Recent Work: Mata Hari, Dr. Sadism, and Historical Sluttery

Below are some recent additions to my  portfolio of illustration work–enjoy!

Mata Hari

Mata Hari – 11.7″ x 16.5″, ink and watercolor on bristol board. Private collection.

Torture Chamber of Dr. SadismTorture Chamber of Dr. Sadism – 11″ x 17″ ink on bristol with digital color. For Spectacle Theater in Brooklyn.

Empress Theodora

Great Moments in Historical Sluttery – Empress Theodora for Slutist. Read the accompanying article I wrote and see the entire illustration on the Slutist website (which you should really be following if you love kickass women as much as I do). Illustration is ink on bristol with digital color.

Calamity Jane

Great Moments in Historical Sluttery – Calamity Jane for Slutist. So I kinda missed my July deadline because I am sometimes bad at life (I make up for it with gobs of charm), but she’s technically July’s History Slut. Read the article and see the full illustration on the Slutist website.

 

Alraune [1928]

Alraune 1928 PosterThere are an almost infinite number of enticements I could use to convince you to watch Henrik Galeen’s 1928 screen adaptation of Hanns Heinz Ewers’ decadent occult romance novel “Alraune,” but for the purposes of brevity and impact, I’ve selected the five GIFs below to plead my case. While the film departs from the source material in several particulars, it retains much of the cruelly humorous eroticism while adding in a tension-filled train ride and an extended circus interlude. Those are both terrifically Weimar Era touches to which I simply cannot object.

Backing up a few paces: the novel “Alraune” tells the story of a woman created by a scientist through artificially inseminating a prostitute with the seed of a hanged convict (deftly harvested during the criminal’s death throes) that the resulting child might take on the magical characteristics of the mandrake (alraune) root. This daughter brings both incredible luck and tragic misfortune to every person who attempts to get close to her, from bewitched fellow students in her convent school though besotted men who bend to her whims.

The English cut of the film adaptation glosses over Alraune’s conception, though for Those In The Know it’s all pretty much there, opening as it does on a fantastically moody gallows with lurking figures beneath. What the film does maintain, though, is the novel’s overarching spirit and (spoiler alert for an almost-100-year-old movie based on an over-100-year-old book) while the ending is significantly more upbeat, there’s something deliciously subversive about transforming a tale of a born-and-bred femme fatale into a redemption arc.

With that, I’ll proceed onto the facts of the case.

alraune-2

FIRSTLY: “Alraune” features an actual “train going into a tunnel” cut to indicate two characters having sex. That’s fucking terrific.

alraune-4SECONDLY: Have you ever wanted to see Brigitte Helm, Maria from “Metropolis,” performing an adorable calisthenics routine? Then I admire the specificity of your tastes and will inform you that this is your film, friend.

alraune-3THIRDLY: There is a beer-drinking bear.

alraune-5FOURTHLY: I direct you to GIF Left, in which there is a woman wearing a monocle. The monocle was frequently donned by cosmopolitan German women who wished to indicate their lesbian identity, in a supreme gesture of elegant sartorial BAMF-ery.

alraune-1FIFTHLY (and perhaps most importantly): “Alraune” features some of the best exchanges of Significant Looks ever captured on film. The smoking! The gazes! The cheekbones! It’s more than the heart can stand.

And with that, I leave you to watch “Alraune” (aka “A Daughter of Destiny”):

Kevin and Kate Geek Out About Super Villains – July 30, 2015

KGO Villains-KillinkNew York area pals rejoice! I’m going to be joining comedian and hyphenate pop culture enthusiast Kevin Maher for a celebration of the ghastliest, most horrible, and all-around dastardliest bad guys for Kevin Geeks Out About Super Villains on Thursday July 30 at Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn. I’ve been furiously editing video, making gifs, and getting my comics into a presentable format for the event, which will be a one-of-a-kind variety show featuring experts, artists, and other assorted weirdoes.

View the trailer here:

Trailer: KEVIN GEEKS OUT ABOUT SUPERVILLAINS from Nitehawk Cinema on Vimeo.

For those unfamiliar with Nitehawk, it’s a fantastic movie theater featuring a full-service bar and kitchen. I will advise you NOT to start a drinking game where you take a slug every time I compare a super villain to “the demonic other” or any time a speaker suggests they might want to have filthy, filthy sex with one of the super villains being discussed. You might die.

There will also be an audience participation game during which one lucky bastard will win an original Red Skull painting by *me*, in case the promise of drinks, laughs, and general weirdness wasn’t enough.

The evening’s rogue’s gallery of presenters includes:

Click here to purchase advance tickets!

Teen Witches, Russian Bloodsuckers, and Lunatics Running the Asylum: Recent Watch Run-down

It’s that time again: here’s some stuff I’ve watched recently that you, too, can view on your streaming service of choice.

sisterhoodofthenightThe Sisterhood of Night (2014)

As the one woman my age who was not enchanted with “The Craft,” I really wanted the recent teen witch outsider movie “Sisterhood of the Night” to satisfy my yearning for an occult thriller that fully exploits the nightmarish hellscape of American high school. I feel like younger viewers will probably get more out of this modern-day “Crucible” story of ostracization, mania, and eventual redemption than I did. Director Caryn Waechter does a fine job eliciting memorable performances from her cast of young woman actors, and Georgie Henley plays lead witchy-chick Mary with a fine balance of charisma and vulnerability.  Perhaps the most refreshing thing about this movie is seeing teenage girls portrayed with a degree of nuance and realism not usually seen in movies (god, being a teenage girl was horrible–I DO NOT RECOMMEND the experience to others).

nightwatchNight Watch (2004)

This tale of warring factions of Russian supernatural creatures is like being inside someone else’s migraine for almost two hours. Frenetic, inscrutable, and with far more mythos-building than any movie about monsters punching each other deserves, it does have a beautiful handling of animated, artistic subtitles in the US release going for it.

stonehearstasylumStonehearst Asylum (2014)

Holy cow, was I charmed by this adaptation of Poe’s “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Father.” I went into this suspicious of any adaptation of that story, which had already been done with psychedelic bombast in 1973 by Juan Lopez Moctezuma in “Mansion of Madness.” Fortunately, the movie doesn’t chiefly turn on Poe’s famous twist ending–this same twist does appear early in the movie but it’s used to set the stage for further convolutions of the pleasantly gothic variety. Directed by Brad Anderson (who’s also responsible for haunted asylum-themed cult fave “Session 9”), “Stonehearst Asylum” balances the darkness of gothic fiction with a pleasant dose of the cheekiness that can also be found in that source material, but is often overlooked by modern adaptations. Hell, even Kate Beckinsdale (star of the “Underworld” franchise, speaking of movies with way too much backstory to their monster-punching) is a delight in this.

londonintherawLondon in the Raw (1965)

The Mondo well must have been running dry at this point, as the big gore/surgery setpiece involves a man getting hairplugs. Thanks, but I’ll take the mensur fencers and Grand Guignol in “Ecco!”

Cataclysmic Decadence in Porta Nigra’s “Kaiserschnitt”

portanigra-kaiserschnitt

Music puts me at a loss for words. Maybe I just prefer to let the visceral experience of bathing in sound remain a private one. Today, I’m going to make an exception to this muteness because I simply cannot contain my delight at listening to Kaiserschnitt, the most recent release from self-described “dark decadent metal” duo Porta Nigra. A work of malefic gorgeousness and sophisticated extremity, something REAL special would have to come out to unseat this album as my favorite of 2015.

Let’s talk about the use of the word “decadent.” A term defanged over the course of decades by ad men who use it to describe chocolatey desserts and lipstick textures, Porta Nigra employs the term in its most literary sense: Decadence as a nihilistic celebration of decay, madness, and vice. While many of the topics covered by the band will be familiar to heavy metal fans (war, sex, insanity), their work is inspired by works of art and literature that are a far cry from the pop/pulp influences more typically found in this kind of music. Borrowing the Satanism of J.K. Huysmans’ “La Bas,”* the diseased eroticism of Felicien Rops, and the martial symbolism of Gabriele D’Annunzio, Porta Nigra create a soundscape that, while extreme, has a sense of musical control and aesthetic refinement. Each sound–whether expressed through guitar, drum, vocals, samples, or keyboards–is carefully selected for maximum theatrical impact. The rapid-fire drums of opening track “Die Mensur” call to mind the quick slashing strikes of German academic fencing, while “Hepatits Libido” features a drunk reel alternating with punctuated stabs to conjure dizzying eros-thanatos.

*It’s noteworthy that a member of the band goes by the moniker Gilles de Rais, the child-murdering black magician once associated with Joan of Arc and a central figure in “La Bas.”

Porta Nigra hails from Germany, and Kaiserschnitt does a breathtaking job of conjuring an “ecstatic truth” vision of that country in the 1910s and 1920s. The album’s title translates to “Caesarian section” (literally: “Kaiser/Emperor Cut”), a grisly, interventionist method of birth that evokes the chaos of Germany’s military exploits and downfall in the early 20th Century (to say nothing of the bloodshed that would follow with the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s). In addition to the influence of the Decadents, there is a strong sense of Germany’s artistic heritage during this time period in Kaiserschnitt. Known for their unflinching portrayals of taboo topics like battlefield casualties, criminals, prostitutes, and other inhabitants of the demimonde, the German Expressionist painter’s toolkit consisted of energetic strokes, lurid colors, and dynamic compositions–the same experience delivered by Porta Nigra’s musical arrangements. While the album’s subject matter isn’t explicitly supernatural or fantastical, there’s also an aesthetic whiff of Decadent- and Expressionist-adjacent German occult novelists like Gustav Meyrink and Hanns Heinz Ewers** on this record.

**Ewers’ 1916 novel “Alraune” was the best book I read in the year I discovered it, and is far ghastlier, sexier, and funnier than you probably expect it to be. Please thank me for that recommendation later.

portanigra

I would be terribly remiss if I didn’t mention Porta Nigra’s marvelous visual presentation. Their promotional photo for Kaiserschnitt depicts the pair decked out in full mensur fencing gear. I’ll permit myself an indulgent aside here to tell you how much I adore mensur (I’m working on A Whole Thing that involves mensur). An academic form of fencing, mensur is practiced in fraternities in Germany and Austria, and unlike what we think of as “fencing,” it’s not a duel with a winner but rather a sort of maniac’s version of a character building exercise. Each bout finds two participants in neck guards, vests, and goggles (and probably bellies full of delicious German beer for added courage) facing off with rapiers held above the head, rapidly swinging them about without flinching. The resulting facial scars–schmiss–were worn with pride.

And then there’s Kaiserschnitt’s arresting cover artwork, with its bloody-mouthed, world-devouring beast in Prussian headgear. The art was created by Valnoir, a French designer whose Metastazis studio website opens with  a warning to potential clients that includes the following: “to the plebeian who says ‘you should know how to accept criticism,’ we respond ‘not when it’s ludicrous.'” This is probably my new favorite design site.

At this point, I hope I’ve titillated you to the point that you’re aching to listen to Kaiserschnitt for yourself. Thanks to the magic of the information superhighway, you can have just this kind of instant gratification! Stream Porta Nigra’s latest album below, and visit their Bandcamp page to purchase a digital copy. Porta Nigra is active on Facebook as well, for those who are of the social-media-using sort.

Iron Man for the First Time and Samurai Reincarnation

ironman-demon

I’m not real big on “joining,” so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that up until a couple of weeks ago I had never seen any of the recent Marvel movies. In fact, I think the “Blade” movies and “Howard the Duck” were the only Marvel movies I’d seen. Due to this unlikely fact, I was a guest on Nick Nadel’s podcast Movies My Friends Have Never Seen, where we watched “Iron Man” (2008) and I gave my impressions. Fun stuff you’ll learn:

  • I have an uncanny ability to catalog the substance abuse problems of mainstream comics characters.
  • If you took a shot every time I mention “the Demonic Other” in relation to pulp villains, you would die, so be careful.
  • We talk about how I *do*, in fact, like comic book movies, just maybe not the ones that make box office billions.
  • The existence of the “Dylan Dog” movie was wiped from my brain entirely.

Listen to the podcast here.

samuraireincarnation-poster

Another marvelous thing introduced to me by a friend is the 1980 Japanese horror action epic “Samurai Reincarnation.” The story of a Christian martyr who renounces his faith in order to work hideous black magic for revenge, this has everything you could possibly want in it: swordfights, nudity, glittery costumes, and martial arts movie legend Sonny Chiba. I wrote about this classic of bonkers world cinema for Vintage Ninja–read about it here.

A Tale of Three Livias: Female Desire and Military Decadence in Senso

senso-posters

“Senso:” the title of Camillo Boito’s 1882 novella evokes the senses, primal feelings that are more immediate than reason. A stunning work of decadent fiction, “Senso” is the story of Livia, a 22-year-old countess married to a much older man who recounts her obsession with her “strong, handsome, degenerate, reprobate” lover, the soldier Romigio. I have a soft spot for horrible leading characters, and Livia is truly dreadful: she’s vain, impulsive, and vengeful with a complete disregard for anyone by herself. The very name “Livia” evokes the deified wife of the Roman emperor Augustus, known as an idealized, queenly matriarch, but this Livia is called “Messalina” by her lover, linking her more closely to the wife of Emperor Claudius who was rumored to be wildly promiscuous. Romigio proves himself to be precisely the kind of scoundrel he’s always presented himself to be, wheedling lavish gifts from Livia, who delights in stealing her husband’s money for her roguish, beautiful side piece. Things turn sour when Livia discovers that—in addition to his gambling, drinking, and excesses—Romigio also keeps other lovers, she finds a final way to squeeze pleasure out of her relationship with him: ratting him out as a deserter and watching his execution. A story of lust, extreme selfishness, and power against the backdrop of war, “Senso” begs to be adapted for the screen.

senso-1

Luchino Visconti’s 1954 version of “Senso” is a lavish period piece set, like Boito’s novella, in Italy during the 1860s at a time of escalating tension with Austria. Livia (Alida Valli) is married to an aristocrat with ties to Austria, but Visconti adds a “competing loyalties” storyline with the new character of Livia’s cousin, the leader of an Italian rebellion against the Austrian occupiers. Visconti’s Livia is not the arrogant young woman depicted by Boito; instead she an aging beauty plagued by anxieties who is swept away by the dashing Lieutenant Franz Mahler (the renamed Romogio, played by Farley Granger who used the time in between filming to carry on an affair with Jean Marais). It’s clear that Franz is bad news, but Livia convinces herself he loves only her, in spite of his known reputation as a drunk and a womanizer. Rather than being a headstrong femme fatale—the Satanic Female so favored by the decadent movement—Visconti’s Livia is a tragic figure and this is the story of her downfall.

senso-4Key moments of sensuality populate the novella: Livia examines bruises on her body, her first tryst with Romigio takes place while swimming nude in a public bath, and there are references to her body being “crushed” and “bitten” during sex. Visconti transforms this physical sensuality into a purely visual beauty. Bruised, bitten shoulders are replaced by sumptuous layers of silk gowns and crushing sex becomes smoldering eye contact of the kind Visconti films so adeptly. It’s a breathlessness not of exertion and exhaustion, but of constraint. This Livia doesn’t pant from her unrestrainable sexual urges, but is unable to breathe due to tight bodices and heavy gowns.

senso-2

Toxic intimacy gives way to sweeping battlefield sequences, shifting focus from Livia and Franz to the greater impact of war on the country. Livia’s obsession feels trivial when contrasted with images of wounded soldiers and chaotic fighting. Livia isn’t so much driven by desire, as she is hysterical. In fact, her neglect of duties to her countrymen is made explicit when she gives money earmarked for her cousin’s resistance efforts to her lover so he can avoid active duty. The consequences of her choice are made terribly obvious when the Austrian army defeats the Italian partisans.

senso-3In a final departure from Boito, Visconti constructs a confrontation between Livia and her cheating lover that doesn’t exist for Boito. It is enough for Boito’s Livia to witness Romigio’s unfaithfulness without being seen, but Visconti depicts a heartrending scene in which Franz, caught in the arms of a prostitute and bragging about taking Livia’s money, rants his explanation at Livia, maddening her with grief and regret. This Livia musters the last of her dignity to turn him in, instead of ruthlessly informing on him and taking pleasure in his death.

Visconti’s film is a breathtaking one in its beauty, if not due to the dark sensuality evoked by Boito. To watch one of the director’s period pieces is to be put into an idealized, luxurious vision of the aristocratic past, where rooms are decorated in museum-worthy furnishings, every uniform is crisp and spotless, and one can hear the rustle of crinolines in the gowns worn by the women. While Visconti’s “Senso” leaves a lot to be desired in terms of decadence, it’s a stunner of a melodrama.

The view of Visconti’s “Senso” as a none-too-authentic adaptation Boito’s novella was one held by the director himself (who at one point wanted to rename the project entirely) as well as by Tinto Brass. Brass has mastered bringing the decadent aesthetic to the screen: plush, beautiful, immersive, horrific, and explicitly sexual, Brass fills his films with images designed to provoke a reaction. If decadence is defined as the rejection of realism in favor of artifice, then movies like “Caligula” and “Salon Kitty”—rooted in history but not terribly mindful of depicting it accurately—were cast in the decadent mold.

senso45-4Tinto Brass’ 2002 “Senso ‘45” (aka ”Black Angel”) is the director’s attempt to connect the “Sensos” of Boito and Visconti, taking the latter’s adaptation and reworking many of the threads missing from the former’s novella. Revisiting the operatic fascism of “Salon Kitty,” though this time in the declining days of the German occupation of Italy, Brass recasts Livia (Anna Galiena) as the wife of an Italian fascist official and Romigio as SS Lieutenant Helmut Schultz (Gabriel Garko, sporting a regrettable bleach-blonde hairstyle).

senso45-3The older woman/younger man dynamic of Visconti is present in “Senso ’45.” It’s noteworthy that the age shift on the part of the woman makes her a sympathetic figure—for a woman to begin to lose the beauty traditionally associated with youth is seen as tragic, but to depict a young woman in full realization of the power of this same beauty makes her demonic and threatening. To have the demonic female in a relationship with the demonic male (made explicitly demonic in Brass by his Nazi affiliation) creates an ambiguous balance of power and one that’s arguably closer to Boito’s original intent.

senso45-2What Brass does bring to the forefront from Boito is the emphasis on sexual passion. The bodies so carefully disguised in meticulous period costuming in Visconti are on full display here—Brass’ no-less-gorgeous costumes are designed to be stripped from the players in moments of animal passion, with all the “crushing” and “biting” described by Boito. “Senso ‘45” is an extremely dark and cynical romance, with Livia frequently put into situations that force her to “overcome” some kind of inhibition (in contrast to the fully-realized sexuality of Boito’s protagonist). Of course, this being a Tinto Brass movie, we get a first row seat to Livia indulging in oral sex, group sex, public sex, anal sex, and transforming herself into a sexually awakened being as a result. There’s even a tonally bizarre scene—likely included to show us her point of view—where Livia and her SS boy-toy frolic at the seashore in a moment that feel like it would be at home in “The Blue Lagoon.”

Where Boito’s Livia is responding to her true nature and acting on her impulses, Brass’ Livia finds herself guided down a path of decadence. A character invented by Brass is Elsa, the procuress who ushers Livia into her first sexual encounter with Helmut and later is shown running a bordello and gambling den.

senso45-1It’s noteworthy that, unlike the vast majority of Italian Nazi epics, “Senso ‘45” is set in and explicitly features images of Italian fascism. The streets of Venice are plastered with huge images of Mussolini and rifle-toting black-shirted troops roam the streets. While the movie never shows the front, the realities of war are present with blackouts and air raids a constant reminder that the social order is collapsing (or being returned to its proper alignment, with the ever-advancing Allies). World War II atrocities are evoked when Livia and Helmut witness the shooting of an unarmed woman in the streets. This does little to dampen their ardor, however, as they’re shown in their love nest apartment moments later.

The degree to which Helmut has exploited Livia is revealed when she discovers him spending the money she’d given him to save him from the front alongside a prostitute. The cruelty of the confrontation is emphasized here, with Helmut pointing out Livia’s age and laughing at her conviction that he loved her. What’s devastating to Livia has been obvious to the audience from the moment Helmut’s black-uniformed figure appeared on screen: he’s a vicious, amoral degenerate without a care for any other human being. The eroticism of Livia’s revenge on Helmut is emphasized in Brass, but a feeling of justification detracts from the shock at her final act of vindictiveness. Helmut/Romigio was not her equal in degeneracy, as is implied in Boito, but rather a far more horrible creature whose seductive power overwhelmed the already morally ambivalent politician’s wife.

This shift of power away from Livia as the stunning young noblewoman of Boito that transforms her into the elegant neurotic of Visconti and the late-blooming hothouse flower of Brass is an interesting choice. It’s almost as if the directors find it impossible to think the audience would be able to watch a movie focused on the demonic woman of decadent literature. Do they see her as a misogynist relic of a time past? Do they simply feel the viewer requires a sympathetic woman at the center of their stories in order to “sell” a narrative that hinges on revenge, rather than on Boito’s carnal death drive climax? Is it possible that, in recasting Livia as the “woman scorned” they’ve missed a key part of the power at the heart of the source novella?

Historical Sluttery, Ilsa, and Bonnie and Maude – Spring 2015 Art

There are a lot of wonderful consequences to having creative friends. The artists, performers, and writers I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by are a constant source of inspiration for me. As a bonus, sometimes I even get to invited to collaborate with them on their ventures.

I’m excited to announce that I have a new monthly feature at Slutist (a site that anyone who loves fierce women should be reading) called Great Moments in Historical Sluttery. I’ll be illustrating and writing about sexy, influential women and their various accomplishments, misdeeds, and general hijinx. The first in the series is live on Slutist now, and discusses Weimar Berlin’s own Anita Berber.

anitaberber-banner-withtext

 

I’ve also been illustrating posters for some of the independent film and pop culture events here in NYC. Below is a poster I made for screenings of the Ilsa series at Spectacle Theater in Brooklyn:

Ilsa for Spectacle Poster

 

On a completely different side of the Female Experience coin, I also illustrated a poster for an event called Pregnant Pause, hosted by Bonnie and Maude, a fantastic podcast and variety show about women in film and television. It’s good to get out of one’s comfort zone and this was a terrific opportunity for me to do just that!

pregnantpause-SCREEN

New Zine: Witch Women from Heretical Sexts

witchwomen-screenNurse your Walpurgisnacht hangovers with Witch Women, the brand new zine from my micropress Heretical Sexts. I was able to collaborate with some of my favorite artists and authors for this exploration of the link between women and the occult in history, film, books, and other media. Ranging from esoteric to tongue-in-cheek, contents include:

-“Hag Couture,” cheeky advice on fashion and ritual realness by S. Elizabeth
-“Ace of Worlds,” an encounter with the tarot by Tom Blunt
-“The Scarlet Women,” an illustrated history of erotic magic written by Heather Drain and illustrated by Tenebrous Kate
-“Darkening the Coven,” an RPG and creative writing supplement by Jack W. Shear
-Art by Dana Glover, Becky Munich, and Carisa Swenson

Purchase a copy of Witch Women here.

I’ve also got button packs featuring my art for sale on the shop, so you can trick out your battle jackets with Gillman Businessman, Barbara Steele in “Curse of the Crimson Altar,” Nazgûl romance, and the dope Heretical Sexts logo designed by the mad genius of Recspec. Button packs ship free with all zine orders, and for a limited time I’m throwing in a free mini zine with all zine purchases.

Vampires vs Dancing Queens, Verhoeven’s Nazi Melodrama, the Sounds of Horror and More

The following are some movies I’ve watched recently that made enough of an impression one way or another to merit a post here. Consider these my personal pro/con recommendations for stuff you can probably watch on your streaming service of choice.

blackbookBlack Book (2006, dir. Paul Verhoeven)

How could a two-and-a-half-hour WWII melodrama about a beautiful Jewish spy fucking an SS officer as directed by the man who brought us “Robocop” and “Showgirls” go so very, very wrong? I’m pretty sure the moment when the soon-to-be-seduced Nazi whips out his stamp collection, thus demonstrating his “we are not all barbarians” stock character, sets things on a path into deadly doldrums. All the resistance fighters, pert breasts, gun battles, double-crosses, and false indictments in the world couldn’t transform this lumbering hulk of stereotypes and blandness into the flashy, decadent trash-cinema masterpiece it could have been. The Critics, however, adored it.

bsoundstudioBerberian Sound Studio (2012, dir. Peter Strickland)

This smart tribute to later-era Italo-horror shifts the focus from rivers of red to the gruesomely evocative sound design of these gorefests. Beautifully filmed, intimate in scope, and frequently bitingly funny, I was pleasantly surprised that this movie lured me into its strange spiral of madness. This is, at its heart, a movie about a culture clash and excellent performances drive home this central conflict. An ambiguous ending has frustrated many viewers, but this is highly recommended for fans of oddly-structured stories rich with period and technical details.

devilskissDevil’s Kiss (1976, dir. Jordi Gigo)

Vintage Eurotrash can offer many delights: colorful cinematography, flashy jazz and prog rock soundtracks, and plentiful kink can frequently salvage an otherwise forgettable movie. Forgetfulness seems to be the order of the day in “Devil’s Kiss,” tragically, as someone at the helm seems to have forgotten to include music, beauty, and atmosphere anywhere in this neo-Gothic tale of revenge and the reanimated dead. I think the biggest shock was the inclusion of a scene that had enough impact to remind me that I’d previously watched this movie (though what that scene was seems to have escaped me at this point). I momentarily had this confused with “Devil’s Nightmare,” but that’s a far superior effort that features baby-stabbing and Erika Blanc’s delightful crazyface.

vampballerinaThe Vampire and the Ballerina (1960, dir. Renato Polselli)

This clunky little feature has bad monster design without being compellingly bad monster design, but is narrowly rescued from tedium by the endearing goofiness of its premise: a dance troupe of nubile young things is rehearsing for a performance at a remote castle, begging the question of who their intended audience might be, and begin falling prey to the hungry dead. Jiggly coquettishness and vampiric demises ensue.

revengeoftheninjaRevenge of the Ninja (1983, dir. Sam Firstenberg)

Every movie should inspire the kind of joy I experienced when watching “Revenge of the Ninja,” which marries a profound misunderstanding of Japanese culture with the dopiest heroin-smuggling scheme of all time. Honestly—how much heroin can you even include in a tiny doll? And why let the dolls be displayed in a shop so you have to steal them back? Inscrutable! Featuring the father-son team of Sho and Kane Kosugi as good-guy ninjas—bring your kid to work day is just plain different at Cannon Films.

manborgManborg (2011, dir. Steven Kostanski)

Deliberately camp movies are a dicey—nay, foreboding—proposition, but this Mortal Kombat meets 80s macho actioner puts in such overtime in its creative use of weirdo FX work that to not-like it would be like ignoring a puppy showing you its belly to receive tickles. After fearing that I’d have to turn this off after the first ten minutes, I was rewarded with stop-motion animated monsters, an unexpectedly charming villain in the form of The Baron, and some genuine laughs. This one may grow on my fellow hard-hearted cynics in a similar fashion.