Showing posts with label satanism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label satanism. Show all posts

Sep 4, 2020


The horror genre exists in ebbs and flows, putting away certain concepts like the slasher flick or the haunted house movie until something comes along and reinvigorates it for a new generation, similar to how Scream revived the slasher in the mid-‘90s and Paranormal Activity resurrected both the haunted house and found footage movie. There’s been one mainstay throughout all this ebbing and flowing, however; appropriately, if you’re gonna have one main baddie to encapsulate the genre, it better be the main baddie – the Devil himself (and I’m capitalizing “devil” because I mean the real guy!). Being that the Devil is the oldest foe we have, it makes sense that he’s our oldest on-screen foe as well, having appeared on celluloid as far back as 1922’s Häxan, and in various forms of pre-film artwork going back thousands of years before that. The Devil, his spawns, or his concubines have popped up in every genre, in every era—from the Hammer films, to big studio fare like The Exorcist and The Omen, to small dumb shit like 1987’s Rock ‘N Roll Nightmare, to big dumb shit like Arnie’s End of Days in 1999. (Shout out to last year’s fantastic I Trapped the Devil.) No, there’s no keeping a good devil down, and that’s fine with me because every so often one of these movies turns out to be pretty good!

The newest of these satanic slices of pure hell comes by way of Belzebuth, an original movie produced by the increasingly popular Shudder streaming service, a joint production between the U.S. and Mexico (though it’s largely based in the latter, and mostly in Spanish language). It’s easy to roll your eyes at yet another movie about the Devil, the end times, possession, and the second coming of the so-called Messiah, because it feels like this movie gets made and released over and over. (And, especially during these pandemic times, who’s in the mood for another movie about a potential apocalypse?) But what makes Belzebuth alluring is that, above all, it’s trying to exist in as realistic a landscape as possible. Though the events and conflict of the film may be way beyond believable (depending on your personal philosophies), much of the film’s horror is relegated to the real world. A supernatural dread drapes over every frame, but the film’s conflict is built on the foundation of true terror ripped from daily headlines: a violent school shooting at the hands of a youth, or a suicide bomber blowing up a packed movie theater. Belzebuth slyly takes these sad, everyday events and posits that they may be part of an overall plan to bring about the end times—that every tragedy brings the earth closer to the unleashing of the Devil. 

The greatest thing about the horror genre, and it’s one thing that old school horror directors like George Romero and John Carpenter exhibited the best, was that it was the genre you could use to make a political statement, or to comment on society heading in the wrong direction, without feeling like you’re overwhelming the audience with agenda. You could concoct as absurd a story as you want, either zombies in a shopping mall or blue-collar construction workers using Raybans to see the true alien face of their fellow “earthlings,” and use that story to unveil the actual horror plaguing society. And Belzebuth uses that same concept, taking a familiar story about the timeless battle between good and evil and using it to tell another kind of story. 

It’s no coincidence that Belzebuth takes place at the U.S./Mexico border, which has been a talking point for the current president and his administration ever since 2016. Belzebuth takes the popular philosophical possibility of Jesus Christ already existing among us in flesh and blood form in the ignored, like the homeless, the maltreated, or the unborn, but anchors it in a specific region. Mexican special agent Emmanuel Ritter (Joaquín Cosio, Rambo: Last Blood) says of the potential next Messiah that he was fated to be born in an “oppressed empire” where his presence could easily be missed and his life taken with authorities neither noticing nor caring. It’s made very clear, through Ritter’s antagonist relationship with a never-on-screen captain, that the reputation of the department is all that matters, and not the department’s results or how those results are achieved. The concept of corruption existing in the Mexican government, though never an outright part of the conflict, isn’t treaded on lightly, either, with Ritter labeling it as such in a moment of dismay and frustration.

But yes, yes—the horror, the horror. Once Belzebuth is satisfied with its underlying metaphor, the on-screen horror finally kicks into gear, contributing some admittedly unique and horrific imagery into the well-worn exorcism/possession sub-genre, in spite of the occasionally dodgy CGI that brings it to life.  Throughout its running time, Belzebuth feels far more violent than it actually is, leaving much of the bloodletting to the imagination. It still manages to feel pretty gruesome, and ultimately that’s the desired effect. You get all of the weird ‘n squishies without having to endure the on-screen images of said weirdness and squish. Having said that, things get very bloody during the frenetic and somewhat overstuffed finale, which tries to throw in a last-minute twist that doesn’t land with any clear footing and only proves to stagger the momentum that the otherwise intense finale had established. 

Compared to the mainstream, Devil-centric bilge the genre has endured over the last however many years, Belzebuth is a breath of fresh air. Its low-key story still feels larger than life, and its cast of unknowns, which includes the adorable José Sefami, Mexico’s equivalent of Danny Devito, help to ground this story and hew it closer to reality. (Tobin Bell of Saw infamy is likely to be the most well-known name in this thing, and that’s saying something.) Belzebuth isn’t quite wholly original, but it’s original enough for the curious to devote a couple hours to the tale it has to tell, even if it’s been told before.

[Reprinted from Daily Grindhouse.]

Aug 15, 2020


The more learned viewer will definitely notice right off the bat that Last Shift is borrowing from John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13, but this time instead of a small band of cops and clerks taking on roving attacking gangs, it's just one rookie cop taking on the demons/ghosts/bloody secret history of the decommissioned police station of which she's in charge for its final shift. And it's not just thematically that director Anthony DiBlasi (Dread) is looking to Carpenter for inspiration, but also for the old-school approach.

Like Assault on Precinct 13, there are very few visual effects employed to scare the viewer; except for the minor use of green screen, nearly every gag is done with editing and camera tricks, and all of them work. There is no CGI on hand to offend the eye. And the cast is limited to just a handful of people, with most of Last Shift being a one-woman show (Juliana Harkavy).

Last Shift feels comprised of other horror films, some celebrated and some not (and that's not a condemnation). Along with Assault, there are shades of Silent Hill, The Shining, and Jacob's Ladder, mixed with real-life horror aspects, especially Charles Manson and his so-called family. Though a digital shoot, a '70s-era level of grain has been applied, preserving that old school approach toward which Last Shift is striving. What that ultimately achieves is something old and something new - old techniques married to new sensibilities - and it's created an effective horror offering that manages to out-scare most major horror theatrical releases all the way back to 2013's The Conjuring.

Most importantly? Last Shift is seriously scary, falling back on another '70s concept beyond Carpenter and that specific era of cinema: the fear of encroaching satanism. The boogeyman and his followers featured in the flick are not Charles Manson and his Family, and are never called such (his name is John Michael Paymon, the surname being that of a demon most recently immortalized by another seriously scary flick, 2017's Hereditary), but at the same time, they are. The hallmarks are there: the long-haired, crazy-eyed, charismatic leader; the hippie chicks who follow him around; and his very disturbing agenda.

DiBlasi's efforts in the horror genre have so far been worth at least a single watch, with each subsequent film being superior to the previous. Last Shift is his best effort to date. If this trend continues, his name will be one to watch with each new project he announces.

One of the best-kept secrets of 2015, Last Shift’s intimate location and strong performance by the lead heroine really helps to put you in the middle of the horror she's experiencing. Whether or not you'll find it creepy obviously depends on your sensibilities as a horror fan, but one thing that's certain is Last Shift is going to try its damnedest. Once the horror starts, it doesn't let up until its vicious finale, and for that alone, Last Shift is worth praising.

May 18, 2020


The rock ‘n’ roll horror film has somehow become a sub-genre over the years.

Say that phrase and people have their favorites: Rock ‘N’ Roll Nightmare, Hard Rock Zombies, the original Trick or Treat. Rock and horror became somewhat synonymous following the popularity boom of acts like Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, and Kiss, among many others. Their black and dour and chain-ridden iconography and focus on dark lyrics and subject matter made them kindred spirits, so it was only a matter of time before they began to blur the lines and appear in each other’s worlds. Eventually, Alice Cooper was writing songs for Jason Voorhees.

Almost all of these titles weren’t just broadly painted with the horror brush — the films were generally satanic or demonic in nature. Appropriate, being that rock ‘n’ roll was, for a long time, the devil’s music (according to our grandmothers).

The Devil’s Candy is the next step, but also damn refreshing, taking the well-worn trope of “the devil made me do it” and doing something unique with it. Jesse (Ethan Embry) and his daughter  love metal — Metallica, Slayer, and all the rest — but otherwise the film presents them as normal and fully functioning — no hint of a troubled past, no signs of self-harm, depression, etc.

I doubt it’s spoiler material if I say the devil never appears on screen in physical form, nor does anyone become possessed by the devil or any of his minions. And I’m certainly not saying this idea is bad (I tell anyone who will listen about the awesomeness of Let Us Prey, starring Game of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham [Davos] as Beezlebub), but it’s always welcome and appreciative when someone takes a well traveled concept and does something new with it.

Ethan Embry has become a friend to the horror genre over the years, appearing in one of the best Masters of Horror episodes, “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road” (directed by Don Coscarelli), as well as the recent werewolf-at-the-old-folks home flick Late Phases. But if you’re in my demographic, then you remember Embry from one film alone: Can’t Hardly Wait, arguably the Fast Times at Ridgemont High of my generation. Remembering him from that goofball comedy, but seeing him in The Devil’s Candy, makes the actor much more likable in the role, and we, the audience, feel for him when he begins to lose control of his life and fall victim to the dark voices inside his head. The actor is barely recognizable with his Brad Pitt hair and his Bloodsport-era Van Damme body (seriously, I’m a functioning heterosexual and even I was in awe), but his kind and soulful eyes shine through, and every second of pain he experiences is felt by the viewer.

The film is strikingly directed as well, offering a handful of extremely suspenseful, shocking, creepy, and disturbing sequences (not all at once, of course), and this more than includes the excellent finale.
Though The Devil’s Candy runs at a scant 72 minutes, its story never feels incomplete or in need of additional content. It’s not a typical running time for the genre, but there’s nothing wrong with that either. When the film ends, you’ll swear it had only been on for 20 minutes. That’s less to do with running time and more to do with how easily it sucks you in.

Dec 30, 2019

HÄXAN (1922)

Generally, when it comes to genre films from the earliest part of the 20th century, two films often come into the conversation: 1920’s The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (an all-time favorite) and 1922’s Nosferatu. Given the era, both are silent, black and white, and hail from Germany. Also released during this time, and not too far away, is 1922’s Häxan (meaning The Witches), which hails from nearby Sweden. Though all three films have a lot in common, Nosferatu and The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari get much of the credit for invigorating the horror genre and film in general; meanwhile, Häxan never got as much love and exposure, which is a shame because it shows just as much ingenuity and creativity—if not more so—but also tells its story in a more provocative and less typical manner. 

Written and directed by Benjamin Christensen, Häxan is broken up into chapters, of sorts, and lives up to its often-used subtitle, Witchcraft through the Ages. Instead of telling a linear plot, Häxan explores different eras and aspects of witchcraft through what could be described as visual essays, relying on incredibly creative on-set special effects and in-camera illusions (as to be expected, being that Häxan  is nearly 100 hundred years old). Though largely a documentary, Häxan presents as a horror-tinged docu-drama with actors standing in to represent various character archetypes who loomed large in the different aspects of witchcraft, magic, and the so-called black arts, which, naturally, were blamed on the influence of the devil (who appears, and is played by director Christensen).

In many ways, Häxan’s approach is relevant even today, in that the film looks at real-life maladies like mental illness, which throughout time was blamed on witchcraft, and warns that misinterpretation, ignorance, and even fear of these issues have the potential to lead down the wrong path. Unfortunately we’re still dealing with this even in our so-called civilized, technologically advanced modern era, in that people with real mental illness are supposed to just “get over it,” or be treated like social pariahs instead of trying to put more effort into what it is, why it is, and what can be done to help.

Häxan is broken up into four parts, each exploring different aspects of mysticism and presenting them in distinct ways. The first part plays almost like a slideshow at a museum, showing different artist creations in the form of paintings and woodcuttings that depict man’s fear of the devil, hell, and his so-called concubines on earth. By the end of the fourth part, Häxan nearly becomes a narrative, following the experiences of inmates at a mental institution, whose barbaric treatment by hospital personnel draw very specific and purposeful parallels to how people (mainly women) were treated during the medieval era once they were accused of witchery. 

Though Häxan evolves as a film over its running time, the finger it points at the problem remains firm and steadfast, blaming, above all, ignorance as the main culprit in how poorly man has treated man since the beginning of recorded history. As a piece of filmmaking, it’s assured, confident, and well made; as a documentary, it’s interesting, insightful, and eye-opening; but as a social piece that reflects the time in which it was made, it’s bleak and even a little depressing, because while it was meant to serve as a warning to future generations to increase their understanding, it instead serves as a reminder of our reality, in that we’re just as ignorant as we ever were—just that our ignorance has since changed forms. 

[Reprinted from Daily Grindhouse.]

Nov 23, 2019


For fans of: Chelsea Wolfe, Amy Winehouse, Postmodern Jukebox, and Satan, the Prince of Darkness.

From Twin Temple's website:

Everybody knows that the Devil has all the best tunes. From Robert Johnson selling his soul at the crossroads to the blood-soaked black metal of Norway, Satan has long loomed large over the music world, striking fear into the hearts of the sanctimonious. But nothing that has gone before will prepare you for the arrival of Twin Temple: Los Angeles’ one and only purveyors of Satanic Doo-Wop. Devout Satanists and meticulous preservers of rock’n’roll’s ancient, timeless spirit, this black-clad and effortlessly stylish duo have created a sound that blends their Satanic ideology with the irresistible sass and melody of classic ‘50s and ‘60s rock ‘n’roll. The result is Twin Temple (Bring You Their Signature Sound…Satanic Doo-Wop), a debut album that not only serves to salute the Dark One, but also delivers some of the catchiest and coolest music to emerge from any genre in years.

Aug 15, 2019


As I sat down to watch Penny Lane’s Hail Satan?, I knew the doc would be covering many different things about this black goat religion, but I was hoping to hear concrete answers to the very pointed question, “Do Satanists actually believe in Satan?” Even before that question is asked, which occurs roughly one-third into the doc, everything that Lane presents up to that point, which includes interview segments with Lucien Greaves, the current leader of the Satanic Temple, would lead you to predict the answer: no. 

Obviously, the next question comes, “If you don’t believe in Satan, why call yourself Satanists?” That answer, this time, is less predictable, and it’s one that sums up Hail Satan? as a whole: Satanism is a direct response to the United States’ gradual transformation into a “Christian country,” despite having originally been founded as a secular nation, and that Satanism is basically the underdog religion using shocking imagery and their own very misunderstood philosophies to shock society into awareness and attempt to teach what they’re really about. Satanism is rebelling against the Church’s butting in of everyday Americans’ lives in the form of limiting women’s access to abortion, or restricting gay rights, or taking the moral high ground and defaming the Satanic Temple as a whole, even though the Diocese of Boston was responsible for the cover-up of thousands of boys being molested by priests over the last several decades--something, the Temple is quick to point out, is far more evil and disgusting than what the Temple is said to take part in.

The third question to come: “If Satanists don’t believe in God, why don’t they just call themselves atheists?” Because non-believers lack a community, one Satanic Temple member puts it: that atheists embrace nothing, and have no philosophy; the same cannot be said for the Satanic Temple, who very much have codes of beliefs (in the form of their own seven Tenets). One of those Tenets? Word for word: 
Beliefs should conform to one's best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one's beliefs. 
Tell me that’s not fucking relevant with respect to the current anti-science administration currently occupying the White House--that the entire world is melting, the temperatures are increasing yearly, that people are embracing ludicrous conspiracy theories about vaccinations and climate change while gleefully turning up their noses at the facts and science anyway. Also tell me that particular Tenet makes less sense than the Commandment that forbids a person from being envious because their neighbor has a maid.

I’ll admit I’ve been intrigued by this movement for a while now: not because I’m a devil worshiper, but because by doing some simple Googling--something anyone is able to do--I was really taken aback by the things I’d discovered, embodying the simplicity of what the Satanic Temple, preceded by Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, aims to do. (LaVey’s Church forbade its followers from killing animals unless for purposes of food and shelter. Sound evil to you?) Modern Satanic Temple members do not sacrifice animals, or take part in orgies, or perform black magic or occult incantations. No, instead, they adopt sections of Arizona highways and pledge to keep them clean--same with beaches, in fact. They run shoe and feminine hygiene drives to benefit the homeless. They form after-school programs to give children a place to go that’s safe, where they can color with other children and expose themselves to new ideas. Satanists are men and women, white and black, hetero and homosexual, former Christians, atheists, and Muslims. One of them in particular, a native of Arkansas who calls himself a former Christian, and who looks and sounds every bit like 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer, wears a respectful blue suit complete with blue bowtie. But this isn’t a put-on: this is what members of the Satanic Temple can look like. The Temple is also comprised of people, though their external appearances may suggest they follow the public’s misconceptions of the Satanic Temple, who are not evil, who are not crazy, and who don’t have hate in their heart. They are people rebelling against the corruption of government and the Church, and who are advocating for the clear separation of both, upon which our country was once founded, but has since fallen by the wayside--after one political party in particular realized it would benefit them at the polls. In fact, the doc is sure to include one prominent member being ex-communicated due to her extremist performances that called for the assassination of Donald Trump. While this is easy for the armchair devout to point at and say, “See? They’re evil!!,” really, what the doc is showing you is that this viewpoint goes entirely against the belief system of the Satanic Temple, and that they did the responsible thing by severing ties. They are, one could argue, remaining more true to their responsibilities to morality than the Catholic Church.

The backbone of the doc is the story that has become quite well known to every-day society through its heavy coverage in the media: the Temple’s insistence that the Arkansas State Capitol either remove its Ten Commandments monument in order to honor the Constitution’s proclamation that religion and government never intertwine, or make room for their own Baphomet statue, which they argue belongs there just as much. Naysayers call this nothing more than a form of trolling, and certain members wouldn’t disagree, but they also know that what looks like theatrics represents something much larger, and it’s their way of breaking through to the everyday American to educate them on what the Satanic Temple is really about.

Hail Satan? is the most fascinating documentary I’ve seen all year and I would recommend it to anyone the least bit open minded. I like to think you will be constantly surprised, amused, and even touched by certain aspects of both the documentary and the religion itself. I would almost guarantee that you won’t be expecting nearly any of what you see. 

Hail Satan? is now on DVD from Magnolia Pictures.

[Reprinted from Daily Grindhouse.]

Sep 11, 2013


Every once in a while, a genuinely great horror movie—one that would rightfully be considered a classic, had it gotten more exposure and love at the box office—makes an appearance. It comes, no one notices, and it goes. But movies like this are important. They need to be treasured and remembered. If intelligent, original horror is supported, then that's what we'll begin to receive, in droves. We need to make these movies a part of the legendary genre we hold so dear. Because these are the unsung horrors. These are the movies that should have been successful, but were instead ignored. They should be rightfully praised for the freshness and intelligence and craft that they have contributed to our genre. 

So, better late than never, we’re going to celebrate them now… one at a time.

Dir. Roman Polanski
Artisan Entertainment
United States

"I'm entering uncharted territory. Taking the road that leads to equality, with God. You can't come with me. I must travel alone. But you may look on, and marvel. ... There have been men who have been burned alive or disemboweled for just a glimpse of what you are about to witness."

Personal feelings about Roman Polanski aside, his early dabbling in the horror genre is still cited today as inspiration for multiple filmmakers. It seems four out of five horror directors cite Rosemary's Baby as an influence either on any one of their particular films, or their career in general. The more studious may cite Repulsion or The Tenant, and the real nerd will name-drop Knife in the Water, which while not all-out horror still maintains quite a bit of tension and discomfort. It was for this reason that his 1999 return to horror with The Ninth Gate at first elated those with an awe for Polanski, though audiences didn't really turn out in droves. This one seemed in the bag, really – Depp was on a hot streak and Polanski was returning to the genre. But for whatever reason, it never took off, and that is a damn shame.

Johnny Depp plays Dean Corso (the surname being Italian for "run"), a sort of collector, investor, investigator, authenticator, and tracker of extremely rare books. (No idea if this is an actual, real-life profession, but, I'm certainly willing to go with it, as it sounds way better than my job.) His chosen profession gets him into all sorts of "unscrupulous" conflicts, but he always seems to come out on top, with a non-grin, and a lot of green in his pocket for his troubles. 

After swindling the children of an invalid man with a very valuable book collection, Corso meets with Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), a client with another very unique job. You see, Balkan has spent "a lifetime" amassing a collection of books devoted to the occult. He boasts there is no larger collection in the world. Among these books is The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, written by Aristide Torchia in 1666(!) in Venice. Though three copies exist, only one is authentic. Allegedly The Nine Gates was based on the Delomelanicon, a previous tome written by Satan himself. The legend goes that the sole genuine copy of The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows has the power to raise Satan up from the underworld. Balkan pledges to pay Corso nearly as much as he wants should he travel to Europe and examine the other two copies to determine which of them is genuine. His journey finds him embroiled in sex, murder, and even Hell itself. (All the best European holidays do.) And whether or not he finds what he is looking for, there's no coming back.

The Ninth Gate's story is mapped out using perhaps my favorite underutilized sub-genre of horror, which would be noir – a man chasing a mystery that leads him into unfamiliar and diabolical territory. Sure, you could argue that every horror film has a mystery at its core, but those that follow the very established tropes – the detective in over his head, the femme fatale, the client firmly entrenched in the horror that awaits his hired help – deserve special mention. Other films of equal power and unfortunately equal lack of appreciation previously befell In the Mouth of Madness and Angelheart, both about private detectives who find themselves in very unfortunate circumstances. 

Depp signed onto The Ninth Gate back during the phase of his career when he hadn't yet lost his soul to the Mouse House and was willing to take on riskier roles. And during the late '90s, having come off both Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas and Donnie Brasco, he had nothing really to lose and everything to gain from working with a living legend such as Polanski. And if you're going to hire someone to play a complete douchebag who still manages to earn sympathy from your audience, there's no one better than Depp. 

Do you believe in the supernatural, Mr. Corso?

I believe in my percentage, Mr. Balkan.

Regardless of how lazy and uninspired his role choices have been over the last decade, there's no denying Depp was great, and could still be under the right circumstances. Corso will literally yawn as you speak to him, or clean his glasses without bothering to hide his complete disinterest in small talk. His mustache/goatee and glasses cause him to skew a bit older (likely the intention, as it complements the salt-and-pepper hair), and it helps to explain his extremely cynical and jaded view of...well...everything. Money leads his life, which he lives in isolation – no wife/girlfriend, and certainly no friends, which Balkan is quick to notice, point out, and appreciate. His only "friend" – if you can call him that – is Bernie (James Russo), co-owner of Corso's rare book store, though the importance of this friendship is certainly determined later once Bernie meets an untimely end.

Langella, who has done consistently great work in every genre (once having played Dracula), does a very fine job of playing a psychopath masquerading as a boring aristocrat. It's easy to ham it up in some if his lesser projects, like Masters of the Universe, but it's a lot more rewarding, I'm sure, to equally lose oneself entirely in a performance while under the tutelage of someone like Polanski. Though a large portion of his performance is relegated to a voice on the phone, Langella is still capable of presenting a dominating presence. Emmanuelle Seigner as "The Girl," and your requisite femme fatale (one of two), knows her role: be sexy and be mysterious. She plays it well. "I like books," she tells Corso, though her choice of reading materials (How to Make Friends and Influence People) certainly isn't along the same lines as the titles Corso is used to tracking down. And this strange choice of reading material may or may not hang, ironically, in the back of your mind as The Girl's true identity is eventually revealed. As for the other femme fatale: Lena Olin as Liana Telfer out-sexes sex itself. She is gorgeous here, mid-forties not withstanding, and she's ably both sultry and dangerous. (Or maybe I'm a sucker for garters.)

Composer Wojciech Kilar, one of my personal favorites (and responsible for the wonderfully operatic and over-the-top score for Frances Ford Coppola's take on Dracula) turns in some pretty wonderful work here. His themes alternate from ominous and pulse-pounding to nearly whimsical and clumsy. His theme for Corso alludes that the man isn't the most intelligent, as his musical accompaniment suggests a sort of doddering man who is haphazardly wandering from one clue to the next. This doesn't exactly match up with the actual on-screen version of Corso, who I would argue is actually more unprepared than outright stupid, but then again, that's the beauty of interpretation. 

As for the film's direction, well, I'd be incorrect, simply put, if I were to say Polanski was at the top of his game here. But those people who call his direction over The Ninth Gate lacking are equally misguided. He was never a director who did or tried interesting things with the camera (for the most part, anyway, as there's a fun in-camera gag where Corso is knocked out), as he was always more interested in drama – in spending time with his characters and having the audience join them on their journey. In that regard, The Ninth Gate fits well into his filmography. Corso runs afoul of many different characters - both benevolent and malevolent – but his goal is never deterred. It's his journey we're undertaking here, and we get to experience his sexual misadventures, his close calls, and even his utter befuddlement in the events that surround him. In the earlier exchange where he avoids labeling himself either as a believer or refuter of the supernatural, it seems to me that Corso might just be a believer after all. As he becomes embroiled in the events, he certainly comes off as disturbed and fearful, but never altogether surprised. You could argue that Polanski's interpretation of the Corso character is of a man who is eager not to authenticate The Nine Gates, but instead to determine the actual existence of the devil. After all, what is it they say: If God exists, then surely so should the Devil? If Corso is out to determine the existence of a god, he can surely do that by locating one lousy fallen angel. (I suppose you could also argue that The Ninth Gate is about fate, but that's kind of fucking boring, seeing as how you could argue every film is about fate.)

Not having seen every Polanski film, I still think I'm safe in saying he generally keeps his humor separate from his purposely darker stories. But in The Ninth Gate, he seems absolutely willing to have some fun, as I suppose the rather silly nature of the story he is telling needs to be lightened up occasionally. He is never without respect for this unorthodox mystery, but at the same time he likes to pop up from time to time and state, "Don't take this too seriously." Despite this, Polanski isn't exactly throwing pies and asking who's on first. Yes, there are some fun characters who show up to provide whimsy, but Polanski's idea of humor is a character confined to a wheelchair, recently dead, motoring unguided through a set of double doors and directly into fire, or Liana, post-coitus, telling Corso, "Don't fuck with me," and Corso responding, "I thought I just did?" Some of The Ninth Gate's humor has darkness and edge. At its core it's mean-spirited and even a little angry, and it fits right in.

Partly based on the novel El Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, and as previously mentioned, Polanski has fun with his version of Dean Corso, who slowly becomes more and more obsessed with his assignment, though he's not entirely prepared for where it will bring him. A good detective Corso may be, he's still entirely in over his head.

No matter how many plays or Dickens tales he adapts for the screen, to horror fans (and I mean this in every respectful way possible) Roman Polanski is always going to be the man who directed Rosemary's Baby – considered to be one of the greatest horror films of all time. And because of this, every announcement of a new Polanski film will have fans scanning the log line hoping to see his return to the genre. It's not impossible, nor even unlikely, that he'll return to the genre that put him on the map. 

I know I'll certainly be waiting.

[Reprinted on Daily Grindhouse.]

Mar 7, 2013


  1. Do not give opinions or advice unless you are asked.
  2. Do not tell your troubles to others unless you are sure they want to hear them.
  3. When in another’s lair, show him respect or else do not go there.
  4. If a guest in your lair annoys you, treat him cruelly and without mercy.
  5. Do not make sexual advances unless you are given the mating signal.
  6. Do not take that which does not belong to you unless it is a burden to the other person and he cries out to be relieved.
  7. Acknowledge the power of magic if you have employed it successfully to obtain your desires. If you deny the power of magic after having called upon it with success, you will lose all you have obtained.
  8. Do not complain about anything to which you need not subject yourself.
  9. Do not harm little children.
  10. Do not kill non-human animals unless you are attacked or for your food.
  11. When walking in open territory, bother no one. If someone bothers you, ask him to stop. If he does not stop, destroy him.

(For the record, I'm not a Satanist, but I'm amused by these "rules" simply because some of them are not what you'd expect to hear come out of the Church of Satan. Plus # 11 has a certain rhythm to it that I quite like.)