Posts Tagged ‘exorcism

23
Feb
19

Luciferina (2018): Mercy for The Devil

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a Primal Root review

Is there any more tired trope in horror cinema than an exorcism?  Man, they’re a dime a dozen. You get a young girl (typically) put a demon in her, let science fail, hire a priest, he spouts some nonsense from the old testament, people die, someone sacrifices themselves, evil is either vanquished or at least there’s a stale mate. Like Beauty and the Beast, it’s a tired tale as old as time and, ever since it has risen to considerable heights with classic horror offerings like William Freidkin’s sublime 1973 touchstone, The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty’s truly exceptional and highly underrated The Exorcist III and then it kind of spirals into the abyss of B-Movie cheese or pop culture relics, not that I don’t love them, but rarely is the story ever given an update or does it conjure up anything truly shocking or surprising. When I hear there’s an exorcism in a film, I know I’m going to be in for shaky bed, ass spewage, cheese a minute city.

That’s why I was so damn pleased when I finally say my ass down and gave the 2018 Argentinian horror offering entitled Luciferina a shot.  When I first popped the blu-ray into my player I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from Gonzalo Calzada’s latest offering.  I can tell you, I was not anticipating this startling original take on the stalest genre of horror since The Walking Dead drove the last nail into the zombie genre. But, I digress…

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Luciferina tells the tale of young, virginal Natalia (Sofia del Tuffo) who resides in a convenient and is on her way to becoming a nun when the tragic death of her Mother brings her home to be with her bed ridden, comatose Father and recovering drug addicted sister. Once she arrives, it becomes clear that things are not at all right there. Well, will all the blood drenched pieced of art featuring both phallic and yonic imagery which she created in her final moments. Bizarrely, their ill father who can’t get out of bed, no communicate, is kept all the way up on the third floor of their immense home along with all these disturbing pieces of art,  where his deceased wife’s blood and internal goopage was utilized by her own insane hands to create these masterpieces of the macabre. Not only that, but the dozen or so pieces are set up TO FACE THE POOR BASTARD…and there are two incredibly bright lights pointed at their poor Dad’s face both night and day which I cannot for the life of me understand how that’s supposed to help him with his illness, but I’m not Argentinian doctor, so…I mean, whatever you think is best doc.

Natalia’s sister, Angela (Malena Sanchez) believes a curse has been visited upon the family for both her and her sister having left and has arranged for the two of them, along with Angela’s rag-tag Scooby-Doo inspired team of misfits, including her ultra violent and uber rapey poster child the Argentina Proud Boys movement, Mauro (Francisco Donovan) to take a journey deep into the jungle to take part in a spiritual rite performed by a Peruvian Chaman (Tomas Lipan). This rite involves knocking back entheogenic brew of Ayahuasca. From what I understand, ingesting this concoction typically doesn’t lead to the ripping of one’s friends into multiple meaty chunks and leaving said chunks strewn about an ancient temple, but, some folks have far nastier demons buried within than others… Natalie decides to go along on the trip (hehehe) and take part in the ritual which will bring everyone face to face with the secrets of their past, their darkest memories and  lead to an unexpected, unplanned, and deeply affecting final rite that I can only describe as a sexorcism.

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Luciferina is an incredible slow burn of a horror film that does a commendable job of eschewing expectation based on the horror audiences common knowledge of such proceedings and keeping the true nature of Natalie a under wrap and still in question by film’s end.  Why is Natlie drawn to her mother’s blood soaked murder portraits of male and female genitalia? Why does she repeatedly have visions of those around her bathed in light? Why does she keep having dreams and visions of an abandoned abbey in the jungle and a mysterious old woman within? And why is this chaste, virtuous , nun in training beginning to feel sexual attraction and lustful urges towards those around her? The movie makes clear throughout how Natalie views sex as something dirty and obscene. Take for, for example, an early scene once Natalie comes home and takes a shower. She closes her eyes and begins to stroke her breasts and touch herself between her legs as the steam rises, but as soon as she opens her eyes, she sees several larch cockroaches by her feet in the bottom of the tub. It’s a grotesque and startling moment, but one that perfectly illustrates Natalie’s point of view, which becomes all the more relevant by film’s end.

I understand the issues many folks have with Luciferina. That the further we get into the story and the more things attempt to make sense, the less that they do. And by the final act,  the fine crafted suspense and feeling of deep, unsettling dread eventually give way to exceptional bloody practical effects and one of finest sex scenes I’ve seen in any film, horror or otherwise, what feels like eons. Natalie, who is portrayed pitch perfectly by del Tuffo, spends the first two thirds of Luciferina building her into a fragile protagonist, but by the film’s end, she becomes just as believable as confident, strong, uncompromising heroine. And, to be honest, the finale sexorcism scene is brilliant, equal parts arousing and disturbing and trail blazingly unique. It comes across as absolutely relevant and a full 180 degree turn from what exorcist films have presented to us in the past, as a woman embraces her own sexuality and empowering herself to destroy and vanquish a demon.

Can I get an amen?

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Luciferina possess a dark, alluring beauty all it’s own , one I am not accustom to in modern horror genre. With it’s wholly original combining of sex, the cycle of existence, angels, demons, is fascinating and disturbing and the film carves open it’s own bloody, beautiful path. From what I gather, Lucifernia has a truly progressive and positive message regarding sexuality female sexuality, which in itself is a blessed breath of fresh air in a genre that so often boasts a near medieval conservative view of female sexual relations (I’m looking at you, Jason Voorhees).   In Lucifernia, sex can be used for great good or absolute evil, it can either possess or exorcise. Sex is not inherently shameful, dirty or sinful, it all depends on the purpose of which you wield it. That mercy, not punishment, can perhaps be the answer. Now, how many religious horror films can you recall with the brass balls to convey this specific message?

Luciferina is by no means a masterpiece of the genre, but it is a one of a kind take on a thread bare genre, one that is captivating and alive with a creative energy rarely experienced by horror audiences these days. Exceedingly original, both disturbing in it’s imagery and astoundingly gorgeous in it’s cinematography, and manages to avoid making what could have EASILY been a cheap, exploitation “Fucked by The Devil flick” (not that there’s anything wrong with those.) and instead deliveries what I would say is among the most empowering and positive female driven horror films I’ve ever seen.

I give Luciferina FOUR out of FIVE Dumpster Nuggets.

Stay Trashy!

-Root

 

 

 

 

24
Sep
14

George Romero’s Martin (1976) Reality Bites

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a Primal Root written review

“Do you believe God’s whole world runs by the laws of the few sciences we have been able to discover? Oh, no, Christine, there is more. But people are satisfied. They know so much, they think they know all. And that makes it easy for Nosferatu. That makes it easy for all the devils.” -Cuda, Martin

 

George Romero’s name immediately conjures up images of his iconic shambling, flesh eating “shoot ’em in the head” zombies, and it’s no wonder. Hell, the man’s spent the better part of a career spanning over forty years devoted to these walking dead flesh eaters who changed the landscape of horror cinema forever with movies like Night of the Living Dead (!968), Dawn of the Dead (1978) Day of the Dead (1985) and Land of the Dead (2004) among many other “Of the Dead” films and follow ups spawning countless unofficial ineffective sequels and lukewarm, forgettable remakes and also saturated the market for the past decade influencing everything in pop culture to the point I wish someone would just put a bullet in my head and end the unimaginative, cash-in, living dead hysteria that won’t seem to ever fucking wind down and die.

But to concentrate on the man’s most popular and commercially successful ventures is to ignore the bold and creative films he is lesser known for. Films like The Crazies, Knightriders, Creepshow,The Dark Half, etc. The man has made some phenomenal films outside the living dead canon he’s most known for, and I’d like to focus on what I consider to be among his most intriguing and underrated works, the independent vampire flick, Martin. 

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Martin tells the tale of a shy, quiet, troubled teenage boy who believes himself to be a vampire, in fact, he comes from a lineage of his family that other relatives believe is cursed with hereditary vampirisim.  We’re introduced to Martin (John Amplas) as he stalks a fellow female passenger on an overnight train to Braddock, Pennsylvania. As he stalks this average young woman back to her overnight cabin aboard the train, we watch as Martin imagines her waiting for him behind the locked door in a revealing neglige, seduced by his vampire charms, lusting for him and embraces Martin with open arms, allowing him to feast on her warm red blood.  What Martin imagines is presented in grainy black and white, like the classic Universal monster movies of the 30’s and 40’s, like Dracula or Frankenstein, before cutting back to the bright, technicolor of reality where Martin attacks the young woman in her cramped cabin. The reality is far from Martin’s dream scenario. He walks in to the sound of her flushing the toilet before she steps out with her hair up in a towel, wearing a well loved bathrobe, her face caked in beauty cream as she blows a huge snot rocket into a wad of toilet paper. When Martin attacks her, intent on doping her up with a well placed prick of his syringe, she fights back with everything she has, hurling obscenities like “FREAK! RAPIST! ASSHOLE!”  athim while struggling against his clutches. Honestly, Martin is a shrimpy looking dude, and I have a feeling she would probably kick his ass normally, but the drugs take hold and she passes out, thus, allowing Martin to slice her arm open with a straight razor and dine on her blood. That’s right, Martin has no fangs.

When the train reaches it’s destination Martin meets his new caretaker, his elderly cousin Cuda (Lincoln Maazel). Cuda is a devoutly religious and highly superstitious  man,  and believes completely in the old family legend that some members are cursed with vampirisim. Cuda takes the boy in with the hopes of saving Martin’s eternal soul before destroying the creature of the night for all time. As you might guess, Cuda has nothing but contempt for young Martin, addressing him as Nosferatu and even threatening to put a stake through Martin’s heart, killing Martin without salvation, if Martin harms anyone in his city. But it’s not long before Martin ignores these warnings, and sneaks off into the night to hunt and feed.

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From the very first frame, Romero, with the help of a haunting, beautiful score from Don Rubinstein and utilizing the fading landscape of Braddock Pennsylvania, imbues his film with a sad, bleak, disturbing atmosphere, one where the American Dream has run dry and the world is left to rot and decay. The mills have alls hut down, the local economy has crumbled, and everyone left is struggling just to survive. The tone is one of desperation as a population holds on to the dying old ways of their lives and existing in denial.

As Martin stalks and ambushes his victims, it becomes apparent that sex is not his concern at all. In fact, when he is propositioned by a female shopper he befriends at Cuda’s grocery store, he has no idea how to respond. Turns out, Martin’s still a virgin after all these years and has no idea what to make of this. The lure of sex seems to hang all about Martin, and his response to it comes off as confused, sad and out of place. When he finally does give in to the seduction, he comes away unfulfilled. This is not your typical lustful vampire.

What Romero has sought out to do with Martin is, much like he did for zombies in his 1968 horror milestone Night of the Living Dead , is to deconstruct the vampire legend and all of the conventions we as an audience hold to be law. Martin is Romero’s treatise that examines the myth of the vampire, (featured in black and white, either as fantasy or long ago memories of how being a vampire once was, this point is left ambiguous) and reality (shot in bright, bold, 1970’s color) de-romanticizing the vampire legend. Also being tackled here is religion and superstitious belief.

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Martin cannot stomach the reality he exists in, and instead, creates intricate fantasies (presented in grainy black and white) where he visualizes himself sneaking into a grand castle rather than some  sleazy 70’s bachelor pad, or striding into the arms of an eager lover rather than holding down a shrieking victim who just took a huge dump in the adjoining bathroom. He imagines himself into the romantic Hollywood reality of the movie vampire, the one that is so alluring. which might be why he’s so quick to state “There’s no magic. There’s no real magic ever.” several times in the film. Crucifixes, garlic, holy water, sunlight, the classic rules do not apply in reality. Martin has no fangs, he uses a straight razor. He has no powers of seduction, he must use dope to keep his victims from breaking him in half. This is not a world of magic and super human power, this is stone cold, un-romantic reality.

Still, Martin believes he is actually a vampire and must feed on the blood of the living in order to survive, just as Christians believe utterly and completely in the resurrection, Heaven, Hell, and the power of the holy spirit. Martin still places an importance in the canned icons of his belief system, “The Hollywood Vampire” but is intelligent enough to know he is only humoring himself with these fantasies and delusions. After one startling moment in the film where Martin scares the living shit out of Cuda by stepping out the darkness  wearing a cape, bares fangs and has a pallid complexion only to finally laugh at the old man and reassure him, “It’s only a costume.” Martin has been told all his life what he is and has come to believe what’s been drilled into his head from birth.  Martin longs to be one thing, but he knows he is something else and this knowledge is the essence of the film.

Martin also takes dead aim at organized religion, portraying it in vapid, empty terms. Romero himself plays a hip priest who insults the shitty wine his church serves at communion, doesn’t believe in angels or demons and loves the movie The Exorcist. And when Cuda calls upon an old school priest to ambush Martin and perform an exorcism of their own, it comes off as an old useless ritual and Martin simply walks away as the priest blubbers on reading from the holy text. But more disheartening than any of this is Cuda himself, a man so blinded by his own faith that he believes it is his divine right to wield life or death over his own flesh and blood. Cuda believes the vampiric curse and that it is his duty to destroy the evil, to murder his own relative in the name of God. This is the same mentality in religious hysteria that leads followers to murder doctors who perform abortion and claim to be pro-life but support capital punishment, to commit atrocious acts of violence in the name of your own personal lord and savior. It’s sick, it’s twisted and it’s wrong.

"It's only a costume."

“It’s only a costume.”

In the end, Martin is a film about the lies we tell ourself and the delusions we live every day. Those that we have been taught by those closest to us and those we tell ourselves simply to get by. Martin wants so badly to be a vampire he is willing to kill others. Martin admires the lore and power of vampires. How they are loved, feared and lusted after, all things that the shy, timid misfit feels he can never obtain.

Martin is a singular, gorgeous, and poetic take on the vampire horror film and it’s Hollywood lore. To date, I have never seen a more thoroughly unique and sweetly sad vampire tale.  This is the rarest of horror movies, one not about a horrible other, or even about the creature next door. No, this is subtle, ambiguous look at what makes monsters of us all. A look into the heart of the horror in our everyday human existence and the evils we are capable of inflicting on one another. Not only through physical acts, but through the power of ideas, belief and control.

I give Martin FIVE out of FIVE Dumpster Nuggets. If you ask me, this is Romero’s absolute masterpiece.

Stay Trashy!

-Root

 




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