Sunday, 26 August 2007

The Terror of Dr. Hichcock (1962)

Madness and necrophilia are the themes of Riccardo Freda’s 1962 masterpiece of Italian gothic horror, The Terror of Dr. Hichcock (the original title is L'Orribile segreto del Dr. Hichcock and it was released in the US as The Horrible Dr. Hichcock). Dr Hichcock is a great surgeon who has invented a new and very useful anaesthetic, which has the property of slowing down the metabolism; in large doses it slows the heartbeat and respiration so much that the patient almost seems dead. The good doctor has discovered that it also has some interesting recreational uses. Some years after the rather mysterious death of his first wife he returns to his home with a new bride, Cynthia (Barbara Steele, looking even more luminous than usual). The marriage has its problems, however – Professor Hichcock still seems obsessed with his first wife, and Cynthia suspects that there is something amiss in his feelings for her.

This movie gives Barbara Steele more opportunities for real acting than many of her other Italian movies, and she makes the most of it. Robert Flemyng is quite amazingly creepy as Dr Hichcock. Freda throws in just about every gothic trick in the book, even resorting to thunderstorms, but the results are remarkably effective. The pacing is excellent, the direction is skilful, lively and imaginative (with some very clever uses of the architectural layout of the doctor’s house), the Technicolor cinematography is gorgeous. Even the dubbing is reasonably good. This is a movie on which a good deal of care has been lavished. Italian horror is often accused of being stronger on style than plot, and while style and mood do predominate in this film the plotting is quite solid. This is Italian gothic at its best, in the same league as the best of Mario Bava’s gothic films.

This is the first DVD I’ve bought from Sinister Cinema. While it’s slightly disappointing that it isn’t widescreen I was pleasantly surprised by the image quality. It isn’t in the same class as some of the superbly restored recent offerings from companies like Blue Underground but it’s still reasonably satisfactory and a lot better than I’d expected. The colours are fairly vivid. The sound quality is good as well. I honestly don’t know if it’s uncut or not, although the running time of 84 minutes (compared to the 88 quoted on the IMDb) suggests that if it has been cut it’s still substantially intact. I’ve been wanting to see this movie for a long time, and it did not disappoint.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

The Sorcerers (1967)

The Sorcerers, made in 1967, was the second feature film directed by Michael Reeves, the wunderkind of British horror in the 1960s until his suicide in 1969 at the age of 25. . It stars Boris Karloff as an elderly scientist who invents a machine that allows the operator to experience the exact same sensations that someone else is experiencing. The scientist and his wife (a deliciously evil performance by Catherine Lacey) use a young man (a fine performance by Ian Ogilvy) as their test subject, but naturally things get out of hand.

The Sorcerers is not a horror film that relies on gore, rather it relies for its effect on its unblinking acceptance of the moral nihilism and cynicism of its characters. It’s also (despite a very low budget) a very stylish movie. The following year Reeves went on to make Witchfinder General, an even better movie.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Danger: Diabolik! (1968)

There have been countless attempts to translate comic nooks to the cinema screen. The only completely successful effort to date has been Mario Bava’s 1968 Danger: Diabolik!. It succeeds partly through Bava’s visual magic. Bava of course had no CGI back in 1968, but what he did have was a superb visual imagination and a complete mastery of the art of film-making. He does things with old-fashioned techniques like matte paintings and glass shots and the use of miniatures that make most modern CGI-fests look puerile and boring. Danger: Diabolik! also succeeds because Bava understood that a movie based on a comic had to be dynamic, it had to be fast-moving and exciting. And the movie also works because it’s camp, but not too camp. Like the best of the 1960s Bond films it combines camp and cool.

Diabolik was an immensely popular example of the fumetti neri, Italian comic books that combined sex and violence with glamorous criminal anti-heroes. Diabolik is a criminal mastermind, but he’s no Robin Hood. He steals from the rich, and he keeps the money. And he has no compunction about killing anyone who gets in his way. John Phillip Law, who also starred in the adaptation of the Barbarella comic at about the same time, is Diabolik. While no-one would accuse Law of being a great actor he is perfect for the role – he’s sexy and very cool and he’s totally convincing as an action hero, without needing to resort to the macho posturing that we associate with modern cinema action heroes. Naturally Diabolik has a beautiful blonde girlfriend, Eva, played by Marisa Mell. Interestingly enough, although Diabolik is ruthless and often violent, his relationship with Eva is not quite what you might expect. It’s very erotically charged, it’s very romantic, but it’s also affectionate and it’s based on mutual respect - Eva isn’t just his girlfriend, she’s his partner in crime and a very active and useful partner. She is most definitely not portrayed as an airhead. Diabolik’s devotion to Eva makes the audience far more sympathetic to the character than we might otherwise be, given his other rather anti-social habits. The Italian fumetti are quite unlike American superhero comics, and Bava’s movie reflects this. Thief and killer he might be, but our sympathies are with Diabolik rather than with the forces of law and order. Danger: Diabolik! is enormous fun. It’s sexy, but it’s that 60s kind of teasing sexiness, with no explicit nudity or sex, but still very erotic. The acting is great – none of the actors try to make their characters real, just as Bava has no interest in making his movie look like the real world. The comic book feel is maintained in every aspect of the movie. The DVD includes a good short documentary on the movie and on the fumetti, and a commentary track by John Phillip Law and Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog. The picture quality is first-rate, and the film also boasts a wonderful Ennio Morricone soundtrack. What’s not to love? Buy this movie immediately!

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968)

Back in the early 1960s Roger Corman bought the rights to a Soviet science fiction epic called Planeta Bur. He decided it was a tad too serious for the audiences he was aiming at, got a director to shoot some additional scenes and combined them with footage from the original. In fact Corman used footage from this Soviet film in no less than three sci-fi movies. For the third of these he hired a young director named Peter Bogdanovich to shoot the extra scenes, and the result was Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women. He came up with the idea of creating a movie about a rescue flight to Venus, where personnel from a previous mission were stranded, and his extra footage shows us the inhabitants of Venus. Who are, in fact, prehistoric women. Why prehistoric women? Because prehistoric women don’t wear as much clothing as modern women, obviously. And because it’s well-known that prehistoric women were blonde and glamorous, and wore tight-fitting flared stretch pants and bras made from sea-shells. The prehistoric women worship a pterodactyl. Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women works for two reasons. Firstly, the footage from the original Soviet film is fabulous – it features some wonderfully odd scenes on a space station, an absolutely fantastic space car, and a very cool robot. Secondly the footage Bogdanovich shot is so outrageously camp that you just can’t help loving it. What you end up with is a movie that is really remarkably entertaining. For cult movie fans, an absolute must-see.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Vamp (1986)

Martin Scorcese’s After Hours was a big hit back in 1985. Vamp, made the following year, is more or less a remake but with vampires. Which is not an entirely bad idea. Two clean-cut college boys who think they’re pretty cool find themselves outside their familiar environment, in a strange threatening world where they don’t know the rules and everybody seems to want to kill them. All they wanted was to find a stripper for a college party, but the strip club they’ve chosen is full of vampires and is situated in an urban wasteland populated almost entirely by the undead. Now all they want is to get back to their nice safe dorm room.

It’s in the execution that Vamp falls short. After Hours succeeded because of the surprising lightness of touch with which Scorcese filmed it, and because it had a strange off-beat charm blended with real menace. The innocent caught in a strange and terrifying world was confronted with characters who were both scary and weird and genuinely quirky. Vamp is just a little too predictable, a little too straightforward, and a little too bland. It does have Grace Jones in the cast, so the potential was there for some serious weirdness. Her dance at the club is a step in the right direction, but she doesn’t get enough to do and she’s a little too restrained. The strange androgynous sexuality she projects could have been exploited to produce some disturbing erotic undercurrents, but sex in this movie doesn’t go much beyond schoolboy sexual humour. Eroticism is one of the many things this movie lacks. It’s rather odd to use a strip club as the main setting and then make a rather sexless movie. As straight horror it isn’t particularly scary or horrifying, it isn’t funny enough to work as a spoof, and it isn’t odd enough to have any great camp value. And it’s too competently made to work on a so-bad-it’s good level. It’s like a routine late 50s or early 60s drive-in movie that was made a couple of decades too late. I have to admit that I do have a serious bias against 80s movies, and against just about everything else from that sorry decade - has there ever been a period in human history so completely lacking in style as the 80s? So that may have coloured my feelings for this film a little. And it does have worrying teen movie tendencies, another quality that fails to fill me with enthusiasm. It may be that it just wasn’t the sort of movie I was ever really going to like very much.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Jess Franco's Demoniac

Demoniac is one of those 1970s Jess Franco movies that exists in many different versions under many different names, including L’Éventreur de Notre-Dame and Exorcisme. In some ways it’s his reply to The Exorcist, but with the exorcist as the bad guy. It’s actually a more interesting movie than The Exorcist. Franco appears in most of his movies, but generally in supporting roles or cameos. This time he’s the star, and the entire success of the movie hinges on his performance. And it works – he delivers a performance that is really exceptionally chilling. He plays Vogel, a defrocked priest, whose defrocking was apparently the result of his over-zealousness in pursuing those he suspected of being in league with the Devil. To say he’s obsessed would be an understatement of colossal proportions – he sees himself as, in his own words, the sword of the Lord, and he sees evidence of Satan’s handiwork just about everywhere. Especially in women. Especially in sexually active women. He earn his living writing lurid tales of demonic possession and devil-worship for and S&M magazine, and when he stumbles across a group of enthusiasts whose main pastime is staging mock black masses, you just know there’s going to be trouble. Vogel’s grip on reality is fairly tenuous at the best of times, and he is entirely unable to understand that these people are simply playing harmless games. He is determined to save them from the clutches of Lucifer, and if saving their souls happen to involve killing them then that’s a price Vogel is willing to pay. Franco plays the role absolutely straight, and in an extremely restrained manner, which makes him genuinely scary. Franco’s wife, muse and regular collaborator Lina Romay is one of the women who perform the fake black masses, and her performance is reasonably effective (and while she’s not Soledad Miranda I think she’s underrated as an actress). The rest of the actors are at best adequate, but no worse than the actors in the average exploitation movie. This is a Jess Franco movie, so you expect plenty of nudity, sex and (given the subject matter) plenty of S&M as well, and that’s definitely what you get. But given that the movie is about a religious fanatic obsessed with satanism, S&M and sex it’s possible to argue that in this case it isn’t really especially gratuitous. It’s certainly no more gratuitous than most of the more sensation content in The Exorcist. This is an exploitation movie, but it has a serious purpose as well and I think it gets its message across rather well. It’s also rather more tightly plotted than most of Franco’s films. In fact it may well be one of his best films. An absolute must for fans of eurotrash/eurohorror.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Serial Mom (1994)

Beverly Sutphin has a loving husband, two wonderful children, and a beautiful house in suburbia. She’s a devoted wife and mother and an enthusiastic homemaker. She’s like a walking advertisement for both Motherhood and the American Dream. Except for one small detail. Beverly Sutphin happens to be a serial killer. She’s the Serial Mom in John Waters’ delightfully twisted 1994 movie Serial Mom. It’s not that Beverly is one of those awful psycho killers. She’s just very protective of her family. And she only kills people who really have it coming to them. I mean if you go around stealing people’s parking spaces, you have to expect that people will get annoyed. We’ve all been so angry we could have killed someone in that situation, the only difference is that Beverly actually does it.

Kathleen Turner is perfect as Beverly. Imagine Carol Brady suddenly turning into an axe murderer and you have a fair idea of what Turner’s performance is like. Sam Waterston displays a surprising flair for comedy as Beverly’s perpetually startled dentist husband. Waters regulars Ricki Lake (as Beverly’s boyfriend-starved daughter Misty), Patty Hearst and Mink Stole provide good support. Matthew Lillard manages to be both wholesome and slightly creepy as the horror movie-obsessed son. Serial Mom gives John Waters the opportunity for some fairly savage satire at the expense of suburbia, the media, the justice system and our obsession with killers as celebrities, but it’s all done with surprising warmth and light-heartedness. Which, combined with some rather graphic violence, just makes it all the more disturbing. It’s also very funny and thoroughly enjoyable.

Monday, 13 August 2007

The Maids (1974)

The American Film Theatre series of the 1970s was an attempt to translate a number of notable plays into film. The Maids, based on Jean Genet’s play and directed by Christopher Miles, succeeded surprisingly well, thanks largely to three extraordinary acting performances. Solange (Glenda Jackson) and Claire (Susannah York) are sisters who work as maids for a woman we know only as Madame (Vivien Merchant). While Madame is out the sisters act out their “ceremony” in which one of them takes on the role of Madame. This role-playing drags to the surface all the humiliation and rage they feel in their demeaning and subservient real-life roles. As the fantasies escalate they plot to have Madame’s husband imprisoned on false charges and to murder Madame. The game is by now, however, out of their control. The play allowed Genet to play around with all sorts of inversions, political, social and sexual – apart from the sisters’ play-acting the roles of the three women were originally intended to be played by men. Having the roles played by women doesn’t really seem to weaken the film – there’s still an abundance of sexual ambiguity. Glenda Jackson delivers a powerhouse performance and gets to deliver some quite incredibly vicious invective with a great deal of relish. Anyone else would have been blown off the screen playing opposite such a performance but Susannah York’s performance is just as powerful and just as disturbing as she switches between subservience a Claire and haughty superiority a Claire-playing-as-Madame. The film is very claustrophobic with almost all the action confined to a single room. The performances are stagey, melodramatic and totally over-the-top but deliberately so – this is a film in which naturalism would be ludicrously out of place. The Maids is an unusual film, worth seeing just for the opportunity to see Jackson and York in full flight at their absolute peak and also worth seeing as a fascinating and very confronting look at class, gender and sexual politics.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Dracula (1931) - the Spanish version

The Spanish-language Dracula was made by Universal in 1931, shot at night, on the same sets, after the crew shooting Tod Browning’s version went home. I’d heard so many things about this one, mostly that it was a lot better than Browning’s version. So, is it better than Browning’s version? I’d have to say yes, although it does suffer from some of the same flaws (unavoidable seeing as they were using basically the exact same shooting script). The script wasn’t based on Stoker’s novel. It was based on a play that was based on Stoker’s novel. The Spanish version is more lively, it’s definitely more sexy, and some of the scenes are definitely shot in a slightly more interesting and more inspired way. Sadly, though, Carlos Villarias is not much improvement on Lugosi as the Count.

It’s included in the excellent Dracula Legacy set.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Baron Blood (1972)

After reading Andy Black’s essay on Mario Bava’s two early 70s films Baron Blood and Lisa and the Devil (A Modern World with Ancient Evil, in Necronomicon Book Three, edited by Andy Black) I felt I simply had to see these two movies again. I’m finding myself much more impressed by Baron Blood the second time around. Glorious cinematography, typical Bava bold use of colour, magnificent locations and sets. Aided by Eva, a young student (Elke Sommer), a descendant of the notorious Baron von Kleist, a murderous madman whose reign of terror is still remembered several centuries after his death, uses an ancient scroll and an incantation to bring the baron back to life. Not surprisingly, the baron decides to resume his reign of terror, and his descendant has to find a way to reverse the incantation. That’s all there really is to the plot, but Mario Bava movies are all about the visuals, and the visuals are gorgeous. Lots of fog. Lots and lots of fog. I don’t think anyone ever used colour gels more lavishly than Bava, or to better effect. Whole scenes are bathed in weird blue or yellow light. Combined with the wonderful medieval castle setting the result is a gothic atmosphere that has rarely been so overwhelming and so effective, and so oppressive with menace. As Andy Black points out in his article, the film is very much about the survival of ancient occult beliefs and practices in a modern world of science and technology. I liked Joseph Cotton in this movie a lot more this time. Elke Sommer’s performance is perfectly competent. The rest of the cast are pretty terrible. What matters in a Bava movie are the images, and there are some great images. The sequence in which the baron pursues Eva through a series of corridors and passageways is simply stunning. Baron Blood was a welcome return to gothic horror for Bava after the tedious and pointless gore of Twitch of the Death Nerve. Baron Blood isn’t quite top-flight Bava but it’s still extremely good, and for fans of the gothic it’s an absolute must.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Incense for the Damned, AKA Bloodsuckers (1970)

Incense for the Damned, also known as Bloodsuckers, is an intriguing 1970 British horror movie. It’s a vampire movie, but it’s an attempt to do something different with the vampire genre, to approach the subject from the point of view of psychology rather than folklore. The movie was not a success, and it seems to be held in fairly low esteem, many reviewers describing it as incoherent. I have no idea why anyone would find it confused or incoherent. It’s actually fairly straightforward, although certainly somewhat unconventional for a 1970 British horror film. A young Oxford don seems to have everything going for him. He’s rising rapidly in the academic world, and he’s engaged to be married to the daughter of the dean of his college. All is not well with this young man, though. He has major sexual problems. He is impotent, and it’s strongly implied that this is most likely because he isn’t attracted to women at all, but he is in serious denial about the real nature of his sexuality. On an academic jaunt to Greece he meets a woman who tells him not to worry about his inability to perform sexually, because there are “other things” that one can do. The other things turn out to be vampirism, with a dash of S&M. OK, the movie is a little disjointed, and a little clunky at times, but it’s a bold attempt to get away from the gothic clichés of the vampire flick, and to deal with some serious subject matter in a grownup way. If it doesn’t entirely succeed, it at least deserves points for trying. And it’s a lot more convincing and a lot more interesting than Hammer’s attempt two years later to make a contemporary vampire movie, the ill-fated Dracula AD1972. The acting is extremely variable – the less aid about the performance of Madeleine Hinde as the young man’s fiancee the better, and Alexander Davion and Johnny Sekka as his two friends who set out to save him from the vampire cult are not much better. Patrick Mower is adequate as the young don, Patrick Macnee is OK as a Foreign Office official who is also involved in the attempted rescue, and Peter Cushing is very good as the dean. Edward Woodward steals the picture, though, as an eccentric and rather dotty but very amusing anthropologist who has devoted his career to the study of vampirism and sexuality.

The ending is visually impressive, although I’m not sure it really fits in wit the rest of the movie. Despite its faults this is an interesting and original little movie that I think is well worth seeing.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

The Day of the Locust (1975)

John Schlesinger’s 1975 film The Day of the Locust, based on Nathanael West’s brilliant novel, was a commercial flop and most critics weren’t fond of it either. It’s now almost forgotten, but I happen to like it a lot. Whether you like this movie depends to a great extent on how you respond to Karen Black’s performance as Faye. Faye is both manipulative and vulnerable, innocent and corrupt. I think Black does a fine job. This is one of the great Hollywood dream/nightmare movies, along with Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive. Does Schlesinger go overboard with the ending? Well yes, he does, but this is Hollywood that he’s making a movie about. Donald Sutherland as Homer, a bizarre innocent who raises sexual repression to an art form, and Burgess Meredith as Harry, Faye’s father who is a broken-down ex-vaudeville star, deliver virtuoso performances. In some ways William Atherton as Tod, the closest thing this movie has to a hero, has the most difficult acting job because his character is so colourless in comparison. In fact his character is more an absence of character than anything else.

This film looks very pretty, lots of soft focus, lots of eye candy. I think that gives the extraordinary ending even more impact. The Waterloo hill scene works superbly, I think. Not a move that everyone will like, perhaps, but I think it’s still worth a look. And you might end up loving it as much as I do.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Swamp Women (1955)

Swamp Women was the first movie directed by Roger Corman, back in 1955. It tells the story of a female cop who goes undercover to infiltrate a gang of vicious women jewel thieves. She persuades them to break out of gaol with her in the hope they’ll lead her to a cache of stolen diamonds hidden somewhere in the bayous of Louisiana. It’s an enjoyable romp of an exploitation movie, with lots of fist-fights between girls as they squabble over the loot and a hunky male hostage. Since they’re in a swamp the gals naturally wear incredibly skimpy shorts, as you would if you were trudging through a swamp. Like most of Corman’s movies it looks better than its limited budget would lead you to expect. Most of the film takes place in the swamps and the atmosphere is rather well done. It might be cheap but it doesn’t look amateurish. The acting is what you’d expect in an exploitation B-movie but it’s fun. If you’re a devotee of bad girl movies then this one is an absolute must-see.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

Hansel is a young boy growing up in East Berlin. He listens to rock’n’roll on the US Armed Force radio, and then one day he gets his chance to get out. He meets a handsome American sergeant who wants to marry him, but the sergeant insists he must have a sex change first. So Hansel becomes Hedwig, and a rock’n’roll legend is born. Sort of. Hedwig finds herself dumped in a trailer home in Junction City, Kansas, but with her newly formed band, The Angry Inch, she sets off to find fame and fortune. She finds a new love, but Tommy steals her songs and becomes a star. Hedwig just won’t give up, though. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a kind of old-fashioned fantasy musical with post-punk attitude and a very glam-rock sensibility, and it’s fabulous fun. It’s also (thanks to a superb performance by writer/director/star John Cameron Mitchell, a performance that manages to be both subtle and over-the-top at exactly the same time), emotionally raw and very moving, and very uplifting. You just can’t help loving Hedwig - even at her nastiest and toughest she’s also touching and vulnerable. The movie using animated sequences to get across its main message – Hedwig’s search for wholeness. S/he is physically, sexually, emotionally and spiritually incomplete, but she knows if she keeps searching she’ll find what’s missing, because we all have the potential to be complete. Hedwig and the Angry Inch has its moments of exuberant and joyous high camp, but it combines them with character of emotional complexity and depth. It really is one of those movies that makes you laugh, and cry, and shout for joy. It’s a real musical in that much of the story, and much of the message, is carried by the songs, and it’s a totally irresistible concoction.

Friday, 3 August 2007

The Monster Maker (1944)

The Monster Maker is a classic mad scientist/evil doctor horror B-movie from 1944, with J. Carrol Naish overacting outrageously (but entertainingly) as the mad scientist. He has discovered the secret of the rare and dreaded disease acromegaly – not just the secret of a possible cure, but also the secret of how to infect people with the illness. Very handy if you’re a mad scientist. It’s a disease that causes the extremities to swell hideously, and gives the sufferer almost superhuman energy. He determines to use his discovery not merely to gain fame and fortune, but also to force the beautiful daughter of an acclaimed concert pianist into marriage. Even by mad scientist standards this guy is a nasty piece of work. The movie also includes a guy in a gorilla suit, for no particular reason except that guys in gorilla suits were popular in horror movies at the time. The Monster Maker is genuinely creepy and exudes (for its era) a surprising amount of real menace. A must for fans of medical horror.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

The Devils (1971)

Ken Russell’s The Devils was one of the most controversial movies of the 1970s, and its power to shock has been diminished by time. Russell was often accused of setting out to shock just for the sake of shocking, which I think is nonsense. His purpose in this movie was extremely serious. It’s a very angry movie, the anger being directed at those who mix religion and politics, and use religion for corrupt and dishonest and mercenary purposes, and those who use religion to destroy those who stand in the path of their pursuit of power.

The movie is based on real events in the city of Loudon in 1634. A popular priest who had made powerful enemies was accused of bewitching the nuns in a Ursuline convent. Oliver Reed gives the performance of his career as the priest, Father Urbain Grandier. Vanessa Redgrave is truly terrifying as the Mother Superior of the convent whose sexual frustration overpowers her and leads her to actions with horrifying consequences. The sets, designed by Derek Jarman, are quite simply superb, and the combination of Russell’s extraordinary visual imagination with Jarman’s is electrifying. The impact of the film comes largely from the images – this is a very cinematic film. It’s a powerful film, and it’s a very great film.

Showgirls (1995)

After reading I. Q. Hunter’s passionate defence of Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls in Unruly Pleasures I amused myself by looking up online reviews of the films. And yes, it really does seem to be every bit as universally reviled ad he claimed it was. I figured a movie as hated as this one just had to be worth seeing. And I was right. I think it’s fabulous. Yes, it has obvious camp pleasures, and I’m very susceptible to such things. And it’s extremely trashy. But then how do you make a movie that is not only about Las Vegas and strippers and lap-dancers, but is also about Hollywood and capitalism in general, without being trashy? If you do, you’re not really being honest. Perhaps that’s why Showgirls is so disliked. It’s just too honest. It shows the American Dream a little too clearly. It’s also, despite the Vegas setting, very much a movie about Hollywood and the Hollywood version of that American Dream. It’s major influences are not exploitation cinema, but movies like 42nd Street, A Star Is Born, Sunset Boulevard, and All About Eve. The plot is pretty much directly lifted from 42nd Street. It’s Busby Berkeley with tits and ass. But then, so was Busby Berkeley. If Busby Berkeley were still alive I’m sure he’d have been delighted to arrange the production numbers. Verhoeven even includes (obviously deliberate) a ridiculous coincidence at the end to reinforce the idea that this is a movie. It’s exactly what you’d expect in a Hollywood backstage musical of the classic era. And the sudden eruption of brutal sexual violence within the context of such a deliberately artificial film has a much greater impact than it would otherwise have done.

Elizabeth Berkley’s much-derided performance as the central character, Nomi, a stripper who dreams of becoming a headliner at a major Las Vegas venue, actually works very effectively. A better actress might well have ruined this role. Gina Gershon as the established star who stands between Nomi and her dream her and Kyle MacLachlan as the entertainment director for the club are both perfect. And there’s some priceless dialogue. Although it got an NC-17 rating in the US it’s a movie also totally lacking in eroticism, which is of course the point. None of the sex or the nudity has anything to do with sex, it’s all about selling. It’s just business. I can’t help feeling the NC-17 rating was simply imposed in the hope that it would ensure the failure of a movie that dares to savage Hollywood with such viciousness. American censorship truly is bizarre. Forget everything you’ve heard about Showgirls and see it anyway.