Thursday, August 17, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Classic Horror and Robotic Sex

The beautiful Barbara Steele — a reluctant empress in horror films.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Celebrating Classic Horror and Fantasizing About Celebrity Sex Robots.

“YOU, TOO, can feel the joy and happiness of hating!”

No, that’s not who you think it is.

The quote emanates from the full, pouty lips of actress Barbara Steele, in what is considered one of the most exquisite and influential horror movies of all time.  I do mean Mario Bava’s 1960 official directorial debut, “Black Sunday” (aka “The Mask of Satan”).
Barbara Steele in Mario Bava’s “Black Sunday.”
Bava was well-known in Italian cinema as a special effects artist, cinematographer, and unaccredited director. But “Black Sunday” put him — at age 50! — on the map as a master of atmospheric horror films.  His ability to chill the spine and to do it so effectively on low budgets, made him a cult figure, among aficionados of the genre. (The beautiful Miss Steele also became something of a reluctant empress in horror films. Finally, however, the unique-looking actress abandoned coffins, mayhem and a frequently dubbed voice for her Italian films, for a successful career in America as a producer.)
If you happen to be in Los Angeles right now, and have any interest in Bava’s work, get over to the fabled Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.  Today, tomorrow and Saturday, fans can relish such entries as “Baron Blood” ... “Black Sabbath” ... “The Whip and the Body” ... “Lisa and the Devil” ... “Blood and Black Lace” ... “Evil Eye” ... “Kill Baby Kill!” (despite the absurd title, Martin Scorsese considers “Kill ...” Bava’s greatest) and of course, “Black Sunday.”
Some of the director’s films that are not being shown during this tribute — presented by American Cinematheque and Cinematic Void — include “Planet of the Vampires” which is often looked upon as an early version of “Aliens” and “Danger: Diabolik” perhaps the first adult movie (a James Bond-ish spy tale) based on a comic strip.  Along with Dario Argento (“The Bird With the Crystal Plumage,” “Suspiria”), Bava is considered the master of his field.
Given the era, the budgets and the low opinion in which horror was held, some of Bava’s films can be choppy, poorly dubbed or confusingly edited, but all of them have an unmistakable, chilling luster. 

Listen, if all that survived of his work was “Black Sunday” and the magnificent Miss Steele in her duel role, as a good girl and very bad one, Bava would be properly remembered as one of the greats.
Mario Bava at work with Barbara Steele in “Black Sunday.”
WHILE WE have horror on our mind, George Romero, the father of the zombie film — 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead” — is being celebrated on DVD with three non-zombie offerings.  A six-disc box set from Arrow Video, “George Romero: Between Night and Dawn.”  The package offers three films made between “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead.”  They are “Season of the Witch” a psychological horror tale, “The Crazies” a story of government-created infection that drives people, well — crazy. And, believe it or not, a comedy/romance, “There’s Always Vanilla.”
All the films have been re-mastered and they include rare trailers, interviews, commentaries, additional scenes, and a 60-page booklet.  Romero, who also directed such culty faves as “Martin,” “Creepshow” “Knightriders” and another in the zombie genre, “Day of Dead,” died just last month, so this opportunity to see three of his lesser known movies should be a big attraction to fans. The set arrives on October 24th.
WE’RE done with horror for the moment, but we are still lingering on the lurid side.

Can you guess which female movie star is the most popular “fantasy sex robot”? We won’t keep you in suspense.  It’s luscious Scarlett Johansson. (Recently seen as a cyborg in “Ghost in a Shell.”)
Somehow this doesn’t surprise me, because Johansson’s emotional responses as an actress seem rather muted, most of the time.  Despite her Tony Award for the 2010 revival of Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge” and a BAFTA for her role in Sofia Coppola’s mysteriously (to me!) lauded “Lost In Translation,” Scarlett often seems the definition of “no there, there” in her performances.  She is, however, very lovely to look at, and her reticence sometimes clicks. (In this she often reminds me of Kim Novak, whose dreamy tentiveness looks so much better now, than it did in the more florid 1950s and '60s. So, God willing, twenty years from now I might see Miss Johansson in a different light.  She seems, in any case, a charming, intelligent young woman, from what I’ve gauged from her interviews.)
Anyway, Scarlett is the top choice, if celebrity sex robots were indeed being churned out.

The runners up are “Harry Potter” icon Emma Watson, Selena Gomez (if Justin Bieber is still pining for Gomez, he might look into this),  Jessica Alba, porn performers Asa Akira and Hitomi Tanaka, Kate Upton, Taylor Swift, another porn queen, Riley Reid and at No. 10, “Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke. (Would her robotic command be “bend the knee?”)  
“Bend the knee."
Other popular choices include “Modern Family’s” Sofia Vergara, Gal Gadot (now a superstar thanks to “Wonder Woman”),  Christina Hendricks of “Mad Men” fame, Italy’s Monica Bellucci, Angelina Jolie (in robot world she is not a humanitarian mother of six!), pop singer Rihanna and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, the future Queen Consort of England.  (I suppose Kate’s mechanical self would put new meaning into the Brit anthem, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”) 

Aside from the inevitable “ick” factor — and also, does anybody want to get rude and grabby with the formidable Taylor Swift, even as a robot? — here is some discrimination going on.  Why only female sex robots?  How about the guys?  All is fair in fantasy and objectification.  Please send suggestions.
Contact Liz here.