than the biggest parade.  It is the perfect vehicle for its larger than life stars.  Charlton Heston couldn’t handle subtle emotions or even everyday actions; he’s never believable displaying amusement, affection, or love.  But as a force of nature, a representation of authority, he’s magnificent.  The Ten Commandments never asks him to do anything small.  He rages and he proclaims, and at those, no one is better.   However, Yul Brynner is close.  When both appear in the same frame, I expect the extras to drown in a flood of testosterone.

Even with the impressive imagery turned off, this is still one entertaining movie.  I could be content just listening to the voices.  Besides Heston and Brynner, there are the distinctive Edward G. Robinson, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Judith Anderson, Vincent Price, and John Carradine.  Where else can you find the remarkable tones of Robinson entwining with those of Price?

The behavior of the film’s characters  makes little sense (particularly that God guy, who apparently is all-powerful, but waits for generations before stopping the torture of “his people”), but for a change, that’s not a problem.   The Ten Commandments isn’t a slice-of-life pic, where real people deal with real situations.  It’s a hero-story told round the campfire (but in sparkling VistaVision), where the individuals are close kin to Agamemnon, Achilles, and Zeus.

DeMille could never decide if he was telling a tale of the glory of God or of the wonders of the United States.  I suspect the two were inseparable in his mind.  Moses may be the messenger of the voice from the fiery foliage, but he speaks of tyranny and repression as the reasons why the Hebrews must be freed, not simply because God said so.  In the weakest moments of the picture, DeMille, in an unneeded occasional narration and an embarrassing prolog, tries his best to connect the Biblical story to the fight against Soviet communism.  It’s an uncomfortable fit.  Yes, the Israelites are free from the Egyptians, but now they are under the thumb of a vengeful god, who will smite anyone who doesn’t worship as proscribed.  Not exactly freedom in my book.  But with the cold war behind us, the political propaganda merges with the religious propaganda to make both distant and irrelevant.  DeMille may have wanted to push faith and country, but instead, he ended up with a rip-roaring story and little coherent theme, which is how I like my religious pics.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t much to learn about religion from this film.  A few of the better bits:

  • God is an ass who just likes to fuck with people’s minds.  He keeps Moses on the mountain for 40 days just because its funny.
  • God is a vindictive prick.  If you don’t worship him, he makes you walk in the desert till you die.
  • God is indiscriminately cruel.  He kills the guilty.  He kills the innocent.  It’s all the same to him.  He just chooses a group (first borns) and their number is up.
  • The power of God is a stupid power.  The only way for the Angel of Death (code name: Destroyer) to know who NOT to kill is if he sees lambs blood on the door.  What kind of a system is that?  If he can figure out who is a first born, why can’t he work out who is a Hebrew?
  • God hates song and revelry (or at least Moses does).  Not sure why.  I guess God is a grumpy god.  So, no big parties for God.  Also, eating and drinking are frowned upon.
  • Moses was pretty much the same as Jesus, with a star heralding his birth and all the new born Jews killed to stop him.  Even the Bible didn’t know about that.  And the ladies loved that bare chest of his.
  • Once you’ve met God, you pretty much suck as a person, although you can be intimidating as a leader.

Sure, the whole thing is silly, but then so is The Iliad, Beowulf, and Sir Gawain and The Green Knight.  It is gloriously, magnificently silly.  It is the cinematic epic against which all others are judged.  And while it has flaws, I can never forget hearing Rameses proclaim “So let it be written, so let it be done,” and seeing Moses stretch out his staff over the Red Sea and part the waters.  Now that’s good fantasy.


This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse

Coffin Joe (also known as Zé do Caixão), survived God’s wrath, or Voodoo undead, or his hallucinations from the end of the first film, even though it really looked like he was dead.  Cleared of all murder charges for no particular reason, he sets up in a new town to once again find the perfect woman to bear him a son.  Aiding Joe is a guy in the worst hunchback makeup I’ve ever seen.  Since no explanation is given for who he is or why he’s helping Joe, I have to wonder if he was supposed to be a horribly deformed hunchback, or a psycho who really wanted to get into community theater.  Between speeches about the folly of religion and how man can find immortality through blood (the second kinda takes the wind out of the first, doesn’t it?), Joe kidnaps a bunch of hot chicks, puts them in transparent nighties, and frightens them with spiders (because that’s certainly the best way to find a superior woman).  Disappointed by the results of his test, and after a few killings, he sets his sights on Laura, the daughter of the richest and most powerful man in town (Hmmm, I wonder if he’ll object).  Laura, being nuttier than Joe, is keen on this breeding program, and the two set out to have a baby and talk about the superiority of man over God.

Coffin Joe is back, with better production values and even more talking.  Yes, this man doesn’t believe in God, does believe in the superiority of man, and really, really wants you to know about it.  Five minutes don’t pass without him making a speech.  And I thought politicians liked to hear themselves talk.

The improvement in cinematic technique over that used in Joe’s first outing, At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, (the sound wasn’t recorded with a mic sunk in sludge at the bottom of a tin can this time)  makes this a more watchable flick.  The semi-professional sets and scantily clad women don’t hurt either.  And the story is more complex, though that’s a mixed blessing since it also means the plot holes are larger and more frequent.  For the first hour, I was sure there was an excellent movie hidden somewhere within this one, but eventually the endless chattering got to be too much.

Even if writer/director José Mojica Marins’s displays greater skill, much of the production is too crude to take seriously (and the flick is too talky to find humorous).  A scene of several girls being attacked by snakes reminds me of Bela Lagosi finding off the non-functional octopus prop in Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster.  The actresses are obviously lifting the snakes into position.  The major set piece is Joe’s dream journey to hell, the only part of the film in color.  I can only guess that this was supposed to be shocking, with a red-painted man whipping and poking (with a very fake pitchfork) semi-nude men and women, but it’s too poorly done to elicit that reaction.  You might giggle.

Much like the first film, most of This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse is Joe preaching his doctrine of immortality through blood and the foolishness of religion.  Again, the lone atheist (everyone else is Catholic, as would have been expected in 1967 Brazil) is a psychotic killer.  Also, like the first, priests spoke out against the film for its blasphemy of having a non-religious character.  I’d have thought they’d be thrilled with the depiction of a non-believer as someone incapable of good actions.  Instead they were unhappy that anyone would suggest that a person could be an atheist.

At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul ended with possible divine intervention.  This time around, it is more blatant, with the story being wrapped up by God stepping in.  We are then treated to text informing us that, “Man will only find truth when he searches for truth” while a cross glows brighter and brighter.  If I might make a suggestion: Don’t search for truth in a Coffin Joe movie.


The Meaning of Life!

Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin team up with a few fish to explain the meaning of life. Then they show a long episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

The Meaning of Life contains the second best song in film history. The best is “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from Life of Brian (also a Monty Python film), but running a close second is this film’s “Every Sperm is Sacred.” There are few more iconic moments in cinema than that of the horde of Dickensian children explaining Catholicism’s prohibition on birth control in song and dance. This is then followed by an equally brilliant skewering of Protestantism and a hymn that reveals the true motivation behind monotheism (if you grovel enough, maybe that bastard God won’t smite you). Add in the brilliant short feature The Crimson Permanent Assurance and an amusing look at sex education classes and you’ve got the beginnings of a great film that handily breaks the four barrier on the atheism scale.

And then… well… the film continues.

When it comes down to it, The Meaning of Life is not a film. It’s a bunch of independent shorts and sketches that they threw together and slapped title cards between to give the illusion of cohesion. While this structure is an amusing metaphor for religion, it causes difficulties when trying to view the film as a unified whole. Without characters or meaningful plot threads to lead me through the film, there is nothing to make me care how it ends. All I’m there for is to see whether they have anything to top “Every Sperm is Sacred.”

They don’t.

Yet, even having shot their wad in the first few reels, this is still Monty Python. What they turn out in their post-orgasmic grogginess is still worth watching. So, while it’s the weakest of their three films (the one I’ve yet to mention being Monty Python and the Holy Grail), it still garners a 3.5 on the quality scale, and if you’re watching it on DVD, where you can easily skip to the best parts, it might even be worth a 4. Still, if you’re only going to see one Monty Python film, see Life of Brian instead.