Monthly Archives: July 2012

Wake Wood

A 2011 film by David Keating, Wake Wood sees Aiden Gillen (Game of Thrones) and Eva Birthistle (Waking the Dead) play a couple whose daughter was murdered by a dog. They move to the Irish village of Wake Wood where Gillen takes on the job of a rural vet and Birthistle runs a pharmacy. However, they can’t get over the death of their daughter, and when they find out that the citizens of Wake Wood have the power to bring back the dead for a short period, they jump at the chance. However, once Alice is back in the world of the living, it becomes clear that something has gone terribly wrong.

Knowing this summary I was expecting a Midsomer Murders / Wicker Man-style weird rural community in Ireland. Unfortunately, for the most part, it was just a wishy washy horror that had some surprisingly graphic gore in it. It’s a great idea, but I got the general feeling that the story that could have been unravelled was instead just reduced to some bullet points for the first half, so Patrick and Louise just appear in Wake Wood without any sort of explanation as to why they decided to move there, they have very little dialogue to give us a sense of their characters, and Timothy Spall turns up playing somebody called Arthur who has the air of a lord of the manner and an accent that attempts to be Irish for a short while before being dropped, but there’s no explanation as to who he actually is.

After their car breaks down Patrick and Louise, when looking for assistance, see a strange ceremony taking place in Arthur’s yard and the rebirth of a young man. Arthur is then waiting for them in their living room when they get back, and tells them that they could get Alice back for three days, and she would appear to be a perfectly normal little girl and would remember most of her previous life, but she then needs to go back to the woods. Again no explanation at all is given as to how the villagers came across the power to bring back the dead, especially when a fresh corpse is required to be mutilated in a very bizaar fashion, with the spinal cord being cut and the chest crushed, in order to bring back the deceased.

Once Alice, played by an impressively creepy Ella Connolly in her first film role, comes back all seems okay for the first day, but things rapidly turn bad with animal mutilations and then human murders, and this is where the film lifts briefly from a blandly shot and oddly choppy movie to a slicker and more sinister one as she lurks in dark shadows in a creepy contrast of sweet innocence with her little yellow mac and emotionless expression, and Patrick and Louise run around the night following the trail of guts and gore. It turns out that they lied when they told Arthur how long she’d been dead, which was more than a year, but he never pointed out that there was a cut off point before they undertook the ritual and what is actually wrong with Alice isn’t explained.

I think there are two problems with Wake Wood – the shooting and the script. As I mentioned before, it’s very blandly shot for a lot of it, with the quality of an amateur film, and there’s a constant feeling of a lack of story or dialogue. Gillen seems strangely muted, he doesn’t really do much, and I can only imagine that it’s because he doesn’t have anything to work with. For example, when Patrick and Louise get back home from witnessing the rebirth to find Arthur in their living room I would be expecting outrage that he’s there, but Gillen just doesn’t do anything. It’s incredibly frustrating.

There were some good points, but sadly most of the film was lacking and could have been so much more.

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Venus in Furs (1969)

There are two 1969 films called Venus in Furs – one by Jesus Franco also known as Paroxismus, and the one I’m reviewing by Massimo Dallamano which has an alternative title of Devil in the Flesh. Based on Leopold ‘Masochism’ von Sacher-Masoch’s (as it says on the back of the box) book published in 1870, and with the tagline ‘She’s the bitch with the switch’ (an addition by Shameless I imagine), the film stars Regis Vallee, who from the looks of IMDB acted in three films in 1969 and then promptly vanished, and Laura Antonelli, who appeared in several sex farces such as Lucio Fulci’s film The Eroticist (aka The Senator Likes Women… Despite Appearances and Provided the Nation Doesn’t Know).

Vallee plays a very serious young writer called Severin, who whilst on holiday sees a young model arrive called Wanda (Antonelli), who is shown to the room next to his. Severin rushes inside to peer at her taking a shower through a hole in the wall like Sid James in Carry on Camping, all against a background of funky sixties jazz instrumental. Wanda, after her shower, pulls out a fur coat and wreaths around, taking Severin back to the childhood episode where he watched his nanny getting it on with the chauffeur but was caught and slapped across the face, before being comforted by the topless woman, instigating his interest in dominating women and sado-masochism.

Clearly the episode didn’t do much for his chat up skills because he appears behind Wanda one day and just says ‘I want to go to bed with you’, but then she has a little voiceover saying ‘I’ve always wanted to meet a romantic man, just for a change’. You call that romantic? They then embark on a passionate affair, where we take the peeping tom role and watch them in mirrors and sidle behind random objects. Demonstrating a striptease act she used to do she accidentally smacks him across the face, and he tells her that his greatest desire in life is for her to make him suffer. This goes beyond a bit of mere spanking however, he wants her to destroy him by seducing other men. All of this is interspersed with episodes of them dancing, water skiing, horse riding and talking about his relationship philosophy in the manner of a scientist discussing his theory of the mating habits of frogs.

In a particularly cringeworthy scene, Severin and Wanda are taken to watch two horses rutting, which is interspersed with his friend letching her and Severin stroking his face with a whip. I suppose it’s supposed to be erotic, but the knackered fleabitten stallion perched on top of the mare like a beached whale with flies buzzing past misses the mark by a long shot.

Severin wants her to sleep with other men whilst he peers at them from behind bushes, and even gives her a fake suicide note so if she decides to kill him she’ll have an alibi. ‘I want no limits to your cruelty,’ he tells her. A bit more passion would be good enough for me, whoever she’s with she just lies there stiff as a board whilst Vallee works a largely unmovable Patrick McGoohan-esque granite-faced stare. Wanda is at first unsure as to whether she wants to take on this role, but basically gets pushed into it by Severin.

Eventually, after not a right lot happening, or without us finding out anything about either of them apart from his need to be humiliated, they marry and stay in a villa for three months. However, with Severin deciding to become her chauffeur and have his own room where he sleeps down in the servant’s quarters, Wanda gets tired of his controlling ways and need for punishment and moves her lover into the house, driving their relationship over the edge as he has a breakdown and realises that his ideal woman doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately for this film it’s all sex and no substance. Severin has his life philosophy to define him but Wanda really doesn’t have much of a personality and seems to be controlled by Severin far more than she is supposed to be controlling him. Also, apart from the sex, there is absolutely nothing. They initially start off with random leisure pursuits but I don’t know how long it is before they decide to get married and then they move to their villa for three months and seemingly do absolutely nothing apart from have sex and pick up other men for her to have sex with. I spent most of the film wondering why on earth she was wasting her time with this bloke. And then at the end, they fall out and he tries to strangle a prostitute he picks up, and she says: ‘I thought you were going to kill me, it was beautiful!’ No, it wasn’t, so don’t give me that rubbish.

I’m sure something far better could have been done; Severin is an unlikeable but complex character, but this was just swamped beneath gratuitous soft porn, horses bonking, drives through the countryside and him just standing there gritting his teeth.