Beautiful Stranger

The Countess comes to Liverpool…

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We’ve been talking to Liverpool Pride about bringing queer horror to a scouse audience and they could not have been more excited. As a result, one of our favourite movies EVER is coming to Picturehouse at FACT for Halloween. Well, the day after to be precise. On Wednesday 1st November 2017 ‘Daughters of Darkness’ will be screened to an unsuspecting audience. This under-appreciated gem needs a new audience… and we’re hoping people crawl out of their crypts to enjoy it. But why?

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“I’m just an outmoded character, nothing more. You know, the beautiful stranger, slightly sad, slightly mysterious, who haunts one place after another. Two weeks ago in Nice and Monte Carlo, two days ago in Bruges….”

The gays love a tragic heroine. Throw in the glamour of this beautiful shadow of a woman languishing in the heat of the South of France, sipping cocktails and longing to be eternally youthful and you’ve got camp dynamite. Only we don’t pick up The Countess in Nice or Monaco, but in a rainy, out of season, desolate hotel in Ostend. However we do get languishing, we do get cocktails (of the troubling green variety), and we do get a tragic figure… if not a heroine, then a timely echo of the youth-obsessed culture we’re more immersed in than ever…

Countess Elizabeth Báthory doesn’t fill her face with Botox to maintain a youthful glow – but the blood of virgins. By any means necessary. She swans across Europe, her cape billowing in the wind, shimmering in an impossibly glam outfit that she got from Marlene Dietrich, with her companion du jour at her side. Right now it’s Ilona, the glum-faced young beauty styled after Louise Brooks. The Countess isn’t particularly interested with finding a hunky young man to carry her hat boxes and tuck her in at night (or should that be at dawn?), but with nubile young women just desperate to be plucked from a life of patriarchal servitude and treated to a life of luxury, trailing on her aristrocatic fur coat-tails from one penthouse to the next. Only Ilona doesn’t look too happy about it. At one point she even moans “You call this living?” The Countess, obsessed with the surface beauty of eternal youth and bourgeouis excess, fails to acknowledge that she’s not saving enslaved women and liberating them – she’s just taking them out of the frying pan and plonking them mid-sizzle into her cool blue fire. She doesn’t particularly care whether they like it or not, they just have to match her purple ostrich feather ensembles and look good on her arm at the ambassador’s party.

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If Ilona hates the ‘life’ she’s been blood-sucked into then her luck might just be in. Because when we check in with the vamps we meet newlyweds Stefan and Valerie, fresh off an overnight train having had a whirlwind marriage, en route back to England where Valerie is to meet Stefan’s formidable mother. But all is not what it seems. Stefan is a sadistic misogynist who believes women should do his bidding, and Valerie is far from happy. Stefan is also keeping a pretty big secret about his Mother – one I won’t spoil here but let’s just say the film’s queer credentials don’t end at Sapphic vampirism…

So begins a ridiculously camp and stylish tale of the seduction of Valerie by Countess Elizabeth. Made in 1970 (released in 71), the film is loaded down with problematic attitudes to both women and homosexuality. But never let that get in the way of a good horror film. Especially one as beautiful as this. Delphine Seyrig – the best damn Marlene Dietrich you’re gonna get post-Marlene Dietrich – imbues her immortal lesbian vampire with both a coquettish brass nerve and a sad, longing vulnerability. In a film with more than its share of humdinger lines and hammy performances she’s shockingly plausible as a seductress, and engaging to the very end. Whether she’s spreading her sparkly cape to warm the chilled shoulders of her shivering charge and resembling a Weimar-era giant bat in the process, or recounting graphic tales of torture whilst sipping her crème de menthe in the hotel bar, you just cannot get enough of her. She carries the film, with the other players curled at her feet. Eagle-eyed viewers of a certain age may notice that posh-boy-wifebeater Stefan is played by John Karlen, who smartened up his act ten years later, got a job on a building site and married Mary Beth in the role of Harv in Cagney and Lacey. Or you might just be too distracted by his ever-so-short tomato robe and slippers. Not to mention the fact that he treats poor Valerie like absolute dirt.

But rest assured he gets his comeuppance. This being a 70s Eurotrash lesbian vampire movie, it’s not long before Valerie falls under the spell of the Countess. Ilona, for all her whingeing, isn’t going to be happy about that – and neither is Stefan. The blood flows in some of the most awkward and inexplicable death scenes you’ll ever witness. For softcore horror fans – don’t be put off by this. The blood is minimal. However there’s plenty of nudity, with an impromptu naked moon dance from Ilona that has to be seen to be believed.

You’ll come out scratching your head – what was the film saying? Was it demonizing misogyny, the aristocracy, or was it aligning homosexuality with deviance and decadence? Or was it subverting the genre with the marabou slipper suddenly on the other foot as the Countess toys with Stefan’s masculinity and casts him aside to swoop in on his new bride? Maybe you’ll still be under the spell of the Countess and you won’t care. Whatever happens, sit back and let this languid, beautiful movie wash over you.

Fans of Screaming Queenz will remember our podcast on the movie. But if you haven’t heard it then click away below. There are spoilers so beware…

Get your tickets for this screening here. We’ll be there, possibly in our purple ostrich feathers. Come and get your teeth into it and we’ll have a good old laugh in the bar after!

http://www.fact.co.uk/whats-on/current/halloween-at-fact-with-liverpool-pride-flis-mitchell.aspx

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Bottoms up…

JL

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Previously, on Screaming Queenz…

We’ll be back after our little Summer break next week. Meanwhile have you caught up on all our podcast episodes so far? Here’s a selection for your delectation. A mix of vampires, witches, Italian slashers and good old-fashioned monster movies. All of them come with an unhealthy dose of camp humour, poor taste and disgusting language!

From Peter Cushing to porno, the references for Fright Night come thick and fast…

So who the fuck died and made the Babadook a gay icon? With a little help from The Village People we decipher just why this demonic children’s fable cashed in on the pink pound…

Who knew the eternally young Lost Boys would ever hit 30? Well they just did, so reminisce with big hair, 80s power rock, and the dark underbelly of Hollywood paedophiles…

Which witch are you? A badass 90s high-schooler or a psychadelic 70s lesbian with a penchant for S&M? Check out our two-parter on witches in horror, both parts here:

Do you like giallo? We love giallo. What the fuck is giallo? Find out here:

There’s like 37 more episodes for you to get your teeth into over on SoundCloud but you can also hear them via Podbean and Itunes, links below. So listen, laugh, loathe if you must. Get in touch and let us know your thoughts, get me on twitter @jonnylarkin or email us at Screamingqueenz@gmail.com!

JL

http://screamingqueenz.podbean.com

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/screaming-queenz/id1070845275?mt=2

The Love Witch Review

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Sashaying her way on to Blu Ray/VOD this week is Anna Biller’s ‘The Love Witch.’ Starring Samantha Robinson, this technicolor treat for the eyes follows Elaine, the titular witch, as she travels from San Francisco to small town California to start a new life and find… you guessed it. Love.

Elaine’s got a past. As the film progresses at a sometimes problematic leisurely pace, we learn that Elaine suffered mental abuse at the hands of her husband who put her down and made her feel worthless. So to counter that she did the only logical thing a woman could do and joined a coven of witches housed in a San Francisco strip joint. So what made her flee Frisco for small-town life? I won’t spoil that.

Suffice to say Elaine just wants to be loved – and what better way to find l’amour than to use love potions and cast her spell over every eligible man she can find. I use the term eligible loosely as we come to realise that Elaine is not above stealing another woman’s man. But Elaine needs all-encompassing, heart-pounding, Mills and Boons love… and we soon come to realise that most of these macho men just ain’t up to the job. A woman knows how to survive the floodgates opening and her emotions taking over – but a man? As we come to find out, fellas just can’t handle it. And the bodies start to pile up…

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To say this film is camp would be an understatement. Viewers queer and otherwise are in for an indulgent delight with a film bathed in hot pinks and reds. The sets, the wardrobe, the make-up and even a used-tampon burst with colour. Much has been made of this film paying tribute to Russ Meyer and Roger Corman but for me the stylistic influences were more Suspiria than Supervixen. The witchcraft element will forever be linked to the Argento classic, but with the spells and potions aside this is a massive nod to sexploitation and eurotrash cinema.

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Giallo fans will no doubt spot the soundtrack references – The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh being one of them, and it’s undeniable that Samantha Robinson comes across like the love-child of Edwige Fenech and Lana Del Rey. She disrobes plenty, but the nudity is played as a tease more than anything. And restoring the balance just a little, Anna Biller’s lens lingers on the male flesh just as much as the female. Elaine’s first seduction, Wayne, played by Mad Men and daytime soap star Jeffrey Vincent Parise, puts his pert butt on display more prominently than Elaine does in their first sex scene. And the eventual love interest and romantic hero Detective Griff (Gian Keys), has all the square-jaw, twinkly-eyed, wavy-haired matinee idol chops to make the most hardened heterosexual male admit he’s swoonsome!

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Biller uses a dainty dessert fork to poke at the gender politics of the 60s and 70s. In one scene Elaine advises her best friend Trish that women should be every fantasy sex doll their man wants and needs. But no more than 20 minutes later she’s got a dead hunk on her hands because he was just too weak to be the man she needed. For good measure she then waves a bloody tampon in front of the camera to remind us that The Love Witch won’t be bringing us our morning paper and getting on her knees for Steak and BJ Wednesday any time soon.

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It’s lovingly crafted, expertly so by Anna Biller who had a hand in the set design, the costumes, the paintings on the walls of Elaine’s sumptuous gothic apartment, not to mention writing and directing AND putting together the score. The Love Witch is a triumphant work of art, although I do think it could have been 20 minutes shorter. But then I think that of most films being released these days. The pace did suffer from lingering a little too much on minor details – but when they look this good you can’t really complain.

Not if you know what’s good for you…

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(JL)