Noir City International (Virtual) Film Festival: EL VAMPIRO NEGRO and PANIQUE

It’s been a year, Faustketeers. This Damned Pandemic kicked in right in the middle of the actual, physical, old fashioned, sit-with-your-pals-in-a-theater Noir City Festival back in March and I’m still not over it.

BLACK GRAVEL…

(stares into the distance)

… was my last film in a theater. With the future of movie theaters looking about as optimistic as the ending of that flick, combined with the utter clusterfuck that is the American pandemic response, it feels impossible to imagine what’s next. But hey, in the meanwhile Noir City, the Home Game continues and this time you are all invited to watch along with me.

If you haven’t already, you can check out the schedule and buy tickets here , either by picking and choosing individual films or scoring a pass for the whole line up like I did.

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

First up, one of my all time favorites, EL VAMPIRO NEGRO.

I’ve already written this one up, more than once, but this time I’ve decided to cut and paste the text of my original review below so you don’t have to click away to another page to read it. Spoiler: I loved it.

This film absolutely knocked me out. If you’ve seen M, you already know the bones of the plot. An elusive child killer terrorizes the city until underworld denizens take the law into their own hands. But this isn’t just a cheap knockoff, it tells it’s own, uniquely Latin American story.

For starters, this version is much pulpier and more straight forward. None of this complicated cultural subtext or deeper meaning, just lots of gripping suspense, brutal violence and hot chicks in their underwear. Now, this may not be a good thing for everybody, but that’s always been the way to my heart. I’m a lowbrow kinda girl.

And speaking of chicks, unlike the original or the American remake, this movie has plenty. It’s actually centered around a beautiful nightclub singer struggling to support her young daughter while trying keep her from finding out how mom makes a living.

Curvaceous Olga Zubarry, known as the Argentine Marilyn Monroe, gives a surprisingly powerful and sympathetic performance. There’s also a bitchy best friend and the police inspector’s crippled wife forming the strong female backbone of this film. Because these dames aren’t just set-dressing with tits. They’re real, flawed and complex human characters.

Opposite this feminine trifecta is the killer himself, brilliantly played by Nathan Pinzon (who was apparently known for light comedy before tackling this role.)

It’s hard not to compare him to Peter Lorre, but I thought he nailed it and made it his own. The scene where he squeezes the razor sharp knife blade in his bare fist while trying to hold back from killing the cabaret singer’s daughter is both disturbing and weirdly poignant.

This is also a gorgeous film. Shadowy, gritty and at times claustrophobic with lots of super tight close-up of sweaty, disheveled faces. Hollywood was always too kind to its female stars, softening and smoothing away every flaw with pancake makeup, special lighting and gauzy filters, but the women in this movie are refreshingly raw and earthy, with messy hair and smeared lipstick, which somehow makes them seem even sexier.

And I wish I could find some stills of the disgustingly filthy yet hauntingly beautiful Buenos Aires sewer systems in which the climactic scene takes place. Weird, almost freakish homeless people who rake through the raw sewage for coins and other dropped valuables are the ones who take it upon themselves to chase the killer down in a sequence clearly inspired by the Third Man but WAY more vile and smelly-looking.

UPDATE: Behold, this crummy ass photo snapped off my TV for my tweet-along thread from last night, but anyway, you can see what I mean.

Mistress Christa says check it the fuck out. Even if you have to watch it on YouTube in 12 swimmy, subtitle-less chunks, find a way to make it happen. You won’t be sorry.

Did I mention Olga Zubarry is a hammer?

Next up, PANIQUE.

Ok, so let me get this out the way first.

THERE ARE LADY WRESTLERS!!!

They have nothing to do with the plot, but I don’t care. Any flick with lady wrestlers in it is ok with me!

Side note, you learn something new every day on the weird, wild interwebs and last night I learned that “false calves” are, in fact, a thing.

Anyway, enough of all this foolishness, let’s talk about the movie.

Michel Simon plays M. Hire, a quirky bearded loner with a penchant for smelly cheese and an isolated old house on (I’m not kidding) Wolf Island. (!!!) He moonlights as an astrologer and develops a crush on his pretty neighbor Alice, who he spies on through his window.

The neighbor, an ex-con fresh out of the joint played by the amazingly named Viviane Romance, is still entangled with her murderous secret lover Freddy, for whom she did the time.

The discovery of a woman’s corpse has the small town on edge, and of course everybody suspects M. Hire, the town weirdo that no one likes. It seems like a cinch for femme fatale Alice to string him along and set him up to take the fall for Freddy, the real killer.

But this is Noir City, and nothing ever goes according to plan.

I loved this film. It’s bleak and ugly and emotionally powerful and doesn’t shy away from the darkest impulses of human nature that pull all the characters inexorably towards a brilliant downer ending. Michel Simon is wonderful and nuanced and really makes you feel for his character while also not being too sappy or simplistic. After all, his obsession with Alice is far from a pure and gentle romance. It’s actually quite pushy and stalkerish when you think about it. And I can’t be the only one who wonders if maybe he might have killed his cheating wife and hid her body in that big leather trunk.

I think my favorite scene (beside the lady wrestlers, of course) is the bumper car scene where the whole town gangs up on M. Hire. Heavy handed, sure, but also powerful, effective and unforgettable. And also a pretty good metaphor for being an artsy outsider working in Hollywood.

So yeah, you need to see this one too. What a great start to this stellar line up!

Next up, a quadruple feature: RAZZIA, ANY NUMBER CAN WIN, LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN and THE HOUSEMAID. I’ll be watching them all, but if you can only choose one, make it the deeply weird and wonderful Korean film THE HOUSEMAID.

And be sure to pop over to Twitter and join the conversation as I live-tweet the flicks throughout the day. See you in Noir City!

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