ANOTHER TAKE ON: Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters (1962)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Herbert P. Caine is the pseudonym of a frustrated academic and genre movie fan in Pennsylvania. You can read his blog at https://imaginaryuniverseshpc.blogspot.com. 

Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters, also known as Tom Thumb and Little Red Red Riding Hood and Caperucita y Pulgarcito contra Los Monstruos, is at once a bizarre children’s film and yet arguably the ultimate children’s film. It traces the adventures of Little Red Riding Hood, played by Maria Gracia, and Tom Thumb, played by Cesáreo Quezadas (more of him below), as they fight to save their village from the Queen of Badness, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. (Seriously, how did this film avoid a lawsuit from Disney?) They are assisted by a distinctly creepy-looking skunk who wants to save his master, the Big Bad Wolf, and his ogre friend from being sawed in half for having been nice to Red Riding Hood.

This film is mainly known in the United States from its English dub, which was released by the prolific children’s film producer K. Gordon Murray. Murray was well-known for releasing dubbed Mexican films for children’s matinees, as evidenced by the MST3K classic Santa Claus. As with his other dubs, the quality on this one is highly variable. The voices themselves aren’t bad, but Red Riding Hood’s singing voice is clearly dubbed by an adult woman, who also weirdly dubs Tom Thumb when he is singing. The film tries to hide that Thumb’s singing voice is female through audio distortion, but it really doesn’t work. This version also adds some out-of-place narration at the beginning about creation and warning of the “devil’s dominions.”

What most people remember from this film is its sheer bizarreness, exemplified by the monsters, who serve as the Queen of Badness’s henchmen. We are introduced to this motley crew in the first scene, in which they are gathered to try the Ogre and the Big Bad Wolf for the crime of having been nice to Red Riding Hood in a previous entry in this series. The sequence is unsettling, particularly when compared to American children’s films. The monsters – an assortment that includes Frankenstein, a vampire, “Carrot Head,” and “the Father of Hurricanes” – are unusually creepy, in part because of their low budget make up. The monsters open the trial by singing “Off with Their Heads!” while one boasts of his habit of making naughty children into broth. Even the Wolf, who is a friendly character in this one, looks rather disturbing looking in a moth-eaten suit that makes him seem like he has mange. The mask on the little person playing the skunk is best not described, and is disturbing for even adults to view.

This creepiness, however, is not entirely a bad thing. Even easily frightened children, like myself when I was younger, have a certain fascination with scary things. The monsters themselves seem like something children would come up with while playing a game, while the song about decapitation could easily appear on a school playground. Furthermore, the sheer oddness makes this film memorable and more enjoyable for an adult than something like this typically would be.

Furthermore, the film itself has the feel of a child’s game, with repeated scenes of the monsters and the children chasing each other around. Its “borrowing of characters from other media – the Queen of Badness from Snow White, a good fairy obviously based on Glinda from The Wizard of Oz – has the feeling of something a child might imagine. (Seriously, if you think this is a mash-up, as a kid I once dreamed up a cross over between Gilligan’s Island and Jaws.)

Its low budget production values might lead American viewers to assume this was a fly-by-night production. However, its cast was actually composed of well-known actors in Mexico. For example, the ogre was played by José Elías Moreno, known to weird film connoisseurs for playing the title character in another Murray release, Santa Claus. Elías Moreno was a well-known character actor in Mexico who appeared in a wide variety of films, often as a macho father-figure. Manuel ‘Loco’ Valdés, who played the Big Bad Wolf, was part of a famous family of comic actors. Magda Donato, who played the Queen of Badness’s less menacing sister, was famous not only as an actress, but also as a writer and journalist. She had fled to Mexico from Spain during the Spanish Civil War, having previously been a crusading liberal reformer. In Mexico, she became known as an author of children’s plays, a career which led her to appear in children’s films. Ofelia Guilmáin, who portrayed the Queen of Badness, was another refugee from Franco’s Spain and a popular telenovela actress.

The most notorious member of the cast has to be Cesáreo Quezadas, often known as El Pulgarcito. Quezadas was a well-known child star in Mexico, having previously appeared in a successful adaption of Tom Thumb (the English dub of which, done by Murray, unfortunately appears to be a lost film). He got his nickname from the Spanish translation of Tom Thumb. Child stars are known for having difficulties when they grow up, but Quezadas’s descent into criminality was arguably one for the record books. In the early seventies, he was arrested for trying to rob a store. After this, he appeared to go on the straight and narrow, but in the mid-2000s, he was arrested after his wife found a videotape of him sexually abusing his daughter. He currently resides in a Mexican prison having received a twenty-year sentence.

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Every once in a while, I finally have a movie on the site that I can share with my mom.

New Paradise Cinema was written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore and was well-known in the U.S. when it came out in 1988, winning the Best Foreign Film Academy Award.

One morning in Rome, a famous film director named Salvatore Di Vita — played by a real-life famous filmmaker, Jacques Perrin — wakes up to his girlfriend telling him that Alfredo has died. She has no idea who that is, as Salvatore is a closed book, a man who will not commit and who has not returned home for three decades. This is but the beginning of the story.

Eight years after World War II, Salvatore was Toto, the son of a widow who spends every second that he can at Cinema Paradiso, the movie house where he becomes friends with Alfredo (Philippe Noiret, Topaz), a middle-aged man who allows him to sit in the projection booth and watch the films. As Rome is such a religious town, the local priests have demanded that any moment of romance must be deleted from the films, at which point the audience shots in anger.

Toto soon learns to run the projector, but one night, as he steals the projector to watch The Firemen of Viggiù on a wall of a house, the cinema catches on fire. Toto saves his friend, but a film canister explodes, destroying the man’s sight. When the theater is rebuilt, Toto becomes the projectionist and Alfredo assists him.

After growing up, Salvatore falls for the young Elena Mendola, an experience that teaches him love but breaks his heart when she must move away and is forbidden to even write him. He has also started to make films of his own. Alfredo tells the young man that he must leave his hometown behind and devote himself to being an artist. He must never visit. He must never give in to nostalgia.

Now, thirty years later, Cinema Paradiso is being torn down to make a parking lot and the people of the town carry Alfredo’s coffin through the streets. The projectionist’s widow has something that the old man left for the filmmaker, though. All of the scenes of kissing, of lust, of love — all the moments that the clergy demanded destroyed — all survived to make one reel of romantic longing that Alfredo had kept for Salvatore for all these years. Watching this movie allows the now old Toto to make peace with where he came from.

The director’s cut of the film shows what happens when an older Salvator and Elena meet and the note that she had sent him decades ago, one that Alfredo had kept hidden inside Cinema Paradiso, all so that his friend could become a success.

Made in Bagheria, Sicily, Tornatore’s hometown, this film was inspired by the director’s childhood. He originally wanted it to be an obituary for traditional movie theatres and the movie industry.

The Arrow Video release of this film — on DVD, blu ray or UHD — is exactly as special as you’d hope that it would be. Beyond two high definition versions of the film (the 124-minute theatrical version and the 174-minute Director€’s Cut), there’s also commentary from Tornatore and Italian cinema expert critic Millicent Marcus, a 52-minute documentary on the director’s life, a making-of and even a feature about the kissing sequence where Tornatore discusses each clip and where it comes from.

If you love film, I don’t need to tell you that you must own this movie. You can get it from MVD.

 

Blood Freaks (2021)

Upon discovering the streaming one-sheets for this experimental art-horror film on Tubi, I assumed I stumbled into a new Asian extreme horror film. Just look at the images for yourself: The first films the VHS centers of my celluloid cortex loaded was the J-Horror static of Takashi Miike’s Audition and Gozu, Bigas Luna’s narrative corkscrews of Anguish and Reborn, Fruit Chan’s testament to man’s sexual obsession with youth and beauty in Dumplings, and Alejandro Jodoroswky’s unholy trio of El Topo, Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre. But, as I learned Blood Freaks was an arthouse-import from Mexico, I soon understood the one-of-kind voice behind the film is a student of the supernatural phantasmagoria of José Mojica Marins with his Coffin Joe romps At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul and This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse.

As Blood Freaks (aka La Puta Es Ciega, aka The Whore is Blind)—a homage to those forbidden, lurid clamshell and plastic-trayed Big-Box VHS/SOV bottom-of-the-barrel delights from our ‘80s youth—unspooled, I began to realize that writer and director Omar Jacobo is one of us: a freaky denizen who, when turning 18, delighted at being allowed to fan through the adult film section’s gigantic binders; who gleefully frolicked amid the horror-section shelves for the Fangoria-inept and the Famous Monsters-obscure. As one of the copy taglines for the film reads: “sleaze, gore, and more,” which is exactly what we wanted. We wanted mind-bending. We wanted backstreet scuzzy. We wanted our characters to be eclectic-crossed-with-freaky and a soupçon of crazy.

In the apartments of a low-rent Mexican walk-up, its misfit tenants are just that: They’re Andy Warhol perverse; they’re David Lynch oneiric; they’re John Waters hyperbolic. They’d fit right into the plotting of Flesh for Frankenstein, The Elephant Man, and Pink Flamingos: for I have no doubt that Omar Jacobo is a student of those films, and of the French New Wave impressionism of Claude Chabrol with La Femme infidel, Jean-Luc Godard with Breathless, and Francois Truffaut with The 400 Blows.

However, somewhere along the way, Jacobo’s celluloid schooling in the art of French-inspired subjectivity, ambiguity, and existentialism careened off the rails, drunkenly swaggering down a seedy, Mexican backstreet with a ratty, washed-out VHS rental of Bloodsucking Freaks in his hands—not realizing it wasn’t a product of the SOV ‘80s, but a low-rent and long-forgotten, inept drive-in homage to France’s Grand Guignol theater; a scuz-fest that sloshed the fecund streets of New York City’s grindhouse circuit in 1976, only for its asinine jawbone to be dislodged from the La Brea Celluloid Tar Pits onto home video store shelves for multiple-additional, muddy washouts from its perpetual rental-play. What was damaged to-the-point-of-blue-screen-of-death tape wasn’t artistic license: it was consumer-rabid wear-and-tear mistaken as artistic license.

Blood Freaks is a Dante’s Inferno of a retro-horror fantasy with a narrative structure created through an inventive use of music, camera work, and occasional still-image jump-cutting to imply movement through the dark underside of Mexico. It’s there that we meet the lives of the physically grotesque and spiritually sordid, violent tenants of a dingy apartment building: a blind, schoolgirl-clad lesbian prostitute who entices Janes/girlfriends (and if an unwanted John happens to attack her; well, just watch out for what she’s packing in the shaft of her cane) for her once overweight, cooking-obsessed Madam-girlfriend, and that Madam’s lesbian-dominatrix sister—and the “girlfriends” end up being her (temporary) submissives. Together, with the dominatrix’s male-dwarf partner (not forgetting Ralphus, the demented dwarf from Bloodsucking Freaks, and Jodorowsky’s dwarfs in his unholy trio), the sisters run a bathroom-based taxidermy and black market organ lab supplied with their girlfriend-subs. Their milkman-neighbor also has his kink: he’s a pornographer that tapes the sister’s sex-slave exploits to sell on the black market. Additional monies are made with the skins of the Janes: the dwarf treats the epidermal hides for use on his mannequin sculptures. Oh, as for the obsession with cooking: the ingredient-drugged foods are fed to the Janes who end up in the makeshift taxidermy-cum-art studio. Eventually, the sisters tire of their milkman-porn partner—and make him the bathlab’s newest specimen; he returns as an out-for-revenge zombie.

And cue the music for the Happiness of the Katakuris-inspired punk-rock house party. . . .

As the credits rolled on Blood Freaks—a surreal delight of incoherent symbolism, philosophy and weirdness just like Jodorowsky and Marins used to make—the feature film debut of writer-director Omar Jacobo shot on an $80,000 shoestring, I sighed; filled with the same adulation the first time I watched the opening 16-mm celluloid salvos of Robert Rodriquez with El Mariachi and Kevin Smith with Clerks. For Jacobo’s debut is a film of erudition: while a more commercial horror consumer, at first, may see “inept” filmmaking afoot with Jacobo’s arthouse-centric style, he is not part of the new, iPhone-shot digital ignorance proliferating the digital corners of Amazon Prime and Tubi, a net-realm where any John, Dick, or Jane—packing a handheld-device and a modicum of an idea—are (not) making movies.

At first glance, it’s easy to slag Jacobo’s homage to ’80s SOV horror (that analog genre of VHS-taped films, such as John Howard’s Spine and Christopher Lewis’s Blood Cult, which we hold in high regard amid the B&S About Movies cubicle farm) as an unfocused and incoherent, amateur film school project. (I worked as an actor on film school projects: I know incoherent amateurism: Jacobo is far from it.) Unlike many of those ‘80s Big Box SOV purveyors of old (we love you, Don Dohler, but still) and more so with the iPhone digitalmongers of the new, Jacobo comes to his chosen profession with a clear skillset. He, while in an admittedly unconventional way, understands the concepts of framing, shot composition, and editing. And he also understands (as does Jake Thomas with his absolutely stunning, just released film, Shedding) that dialog is the death of narrative; that images and an actor’s non-verbal language can carry a film. Jacobo also understands (as does Matthew Diebler and Jacob Gillman with their also recently-released and equally amazing The Invisible Mother) that film is a visual medium and that the devil—quite literally with Blood Freaks—is in the ambiguity-open-to-your-interpretation details: an enigma of pet chickens picking among the skins of peeled potatoes on the floor and five-minute dream-steria shots of a sordid, lesbian Madam making drug-filled meatballs and soups, a dwarf taxidermist who enjoys sculpting mannequins, and a dominatrix who specializes in baking jelly-centered drugged cookies.

Yeah, I love this movie, just in case if you’re wondering.

Then again, I ballyhooed from the rooftops for Michael Reich’s equally VHS-centric She’s Allergic to Cats and David Robert Mitchell’s ambiguity stunner Under the Silver Lake (well, Sam ballyhooed that one for the site) to deaf ear and blind eye; for I’m the guy who likes-everyone-hates the low-rent scuzziness of duBeat-e-o by Alan Sacks and Marc Sheffler. So what do I know? I’m just some guy writing film reviews in a cubicle farm somewhere in the backwaters of Allegheny County, where the vast majority of the world—as Sam, my boss, always points out—hates most of the films we love. And while that world flocks to Wonder Woman 1984 and fawns over Patty Jenkins, we, the B&S minions, flock to films like Blood Freaks and filmmakers like Omar Jacobo—who has the common sense to not use a timeline-skewed Cro-Mags shirt in his movie two years before the album it promotes was released.

And life couldn’t be any more sweeter for it: Blood Freaks is the type of film that makes me glad to wake up and write film reviews. You know, for the chicks. And for the fun. But mostly for the chicks.

You can learn more about Blood Freaks and Madre Foca! Producciones on Facebook. You can also visit distributor Rising Sun Media on Facebook and stream their catalog of Mexican-bred, full-length indie films on their Vimeo channel. After making a low-key, U.S.-streaming debut on Vimeo Online in May 2020, Blood Freaks is now widely available as of January 2021 as a free-with-ads stream on Tubi.

Be sure to surf by B&S About Movies, daily—from Sunday, January 17 to Saturday, January 23—as we’ll feature the classics of Mexican action and horror cinema all this week.

Disclaimer: We did not receive a review request or screener from the film’s director, producer, or P.R firm. We discovered this film all on our own and truly enjoyed the movie.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publish music reviews and short stories on Medium.

The Incredible Invasion (1971)

Boris Karloff’s last film, this Mexican/American combo platter is really something else. Much like Isle of the Snake People, Fear Chamber and House of Evil, the main action was filmed by Juan Ibáñez while Jack Hill took care of the American footage and anything Karloff appears in.

The story takes place in Gudenberg, as Professor John Mayer (Karloff) has invented a laser weapon that runs on nuclear power. As he tests it, he nearly shoots down a UFO, which leads to aliens coming to our planet to shut down his plans.

That’s what they claim the plot is, but man, this has some twists and turns and veers off into some strange places. Which, you know, is just how I like it.

Karloff has an assistant, Dr. Isabel Reed, which is pretty woke for 1890 to have a female mad scientist. She’s played by Maura Monti, the Mexican Batwoman and she just might be in love with their Igor, who is named Thomas (Yerye Beirute, who was made for roles like these and as the big heavy in movies like Ladrones de Cadaveres). Sure, he just happens to be a sex murderer and an alien gets in his brain and all his victims suddenly become radioactive and this run-on sentence should explain just how convoluted this movie is.

Somehow, Christa Linder (Night of 1000 Cats) figures into this as Karloff’s niece and the eighty-year-old horror hero — never far from oxygen and frequently sitting — gets possessed by aliens who finally make him blow up his entire house just to prove a point that man is not ready for nuclear power.

I watched this whole thing and really was baffled by every single minute, which is often how I judge a movie that I love. Bring on the nonsense!

Rocambole Las Mujeres Amplas (1967)

Instead of a luchador, 1967’s Rocambole Las Mujeres Amplas pits the superhero* against a mad scientist who has turned several women ugly and will only make them beautiful again if they do his bidding. I’m not a megalomaniacal mastermind, but that’s a pretty unique plot.

Director Emilio Gómez Muriel made seventy-seven movies, incuding La LadronaBlue Demon: Destructor of Spies, the Neutron movies and Sangre en El Ring.

Gilda Mirós, who is one of the women brought into this plot, also went up against El Santo in Santo el Enmascarado de Plata contra Invasión de Los Marcianos and Blue Demon in Blue Demon y Las Invasoras. Regina Torné would get involved in a similar plot, with her beauty destroyed and only an evil scientist played by John Carradine — trust me, if a doctor played by John Carradine offers to help you, you’re in a bad way — in La Señora Muerte, which is awesome.

So why does Rocambole not look anything like he has in any movie ever? I blame Bat-Mania. I mean, just look at the poster for the sequel to this one, Rocambole contra La Secta del Escorpion.

*Rocambole is a French superhero who started as a master thief and then went to the India where he gained mystic powers and a group of adventurers who he leads from the shadows, like, well, The Shadow. According to Cool French Comics, Rocambole bridges the gap between “old-fashioned gothic novel to modern heroic fiction, in the sense that it created and virtually defined all the archetypes of modern super-heroes and super-villains.”

Caperucita y Pulgarcito Contra Los Monstruos (1962)

Little Red Riding Hood and Tom Thumb vs. the Monsters is another nightmare film unleashed on children by K. Gordon Murray, the man who went from the carnivals of America to the King of the Kiddie Matinee, releasing sixty movies in fifteen years. So many of the classic Mexican horror films that I obsess over were originally brought to the U.S. by Murray, who chopped them into oblivion, but hey — how else would the kids of the 50’s and 60’s — and the 70’s, he kept these in circulation forever — have seen things like Las Luchadoras Contra La Momia AztecaEl Baron del Terror and Rene Cardona’s Santa Claus?

Little Red Riding Hood (Maria Gracia) and Tom Thumb (Cesáreo Quezadas, also known as Pulgarcito*) aren’t content to live out the fairy tales that we know them from (or in Tom Thumb’s case, being a member of P.T. Barnum’s circus). No, they seek out and battle the La Reina Bruja — the Queen Witch — who has an army full of monsters.

They find all of the bad guys in her castle in the Haunted Forest, where they are already fighting amongst one another, with a vampire accusing the big bad wolf and an ogre of treason and demands their execution. Yes, this is a kids’ movie.

As for the Queen of Badness — as Murray’s dub calls her — and her older witch sister have started turning the people of the village into monkeys and mice. Luckily, our heroes have an insider, Stinky the Skunk. They’re going to need it, because the bad guys also have a carrot-headed creature, Frankenstein’s monster, robots and Satan himself on their side.

This is the sequel to 1960’s La Caperucita Roja and 1961’s Caperucita y Sus Tres Amigo (Little Red Riding Hood and Her Three Friends) and is directed by Roberto Rodríguez, who also wrote El Latigo contra Satanas. You don’t need to see that movie to watch this one.

While today we watch this and may be astounded by just how strange it was, imagine if you were a very young child dropped off at an unfamiliar theater and kept inside to watch this in the inky blackness while your parents were God knows where. Watch it with that mindset.

*Pulgarcito lived the life of a child star before we ever knew what that was, robbing a bank at one point when his career started slowing down. He eventually settled down with his first wife, who he eventually divorced to marry his secretary. I’d like to say that he lived happily ever, but his second wife eventually found a video of him molesting a daughter from his first marriage.

You can watch this on YouTube.

ANOTHER TAKE ON: The New York Ripper (1982)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Herbert P. Caine is the pseudonym of a frustrated academic and genre movie fan in Pennsylvania. You can read his blog at https://imaginaryuniverseshpc.blogspot.com.

Back in the early days of the slasher movie era, Siskel and Ebert hosted a special episode of sneak previews in which they attacked the new genre for what they perceived as its misogyny and tendency to revel in the deaths of its characters. They went so far as to claim there was an entire genre of “Women in Danger” films. These complaints remained a constant theme for the two critics throughout the 1980s, with Ebert writing in shock of going to theaters and seeing audiences cheer as Freddy and Jason slaughtered their victims.

With this in mind, it was perhaps for the best that neither critic, at least to my knowledge, ever got to see Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper, which takes all the gore, seediness, and latent misogyny of the slasher genre to their logical conclusions. Depending on your view, this giallo either confirms or refutes Siskel and Ebert’s condemnation of the whole genre.

The New York Ripper traces the efforts of a hard-bitten NYC detective, played by British actor Jack Hedley with his voice dubbed over by Edward Mannix, to catch a vicious serial killer who is mutilating the city’s women. The killer starts taunting the detective over the phone in the voice of a cartoon duck who is totally not named Donald. The suspects soon narrow down to two: a sleazy, drug-addicted loner who frequents 42nd Street sex shows and the clean-cut boyfriend of a surviving victim.

The film owes its notoriety to its explicit scenes depicting the murders. In one scene, a sex show performer, played by Zora Kerova from Cannibal Ferox, gets a broken bottle shoved up what the film’s coroner colorfully refers to as her “joy trail,” resulting in the bottle filling up with blood as Kerova screams. In another memorable scene, a prostitute is tortured to death by having a nipple sliced off and, in an inevitable scene in a Fulci film, her eye cut with a razor.

On one hand, it is entirely understandable that the film is often regarded as misogynistic, given its level of violence towards women and general aura of sleaze. The killings in the film go far beyond anything even Camille Keaton experienced in I Spit on Your Grave. Aside from the sex murders, the film focuses heavily on the degradation of women, as in the scene where a promiscuous woman who records her sexual adventures for her kinky husband gets a non-consensual foot job from two men she meets in a bar. Furthermore, the film conforms all too well to the feminist critique of slasher movies in which sexually liberated women (prostitutes, swingers, strippers) get butchered while the comparatively “pure” character survives. Even the film’s gritty rock theme lends an air of sleaziness.

However, I would argue that the film actually subverts those slasher film tropes. For example, the murders are portrayed so graphically that it is hard to imagine anyone other than a straight-up pervert cheering them, even to praise the special effects. The killer’s sadism is portrayed uncompromisingly, with no attempts to soften it for the audience. Furthermore, the film’s ending highlights the human cost of the killer’s actions. Without spoiling too much, the last human sound we hear before the end credits run is a child crying, a sound that gradually fades into the traffic noise of an uncaring city. Fulci gives the ending a genuine emotional impact that takes this a notch above your typical slasher film.

Chasing the Rain (2020)

“I don’t know why some people suffer through drought longer than others, but the rain always comes eventually. And when it does, the desperate, barren, thirsty earth quenches itself in a way that the lush, green earth could never imagine or understand. And I have to live in this tension because that is where the fire is.”
— A bit of wisdom from Ed (William Russ)

The streaming verse is rife with first-time (mostly indie) writers and directors. And some are better than others. And this debut proves that Cindy Jansen is one of the some and not of the other. Remember when Patti Jenkins blew us away with the expertly crafted Monster, her 2003 writing and directing debut? And Jenkins’s debut was, while highly regarded, also consumer derided. And so is Jansen’s debut. But that derision has nothing to do with Jansen being a female filmmaker in a male-driven Hollywood. Film is (it should be) sexless-subjective and, regardless of a filmmaker’s Final Draft and Canon Red skills (which Jansen has in spades), some films resonate and some do not with the today’s streaming masses.

And if you want to guarantee — regardless of a filmmaker’s sex — derision from a mass audience: tell your story with a non-linear narrative: for flashbacks, hallucinations, time jumps, the metaphorical and analogies, and long-running narratives with multiple storylines crafted by an ensemble cast (and god forbid, voice overs of a character’s thoughts) will irradiate a streamer to the point of rehashing how much they hated Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And for as many people that enjoyed Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects and Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and, most recently Once Upon a Time . . . In Hollywood, those (excellent, IMO) films have their detractors.

And so it goes. Where the film sprocket spins, no one knows.

When it comes to screenwriting, I’m of the Linda Aronson School of Non-Linear Storytelling — provided that formatting choice is not some esoteric, bells and whistles flight-of-fancy of the “look what I can do” variety and it services the character and the story (and in the case of Chasing the Rain, it does). (And why, can novels be non-linear and become best-sellers, but when a screenplay is non-linear, it’s a box office death knell? “It’s not ‘cinematic,'” they say.) At heart, man is a non-linear creature. Sure, as we objectively view the people around us, they’re moving forward, linearly. But when we consider the subjective side of man, internally rests his true essence. Man is a creature whose mental and emotional states are constantly multitasking. While you’re at your job, you’re flashing forward about your family responsibilities later that evening. While you’re with your family, you’re flashing forward about tomorrow’s job meeting or flashing back to the latest episode with that fellow, troublesome employee. Then there’s the sights, the aromas, the things people around us do or say that inspires one to reflect on a past moment. We daydream about the future-possible and the impossible. Then we snap back to the present. Non-linear is reality. Non-linear is real life. The external, objective adventures of John McClane and Martin Riggs, while surely entertaining, aren’t reality.

Thus, when a film like Chasing the Rain — with a non-linear and faith-based message to boot — flows down the digital pipeline, not everyone is jumpin’ aboard that gospel train to a cinematic transcendence. A film that addresses the concepts of freewill and ponders the philosophical: Are the world’s pains, one’s personal afflictions, and disease a test of faith sent by God or are those pains a jovial punishment sent by Lucifer to torture man?, isn’t floating the bag in everyone’s tea cup.

Well, I love my green tea. So pour it, Cindy.

Eric (Matt Lanter) is a soft-spoken and well-intentioned, yet spiritually-stumbling photographer on a volunteer mission project with a clean water organization assisting the citizens of an arid, poverty-stricken Kenyan village. When he returns to the States after his mission-of-good, he discovers he’s afflicted with a debilitating illness. Already fragile in accepting the good fortunes of his life, Eric’s life begins to unravel (again) as he questions why such suffering is bestowed upon some more than others.

We need not subscribe to Christianity or a belief system in any god to book ourselves a seat on the self-pitying, self-righteous freight train of pain to a spiritual Las Vegas where everyone is fearing and loathing; a city of sin where most are not blessed with baptismal waters of redemption, but with spiritually-destroying baptisms of fire. Chasing the Rain, regardless of its spiritual themes, is an authentic story concerned with how one copes in a dysfunctional family and with life-defining moments — be it the good, the bad, or the ugly. And when it comes to authenticity vs. hyper-reality in film, I always err to the side of quenching my celluloid thirsts from the pools of the authentic. Even when the waters go uncomfortably dark.

Sometimes, it’s all about that opening shot, yes, of a dung beetle: Come into being.

We’ve enjoy the work of Matt Lanter since the early 2000s courtesy of his work as Brody Mitchum on NBC-TV’s Heroes and as Liam Court on Fox-TV’s 90210. Lucasheads know Lanter as the voice of Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars animated universe, as well as the animated voice of Aquaman in the DC-verse and a wide array of characters in the Spiderman-verse. William Russ has been on our TVs and silver screens since the late ’70s, but us youngins of the ’80s remember him best in his seven-year run as dad Alan Matthews on the sitcom Boy Meets World. The same goes for Cindy Pickett, who you may remember for her starring role as Dr. Carol Novino on NBC-TV’s hospital drama St. Elsewhere — and too many TV series and films to mention. I was also very pleased to see the matured, stellar child actor Hallee Hirsh — who totally creeped us out as Jenny Brandt, a pubescent-serial killer on TV’s Law and Order in “Killerz” (1999) — still in the business and effective as ever on-camera. If you were a fan (like moi) of NBC-TV’s E.R. or JAG, you’ll recognize Hirsh for her recurring roles on those series as Rachel Greene (Anthony Edwards was her dad!) and Mattie Johnson. It’s great to see these four, wonderful actors with starring roles in an expertly crafted to film to remind us why, anytime we see their name, we watch the film or TV episode. Their presence certainly served as my enticement to stream.

The real joy of the casting process for Chasing the Rain is that it allows for the (new) discovery of under-the-radar TV actor Eric Tiede as Stu, Eric’s best friend and roommate. Working his way through guest starring TV roles the last ten years on such top-rated network series as NCIS, Castle, and Major Crimes, Tiede brings an award-winning (or at the very least, a supporting actor nomination) nuance to a character that starts out as, what seems a selfish, throwaway party dude, only to transform into more than just a roommate. Tiede’s an actor’s actor that, as with his co-stars, is now an actor who, the next time I see his name on a project, I’ll stream it for his performance.

Speaking of streaming: When it comes to first time or unknown indie filmmakers, I’m of the belief that brevity is best; that, when it comes to a first time or more developed, but unknown filmmaker, their discovery is better served with a more commercially palpable 80-minute running time — and that even 90-minutes pushes a movie watcher’s willingness to dedicate their time to an unknown’s work. But hard media is dead and oh so ’90s; current media consumption is all about streaming, and so many indie filmmakers — sans studio backing with those pesky no-you-can’t-do-that executives holding the purse strings — have a tendency to be a bit weak in their abilities to step back and separate themselves from their work to make those hard, editing choices. However, with Cindy Jansen’s debut — courtesy of a well-reached and thought-provoking script, stellar cinematography from Lon Stratton (Standing the the Shadows of Motown), and solid acting from all quarters, this is a time where no streamer should have any apprehensions at this film’s one hour fifty three-minute running time. Chasing the Rain is one of those unique indie-streaming instances where every frame, every shot, is absolutely essential to the story and deserves to be on the screen.

Chasing the Rain is a beautiful, perfect industry calling card that leaves one wanting more from Cindy Jansen. Hopefully, the executive of Tinseltown will feel the same — and give her free reign to see her vision through.

You can keep abreast with the latest on Chasing the Rain courtesy of Indie Rights Films and at the film’s official Facebook page. You can learn more about the film and its creators courtesy of an extended interview conducted by Bonnie Laufer Krebs on her You Tube page. Courtesy of Shock Ya!, film journalist Karen Bernardello also discusses Cindy Jansen’s destiny in becoming a reluctant, first time director.

You can hit the big red streaming button for Chasing the Rain on Amazon Prime.

Other recent releases from the Indie Rights Films catalog we’ve reviewed include A Band of Rogues, Banging Lanie, Blood from Stone, The Brink (Edge of Extinction), Double Riddle, The Girls of Summer, Gozo, Loqueesha, Making Time, and Mnemophrenia.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes short stories and music reviews on Medium.

Disclaimer: We did not receive a review request for this film. We discovered the trailer on social media, were intrigued by the film, and requested a screener. We truly enjoyed the film.

Sekkusu hantâ: Sei kariudo (1980)

Toshiharu Ikeda is best known in the U.S. for Evil Dead Trap, but he was making adult films in Japan for years that were horror-influenced before going all the way there wwith films that have giallo in their DNA like XX: Beautiful BeastXX: Beautiful Prey and The Man Behind the Scissors. He also directed a remake of the Female Prisoner Scorpion series called Female Prisoner Scorpion: Death Threat, which has legendary Japanese female wrestling heel Dump Matsumoto in it.

Many point to the influence of Dario Argento’s Suspiria on this movie, seeing as how it takes place in a dance academy that is way more than meets the eye. That said, Ikeda did claim in an interview never to have seen any of Argento’s films, as he hated horror and had never even watched his own Evil Dead Trap.

Miki, much like Suzy Bannion, is a talented dancer who has been accepted into an exclusice and mysterious dance academy by a woman named Akiko, who is the sister of her boyfriend Genichiro. Seeing as how he’s been missing since an accident, she decides to accept the offer in the hopes that she’ll improve her skills while finding the man she loves.

But kind of like a Japanese funhouse mirror version of one of those randy tales, Akiko has plans to keep Miki against her will and use her henchmen to transform her from the virginal dancer she is now to a sex-craving being that her brother will reject and run right into her loving arms.

By the way, if this upsets you, turn back now.

As for Genichiro, he’s also kept hidden inside the school, in a wheelchair since a recent car crash. He has no idea what’s happening, which goes from BDSM games to outright torture.

Nikkatsu studios, who made this movie, were certainly no puritans, but even they were upset by this movie, demanding that Ikeda tone things down for his next film and sending him to Okinawa with the demand that his next movie, Blue Lagoon: A Summer Experience, have some actual romance.

I debated including this movie in this week of giallo, but decided to include it as it fits in alongside other films we picked like Bizarre and Eyes Behind the Wall. I would definitely include the warning that this is beyond reprehensible in moments, yet still includes some moments of high art, such as the scene where Miki and Genichiro reconnect and make love in the mountains, which you should never do if you’re in a wheelchair. Let this film be a warning (and don’t let it ruin Coca-Cola for you forever, as this has perhaps the most upsetting product placement for that beverage of all time).

Sadly, Ikeda fought depression in his later years and ahis body was found floating in the sea near Shima on December 26, 2010. There was no note and his death could have been an accident, but he had expressed a wish to die in this area in the past.

As for the aforementioned Suspiria comparisons, outside of the setting, the inversion of the characters at the end, with Miki rising above her torment, and the climactic rainstorm feel like they could have been inspired by the film. Otherwise, this is a dark film that hints at the talent that Ikeda would use in his career as he moved out of adult and into more mainstream films.

Mystère (1983)

1983 is pretty late for the giallo, but hey — I’ve been trying to expand into the period before and after the major years for the genre.

Also known as Dagger Eyes and Murder Near Perfect, this film was written and directed by the Vanzina brothers, Carlo and Enrico. They loved the 1981 French thriller Diva, a film that moved away from the realist 1970s French cinema to the more colorful style of cinéma du look.

Mystère is divided into chapters, starting with a prologue, then each section is one of the four days that follows, then an epilogue. The producers demanded this happy ending, while the brothers wanted something more cynical.

Mystère (Carole Bouquet, For Your Eyes Only and the face of Chanel No. 5 from 1986 to 1997) is a high class call girl in Rome who comes into the possession of a mysterious lighter when her friend Pamela (Janet Ågren, City of the Living Dead) and one of her customers are killed over it, as inside the lighter are images of a political assassination.

Unlike the normal giallo — or adjacent giallo or whatever this is — the hero, Inspector Colt, ends up killing the assassin (John Steiner, Shock) and his bosses and then leaves behind our heroine, who ends up tracking him down to Thailand and making up with him. He was good with nunchucks, maybe?

I mean, how many movies are you going to see that somehow take the spirit of the good parts of 1970’s giallo, mix in the Zapruder film, throw in some Eurospy and still end up looking like a super expensive perfume ad?

Also — thanks to BodyBoy on Letterboxd who called out that Mystère’s apartment looks like something straight out of Messiah of Evil.

You can watch this on YouTube.