Woah! An Italian horror movie I haven’t seen! Well, that was my first thought, but my pal Jocke reminded me that we actually saw it during one of our so-called “geekends” a few years back. Maybe not the best sign that I had no memories whatsoever of Alessandro Capone’s Witch Story (aka Streghe), a generic title which fits a generic flick. I suspect I fell asleep during that first viewing years ago and missed a lot of it, because most of the time now it felt like it was the first time watching it!
A bunch of teenagers arrives - by bus by the way, no Scooby Doo Van here, to a small town to spend a weekend at an old house, owned by the family of one of the pieces of meat… I mean, of the characters. But the house have a backstory none of them could imagine. It was once owned (I think… not sure sure actually) by a witch named Helene and before she got lynched by a hysterical mob of grown men actually believing it’s proper to burn a woman alway, she casts a curse on the house and everyone in it… and that’s not a good sign in an Italian horror film. Soon our bunch of meatheads gets killed one by one by the witch...and there’s some sidestory about a cursed priest also, played the excellent - but almost always slumming - Ian Bannen.
Yeah, it’s not weird that Witch Story was released as Superstition 2 in some territories, because it’s quite similar in style and - more or less - story. The script is generic to say the least, but Capone was (or is? haven’t seen his latest works) a competent director and the movie looks like a million bucks. Or at least half a million. Or maybe close to one quarter of a million to be honest. Anyway, the cinematography is stellar and so is the visual storytelling - and for once this late 80’s Italian horror flick had a set designer who actually cared about doing something with the locations instead of just hanging a painting askew. Witch Story oozes of atmosphere and it’s lit in a way that every damn shot looks like a work of art.
If only there was a better script. Yeah, there’s nothing new here. The kids fuck and fight, walks away alone and gets killed, listens to lame rock music and all of them have that special non-special look the Italians loved so much when casting young wannabe-actors in the US. We who have seen a lot of these Italian productions shot in the US between 1985-1990 recognizes the cast. No, it’s not the same actors, but it’s the same characters. Like very low key spoof of American teens, less silly than those in local productions, but also lacking charisma. Witch Story have a slightly better cast than many others in the genre, but that doesn’t stop it from having a few of the worst actors I’ve seen so far also - and I’m looking at you Pierre Agostino, sleepwalking his way in an important role as a priest. The kids themselves are mostly okay actually, and it seems - but I’m probably wrong - that there’s a few scenes with improvisation on camera, which works better than I thought it would. The bickering in-between the kids, especially around the table, almost sounds realistic.
How about the gore then? It’s not especially gory, but it’s bloody and violent and delivers the goods that way. But one would wish for some more graphic violence, not only cheap stabbings. But it doesn’t mean it’s lame or anything like that, it’s more sadistic and dark than for example Umberto Lenzi’s similar and awesome Ghosthouse.
Witch Story is out on DVD in Germany, a quite nice anamorphic print, uncut what I know and with forced German subs. Well worth a purchase if you can find it!
Once upon a time danish Martin Schmidt seemed to be the future for scandinavian horror with interesting slashers like Sidste Time (1995), Mørkeleg (1996) and Bag det stille ydre (2005). But he’s mostly been active in television and family movies, except for one more title: 2001’s Kat. I remember when it came, it didn’t get good reviews - mostly because Swedish critics give every kind of genre film bad ratings - but I chased it down on tape and enjoyed it. I haven’t seen it since then, well until today where I FINALLY got my hands on a Spanish DVD. The Swedish have been impossible to find and I had to start searching outside our little boring country.
Kat is interesting in several ways. Mostly because it follows Riget (1994) and Besat (1999) in that it’s Danish horror that deals with the occult and spiritualism in general. Of these three Kat might be both the cheapest - and the most mainstream. Which is not a bad thing, because if you look beyond the kinda cheap-looking digital photo (it was a whole different deal at the time, nowadays I promise most of you wouldn’t see the difference between digital and film - believe me) and the clichés, it is a lot of fun.
Liv Corfixen (the wife of Nicolas Winding Refn by the way) is Maria. She shares an apartment with her friend Isabella (Charlotte Munck), a place they rent from Isabella’s odd - to say the least - grandparents, who live above them. One night these elderly crazies holds a seance and accidentally evokes someone else than their normal friendly spirit, and instead helps something more sinister into this world. This thing, maybe a demon, possesses Maria’s cat and starts killing everyone she might something against! The cat grows into a bloodthirsty predator who - among other things - crushes a guy with a minibus. That’s not nice!
I think Kat is a lot of fun. It’s also quite predictable, but I have a sense that’s exactly what Schmidt set out to do; a good old “b-movie”, complete with some gore, blood, seances, darkly lit streets and an absurd storyline that kinda works better than it should. Even if cats are awesome they’re quite hard to make look dangerous, in my opinion anyway, even if filmmakers tried several times through film history. Here Kat succeeds because it doesn't go overboard with cheesiness (I’m looking at you, 1988’s Uninvited!), but stays within the borders of what could be said to be a decent DTV horror flick. That’s where it belongs, because it’s - without actually having any proof of it .- performs a lot better on the small screen than on the big screen.
As a horror movie, and not just a semi-cheesy killer cat flick it works fine. Seances is always cool on the screen, and both that scene and later scenes with intestines involved, made me think of the Italians - Fulci especially - a bit cheap and dirty, but gloriously graphic and imaginative. The kills are often quite violent, maybe not gory - but there’s some nasty claw slashings a fun sequence with a minibus, blood and a not-bad-considering-the-budget computer generated big demon cat at the end - which is intercut with cool practical monster effects.
It’s a pity Kat is so forgotten today, because as a Scandinavian horror film it’s not bad. It could have been better and bigger with more budget and maybe a splash more gore, but it’s a bit late for that now. Kat is a nice addition - no, it’s THE best addition to the killer cat sub-genre, treating the subject with seriousness and without any unnecessary tongues in cheeks. It’s hard to find, but if you find it get your paws on it and hopefully you will enjoy it as much as I did.
Nerd, geek, socialist, horror fan, collector, freelancer, skeptic, atheist, open-minded, traveller, stubborn, grumpy, creative, easily bored, low self-esteem, cold, warm, nostalgia-hater, arthouse, exploitation, anti-racist and sometimes quite nice