Quick Takes: Mark of the Devil, Day of Anger, Blind Woman’s Curse

mark_of_devil_poster_01Mark of the Devil [Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält] (1970)
AKA Hexen

threestar

Starring Herbert Lom, Udo Kier, Olivera Katarina, Reggie Nalder, Herbert Fux, Johannes Buzalski, Michael Maien, Gaby Fuchs
Directed by Michael Armstrong

Set in Austria during the 1700s, Mark of the Devil is a witch hunter film that is surprisingly brutal and graphic for 1970. Although, I guess it probably wasn’t released uncut most places back then. Anyway, Mark of the Devil is one of the ancestors of the torture porn genre, but unlike the Saw films and those that followed, I actually enjoyed Mark of the Devil! A lot of that rides on the shoulders of Reggie Nalder, who is exceptional in the role of the town’s crazed witch hunter. It’s ultimately a hard one to recommend, though, as it’s not much more than a torture-rific exploitation movie. What I can recommend is the newly released Arrow Blu-ray/DVD, which is excellent. I love when Blu-rays manage to retain the general look of watching a film projection (DAT GRAIN). Looks like a million witches burning at the stake.

day_of_angerDay of Anger [I giorni dell’ira] (1967)
AKA Blood and Grit, Gunlaw, Days of Wrath

threehalfstar

Starring Lee Van Cleef, Giuliano Gemma, Walter Rilla, Christa Linder, Yvonne Sanson, Lukas Ammann, Andrea Bosic, Ennio Balbo, José Calvo
Directed by Tonino Valerii

As if you needed any more evidence that Lee Van Cleef is a total badass, Day of Anger presents him in one of his finest roles. He plays the mysterious and ruthless Frank Talby, who rides into the strange town of Clifton and endears himself to a persecuted street cleaner named Scott (Giuliano Gemma). In their first encounter, Talby teaches Scott that he doesn’t necessarily have to accept the lot that life has given him; he can instead create the life he would like to have. This progression of Scott’s character, and his relationship with Talby, are satisfying enough on their own, but Day of Anger also has some incredible scenes that rank among the best the western genre has to offer. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Talby has a duel mid-film that’s just fantastic. Director Tonino Valerii was Sergio Leone’s assistant director before moving on to his own films, and he clearly picked up some tricks. After watching a number of mediocre Spaghetti Westerns over the last few years, Day of Anger is not only one of the best Spaghettis I’ve seen in a while, it’s also one of the best westerns I’ve seen in a while. Genre fans should definitely check it out! The new Arrow Blu-ray/DVD looks absolutely fantastic, too!

Blind Woman’s Curse [怪談昇り竜] (1970)
AKA Black Cat’s Revenge, The Tattooed Swordswoman, Strange Tales of Dragon Tattoo

threehalfstar

Starring Meiko Kaji, Hoki Tokuda, Makoto Satō, Hideo Sunazuka, Shirō Otsuji, Toru Abe, Tatsumi Hijikata, Yoshi Kato, Yoko Takagi
Directed by Teruo Ishii

If you were to look at Blind Woman’s Curse critically, you could find many faults with the plot. It is a film that mixes multiple genres and styles together, and it’s not necessarily concerned with doing them all justice. But honestly, I only noticed this after the film had long been over, because while I was watching I was just having a blast. It’s one of those rare films that satisfies my love for both B-Movies and classically well-made cinema. All the the trashiness you’d expect from a multi-genre B-Movie is present, but Blind Woman’s Curse is made with much more grace and skill than these B-elements would normally suggest. There are some seriously great shots and camera work here, and they make me very excited to see some more of Ishii’s work. The film also reminded me a lot of the work of Takashi Miike, and I have a strong feeling Ishii was an influence on him. I don’t know if Blind Woman’s Curse has a cult following, but it definitely deserves one and the elements to attract one are surely all here. The availability of the recent Arrow Blu-ray/DVD should help it find more fans, too.

Zatoichi the Fugitive (1963)

J.P. and I are back with a double shot review of the fourth Zatoichi film, Zatoichi the Fugitive. When you’re done here, make sure you head over to his site to read his thoughts on the film (link at the bottom of my review).


Zatoichi the Fugitive [座頭市兇状旅] (1963)
AKA Zatoichi 4

Starring Shintaro Katsu, Miwa Takada, Masayo Banri, Toru Abe, Junichiro Narita, Katsuhiko Kobayashi

Directed by Tokuzo Tanaka

Expectations: Moderate.


I love samurai films. I’ve heard great things about the Zatoichi series over the years, but I have yet to really dive head first into the world of the blind masseur. About five years ago, I saw the first film in the series and I was underwhelmed. Zatoichi had been built up to me as this amazing series of films, but I found the first film to be slow and just okay. I liked it enough to remain interested in the series, but I had shelved it in my mind for future times. Sometime between then and now, I saw the 2003 Takeshi Kitano remake. I used to really like his films, but again I was underwhelmed with his remake. I don’t remember a lot about it, but I do remember hating the very obvious computer generated blood effects in the film. Get a bag of blood and splatter it around. C’mon.

So going into Zatoichi the Fugitive I was hoping that it would reignite my interest in the series and show me what everyone was going on about. The first thing I noticed was that this film was in color. I had expected black & white like the first, so this was a welcome surprise. I love black & white cinematography more than most, don’t get me wrong, but after seeing this film, color is the correct choice for Zatoichi. The one downfall of using color though, is that for the fights I come in expecting blood-letting and Zatoichi the Fugitive is very sparse in that department.

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