A paranoid conspiracy thriller delivered in a droll tongue-in-cheek style with generous helpings of black comedy and anti-establishment satire doesn’t really fit neatly into any genre and Kihachi Okamoto’s The Age of Assassins (1967 aka Epoch of Murder Madness; Japanese title: Satsujin Kyojidai) was generally dismissed by critics and avoided by audiences when it was first released in the late sixties. Like many of Okamoto’s films, it didn’t receive theatrical distribution outside of its own country and that’s a shame because the film has the essential goods to become a bona fide cult classic on the order of Seijun Suzuki’s Branded to Kill (1967) or Kinji Fukasaku’s Black Lizard (1968). The Age of Assassins arrived at the tail end of the secret agent craze but it is not really a James Bond parody. Think of it instead as a crazy quilt journey through an off-kilter, pop culture universe where no one is who they appear to be. Continue reading
With a tumultuous background of waves crashing against a rocky coast, a descriptive statement from Sigmund Freud on the meaning of libido scrolls down the screen. Part of the Austrian psychoanalyst’s quotation defines libido as “the energy, regarded as a quantitative magnitude… of those instincts which have to do with all that may be comprised under the word ‘love.’” But the film that follows is not about love but rather the perversion of it starting with an opening sequence in which a child witnesses the aftermath of his father’s violent S&M session with a female companion, an incident that scars him for life. Continue reading
When did Klaus Kinski first burst upon the international film world? The evidence points to his portrayal of the obsessive Spanish expedition leader Don Lope de Aguirre in Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God in 1973. He followed that with other critically praised performances in Andrzej Zulawski’s The Most Important Thing: Love (1975), Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Woyzeck (1979) and Fitzcarraldo (1982) and even appeared in mainstream commercial fare like Billy Wilder’s Buddy, Buddy (1981) and George Roy Hill’s The Little Drummer Girl (1984). But most of Kinski’s early work from 1955’s Morituri (in an uncredited bit part) up to the ‘70s were supporting roles; some were breakout parts such as 1955’s costume drama Ludwig II: Glanz und Ende wines Konigs (he was nominated for best supporting actor in the German Film Awards) or superior genre efforts like Sergio Corbucci’s spaghetti western The Great Silence (1968). Still, leading roles were a rarity for Kinski but one of the early exceptions was Der Rote Rausch (1962), directed by Wolfgang Schleif. Continue reading
Anyone who is a fan of Italian giallos, European art house fare and off the grid cult films is familiar with actress Mimsy Farmer. She left Hollywood in the late sixties after her “youth exploitation” days with American International Pictures in such films as Hot Rods to Hell and Riot on Sunset Strip. Relocating to Europe, she pursued film roles there for the remainder of her career. As an actress she was rarely drawn to mainstream commercial projects and a sampling of her eclectic filmography includes such diverse titles as Barbet Schroeder’s drug addiction opus, More (1969), George Lautner’s erotic melodrama Road to Salina (1970), Dario Argento’s 1972 murder mystery Four Flies on Grey Velvet, The Taviani Brothers’ critically acclaimed Allonsanfan (1974) and Serge Leroy’s survivalist thriller, La Traque (1975). But one of her most obscure and unusual roles is Fabio Carpi’s Corpo d’amore (aka Body of Love, 1972).
Often overlooked in the Spaghetti Western hall of fame, The Ruthless Four (1968) is a riveting, well-crafted tale of a ill-fated search for hidden gold that bears some thematic similarities to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. While it is not quite in the same league as John Huston’s 1948 classic, the cast alone should still pique the interest of any film buff starting with the top-billed Van Heflin and Gilbert Roland, two Hollywood legends with some classic Westerns to their credit; Heflin with Shane (1953) and 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and Roland with his series of “Cisco Kid” oaters that began with The Gay Cavalier in 1946. The curiosity factor is also undeniable with the eclectic casting of Uruguay-born actor George Hilton, a veteran of countless giallos and Euro-westerns, and the inimitable Klaus Kinski, who has a substantial role here unlike many of his genre efforts where his appearance is often little more than a cameo or brief walk-on. Continue reading
Films that explore mental illness, especially Hollywood productions such as The Snake Pit, The Three Faces of Eve and A Brilliant Mind, usually tend to be heavy on the histrionics providing highly dramatic showcases and Oscar award opportunities for actors. But a descent into madness isn’t always signaled by wildly disruptive or overwrought behavior from the afflicted. Sometimes the illness can creep up slowly by degrees and pass for something more fleeting and subtle that avoids detection during the early stages. Life Upside Down (La vie à l’envers), directed by Alain Jessua, is a remarkable example of this, presenting a man who goes quietly mad while interpreting his erratic behavior as a profound new self-awareness. Continue reading
How many times do you need to say Kill! In a movie title if you want to stress that it is about murder on an international scale? Apparently the distributors of this 1971 oddity were uncertain about that so they created various poster versions for the global market that ranged from four emphatic Kills! to a succinct single Kill! for promotional purposes. They covered all their bases but forgot to identify a target audience for this chaotic, frenzied and wildly improbable mash-up that freebases elements from conspiracy thrillers, secret agent exploits and sexual melodramas with a political agenda. Of course, you wouldn’t expect anything less from author-turned-filmmaker Romain Gray whose only other directorial effort was the pretentious art house mega-bomb Birds in Peru (1968), which starred his wife Jean Seberg as a suicidal nymphomaniac in the Caribbean. Continue reading