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Sunday, 8 March 2009

Strange Hostel of Naked Pleasures (1976)

Director: Marcelo Motta
Star: José Mojica Marins

There's some sort of bizarre ritual going on. The drums are beating in some sort of voodoo rhythm, a host of scantily clad skanks in too much makeup are gyrating like Christina Aguilera's backing dancers had been zombiefied and some other folks in distorted masks and body suits grunt and cringe. Yes, this is a Coffin Joe movie and it would appear that this ritual is to bring him back from mere ashes to his more familiar self, cape and black hat and long fingernails.

It all goes on too long, and then following an artistic opening credit sequence, Joe pontificates about life and death and the cosmos and that all goes on too long too. Very much the creative force behind his films, regardless what other names might ever appear (Marcelo Motta is the credited director here), I don't think anyone ever told him no so he got to leave in everything he felt like, whether it should have remained in or not. Long and rambling pontifications laid over a backdrop of strangely shaped revolving balls on strings really doesn't cut it.

Eventually we begin an actual story though, not before time, and we find that he's running a strange inn called Hospedaria dos Prazeres. The help are all new, in fact he's busy hiring them when we first see the place, no experience necessary. All the customers are new too and are a little surprised to find that their rooms are already reserved and he doesn't need to see their IDs. Some of them don't even have to speak. Their names just appear in his guestbook and he just gives them keys. Some he turns away, telling them that there are no rooms, yet more arrive And throughout all of it, there's a rainstorm going on with bad fake lightning and Joe's eyes are everywhere watching everything that's going on.

They're an interesting bunch: gamblers, crooks, businessmen, drunk drivers, loving couples, not so loving couples arguing about how to get rid of their unwanted product of their affair, mysterious folks travelling alone, even a biker gang that seems full of hippies rather than bikers. They all get a single room to share, all thirty or so of them, which makes it a happy place for the characters who just want a drunken orgy but a dangerous one for the actors to film in. Just moving too quickly in such a crowded space could cause injury, as they must have been wrapped around the lights.

Anyway, the film progresses on and on with precisely no variance. The gamblers keep gambling, the lovers keep loving, the partiers keep partying, the businessmen keep signing things. And in the lobby, Joe stands there and looks sinister and passes out cryptic comment after cryptic comment like 'There is no redemption for those who want to be blinder than the blind one having his sight to see.' Perhaps this suffers in translation but I have a feeling not. Eventually he teleports into everyone's room, apparently simultaneously, to stare at everyone and show us and them both what's really going on.

It would appear that this is an inn for the recently departed. I wondered that as we progressed: was this place Hell itself, somewhere where people go to die or somewhere that they go after that's already happened. The use of a wavery and warped Auld Lang Syne gives us that answer. The whole soundtrack is strange and exotic but this recognisable tune in and amongst the unrecognisable experimental electronic warbles is somehow the strangest. And it's the strangeness that is the only saving grace here: a beating heart superimposed over a clock, the burning cloth hanging in front of the camera, the continual repetition of scenes, Joe himself and the various critters that die when he looks at them, all the way up to the bleeding skull.

This is definitely old school cult film: a twisted and exploitative Brazilian take on a old story (previously filmed decades earlier as Outward Bound and Between Two Worlds, though this is no straight remake and the story itself is much older than that), with precisely nothing worth speaking of beyond the cumulative effect of the whole piece. By any conventional standards it's truly awful, whether you're looking at the acting, the direction, the editing, the writing, the effects, the soundtrack. Yet it's somehow hypnotic, never boring even though it really should be, and definitely something that you know you've seen. You may not know what but you're probably going to remember it, talk about it to others and try to find it to watch again. As strange and exploitative as the title suggests.

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