#221 8 1⁄2/Otto e mezzo

Watched: February 28 2019

Director: Federico Fellini

Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée, Sandra Milo, Barbara Steele

Year: 1963

Runtime: 2h 18min

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Guido Anselmi (Mastroianni) is a famous film director in the middle of an existential crisis and artistic drought. His new project is going nowhere and neither is his love life.

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His flying lessons are going swimmingly however, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice

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Between balancing his mistress (Milo), wife (Aimée), producers, set designers, and potential starring actors, the director is buckling and cannot get himself to make any decisions about his next movie.

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“I need hands! Lots of hands! And frozen faces! And a certain Bergman quality to it all. Or, on second thought, I need a space ship and a bunch of aliens.”

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When confronted by the reality of his life (and his affair), he dreams himself away to a fantasy land where every woman he’s ever met worships the ground he walks on, get along with each other, and (more or less) voluntarily remove themselves from his view when they reach an undesirable age.

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And if they fail to comply, there’s always the whip

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Can religion help? The cardinal in the sauna? The dream woman he’s seen as the star of his movie? His (patient) wife, Luisa? Barbara Steele? The memory of his first sexually charged encounter as a child? In short, will Guido get his groove back?

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“Looking for fun and feeling groovy
Ba da-da da-da da-da, feeling groovy”

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8 12 is gorgeous to look at, and very deservedly won an Oscar for best costume design. The architecture is also outstanding, and there are loads of shots of small people in huge structures throughout the film.

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Huge crumbling structures littered with tiny insignificant people. Or something.

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We’re still in love with Barbara Steele and her face, and we were intrigued by the opening (which reminded us of Bergman – our doggo would have loved it!), especially the arms on the bus and the frozen people. We loved the voice-over, the dream/memory-sequences, the sauna, and the dance in the end, which also brought us back to Bergman.

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“Come on, shake your body baby, do the conga, I know you can’t control yourself any longer” – Ingmar Bergman, 1957

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What we learned: Sometimes, a clown orchestra is what you need.

Next time: Billy Liar (1963)

Bonus: Pit and the Pendulum

Watched: November 9 2018

Director: Roger Corman

Starring: Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, John Kerr, Luana Anders, Antony Carbone

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 20min

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Spain, 1546. Mr Barnard (Kerr) comes from England to see where and how his beloved sister Elizabeth (Steele) died. He meets his brother-in-law Nicholas Medina (Price) and his sister Catherine (Anders) and is offered a strange and vague explanation of Elizabeth’s death.

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“Suffocation from too-tight corset” is not among the excuses. Neither is “tripped over own voluminous skirt and broke neck.”

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Family doctor Leon (Carbone) later reveals to the grieving brother that his sister died of fright. Since more details are surely required after such a statement, Medina confesses that his bride had become obsessed with the inquisition era torture chamber in the cellar, and that she perished in an Iron Maiden.

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We’ve always felt that a house is not a home without a fireplace, a lounge area, and an indoor torture chamber. We’re having ours installed next weekend.

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But is this all there is to it? Barnard is still not satisfied, and as we delve deeper into the house’s secrets, we learn that Medina’s father killed his brother and wife in the chamber when his children were young. Young Nicholas witnessed the ordeal and was never the same again.

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Exhibit A: this is now his default resting face

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As Medina devolves into madness, strange things also begin to happen in the castle… So what really happened to Elizabeth? Is she haunting them? Or was she buried prematurely, House of Usher-style?

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And why didn’t anyone bother informing doctor Leon of the dress code for the evening? These questions will haunt us…

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Pit and the Pendulum has everything we love: Gothic castles, secret passageways, hidden torture chambers, ghosts, murder, madness and torture. It is morbid, grotesque and lovely, and we completely adored Vincent Price as the confused, distressed widower. Barbara Steele’s eyes are as haunting as they were in Black Sunday, and she is the perfect Gothic heroine/villain (take your pick here). Personally, we are of course suckers for anything Poe (and Corman. And Price.), so we had no choice but to include this even though it is no longer on the list. It’s fantastic!

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Best watched by squinting from inside an Iron Maiden. Well, we say “best”…

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What we learned: Crazy is hereditary.

Next time: Carnival of Souls (1961)

#188 Black Sunday

Watched: July 19 2018

Director: Mario Bava

Starring: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi, Ivo Garrani, Arturo Dominici, Enrico Olivieri

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 27min

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In 17th century Moldavia, Princess Asa Vajda (Steele) is sentenced as a witch by her brother and executed after having the “mask of Satan” nailed to her face. But before she dies, she curses her brother and all his descendants.

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To be fair, if someone tried to nail this thing to our faces, we’d probably curse them too

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Fast forward 200 years and two travelling doctors stumble upon her grave. One of them, Kruvajan (Checchi), is attacked by a bat which he kills over Asa’s tomb smashing the cross guarding it in the process. He then proceeds to remove her mask and spill blood on her.

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“Let’s open this tomb with the strangely preserved corpse and drip some blood on it” – a man who has never seen a horror film

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Kruvajan and his young companion Andre Gorobec (Richardson) then run into a mysterious young woman who bears a striking resemblance to the dead witch, Katia (Steele again) and Andre is smitten.

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It’s hard to resist a woman with two massive dogs

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After the meddling with the dead witch’s grave, the surviving members of the Vajda family start to experience strange phenomena, and it becomes clear that Asa and her companion Javuto (Dominici) are back for revenge.

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“Grrr rawr, I’m coming to get you, Barbara!”

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We’re back in our favourite genre with this horror film, and we have a bit of a thing for Mario Bava (especially Sister the Oldest), so naturally we loved Black Sunday. It’s an unsettling and atmospheric Gothic horror with gorgeous lighting and some very good effects. We loved Asa’s resurrection and Katia’s transformation, Barbara Steele’s eyes (emphasized by intense make-up) and the creepy castle.

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Not what most people associate with a “come hither look,” but strangely effective nonetheless

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Sure, there are some issues with this movie, such as the slightly iffy dialogue and the fact that everyone keeps treating Katia like an idiot child (even with everything going on and several corpses piled up, the men don’t really believe her when she claims to have seen someone in her room), but we still love it.

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In the men’s defence, Katia does tend to act a bit like an idiot child, so they may be justified

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Absolutely a must-see if you’re into Italian cult horrors. Which of course is everyone’s favourite genre, so why wouldn’t you watch it?

What we learned: Don’t remove all protective elements and then spill blood on cursed graves. Just don’t.

Next time: Breathless/À bout de souffle (1960)